NYC's Chinatown Hoping for a New Year, Hard-Hit by COVID Pandemic

Many storefronts in Manhattan's Chinatown district are decorated with red lanterns and other festive decorations. This neighborhood is where Lunar New Year celebrations are underway.

NYC's Chinatown Hoping for a New Year, Hard-Hit by COVID Pandemic

Karlin Chan, a long-time resident, is not bothered by the cold February morning. She smiles at the warmly dressed locals and chats with shop owners.

Chan stated, "Everyone is optimistic for the future." "A new year is a sign of a new beginning, and we will build on it."

Chinatown's experiences during the pandemic mirror many of those in other Asian-American communities. Businesses were shut down and verbal abuse and assaults rose to alarming levels.

Interviews with residents, activists, and business owners revealed that the pandemic is entering its third year.

Amy Chin, a community organizer for many years, stated that despite all the doom and gloom predictions, she believes there is a sense of hopefulness. "And you can also see the resilience, as well as the resourcefulness, of the community."

The March shooting massacre at three Atlanta-area spas by a man who wanted to commit hate crimes against Asian Americans (AAPI), attracted wide national attention. Eight people were killed, six of them of Asian descent.

Despite widespread outcry and support, violence and verbal harassment continue. Preliminary statistics from San Francisco in January revealed a sixfold increase in hate crimes against AAPI communities by 2021.

According to data from the New York Police Department (NYPD), anti-Asian hate crime incidents in New York increased by 361% in 2021, according to data published in December by a task force.

Experts blame the rise in racism partly on the incendiary and false rhetoric that blamed Asian Americans in the spread of coronavirus.

Manjusha Kunkarni, cofounder of Stop AAPI Hate which logged more than 10300 hate incidents between March 2020 and September 2021, stated, "We know this is an ongoing, persistent issue."

Kulkarni stated that this is only the tip of the iceberg. He noted the underreporting, incoherence about hate crimes, language barriers, and opaqueness regarding the definition of hate crime.

New York Police Department has increased patrols in Asian communities and added undercover officers. Neighborhood watch programs have been launched to increase security.

Chan, who established the Chinatown Block Watch in the midst of the pandemic, stated, "You have to keep living. You're not going hide at home in terror."

"LIKE A RENAISSANCE"

Jimmy Fong believed the worst was over after throngs of tourists returned last fall and summer to Chinatown's Mott street. His restaurant Cha Kee was once again crowded.

Fong, 43, said that "Then Omicron struck."

He said that foot traffic declined despite the rapid rise in food prices. Cha Kee survived partly because of government assistance. However, others have shut down.

Restaurant spending slumped 96% in Chinatown in 2020 as tourists dwindled, versus an 85% decline citywide, according to a report by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth https://www.mastercardcenter.org/insights/asian-american-communities-hit-earlier-and-harder-by-covid-19.

Some relief has been provided by financial aid from local and federal agencies. New York City's Department of Small Business Services reported that nearly $10.1 million in loans and grants were given to Chinatown businesses during the pandemic.

Community leaders point out that there are many obstacles that have prevented some Asian-American businesses from accessing the market, including language barriers and how aid programs were set.

Disbursements, initially by zip code, meant some Chinatown businesses that share their code with the wealthier neighborhoods of SoHo and Tribeca were excluded https://www.aafederation.org/small-business-big-losses from a city loan program for small businesses in lower income areas.

The federal Paycheck Protection Program funds could not be used to pay rent or other operational costs, which AAPI leaders stated were essential for small businesses.

Christopher Marte, a New York City Council member, stated in an interview that "I believe this pandemic really showed the flaws of our system."

Even though they are new businesses, some still make it. Tonii's Fresh Rice Noodles was opened by Elizabeth Yee in October 2019, five years before New York City closed.

Yee, 27, said that the first few months were very frightening. Yee was speaking at Tonii’s, a long, narrow restaurant on a tight-packed Chinatown block.

Yee's family invested their resources in her business. Volunteers and community organizations helped Yee to get financial aid and launch the online restaurant.

She said, "I believe community has a deeper meaning."

Yin Kong, co-founder and director of Think!Chinatown, said that the pandemic prompted many people to get involved in their communities and culture.

Kong stated, "Just like an Asian-American renaissance." "I am very optimistic about our community."

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