“Chinatowns and Chinese restaurants have been financially affected by the pandemic since January 2020, when businesses were shut down due to misinformation and xenophobia,” says Young. “Since then, many family restaurants and shops have seen their businesses fall by 40 to 80 percent.” This astonishing loss has proved extremely difficult for many AAPI-owned companies to recover.
In New York’s Chinatown alone, Young has seen countless traditional businesses – many of which have been community leaders for decades – closing their doors one after another. In addition, she shares that in Chinatown, San Francisco (where she grew up and where her father was an active member of the community), Grant Avenue has closed 46 stores to date and continues to do so. In short, Young warns that historic Chinatowns across the country, including those in other major cities such as Boston and Auckland, “are all in support of life.”
At the start of the pandemic, Young felt galvanized to give a platform to New York-based Chinatown businesses that were hit hard early on. In March 2020, he co-created the video series Coronavirus: Chinatown Stories along with videographer Dan Ahn and the Poster House Museum, where restaurant and shop owners discussed the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses. “Holding these interviews and hearing shocking stories about what they were going through moved me deeply,” says Young. “From that point on, I did my best to help Chinatown businesses – and eventually AAPI’s mom and pop businesses.”
By October 2020, Young had launched the Save Chinese Restaurants campaign on Instagram, encouraging followers to order from a favorite local Chinese restaurant and post a photo with the hashtag #SaveChineseRestaurants. Its purpose was to encourage the public to order from Chinese restaurants – and the like Coronavirus: Chinatown Stories, raise awareness of the seriousness of the issues faced by these businesses due to cultural lies, discrimination and violence. (This was, of course, beyond the challenge of staying open amid home orders and financial turmoil for both business owners and customers.) However, it soon became clear that other communities and businesses owned by in Asia they faced similar burdens as well. “It simply came to our notice then all “AAPI mothers and pop businesses across the country need our support,” Young shares — and that was when #SaveChineseRestaurants evolved into the wider #LoveAAPI campaign.
Inspired by Young’s advocacy and efforts to honor and elevate these cultural pockets and gastronomic institutions, the James Beard Foundation has supported both campaigns. In addition, they recognized Young as the Humanist of the Year for 2022, an award given to those whose “work in the food sector has improved the lives of others and benefited society at large.” (In May 2022, Young also received the eighth annual Julia Child Award “for her significant contribution to the preservation and exchange of Chinese gastronomic traditions through her roles as a writer, historian and activist” and for “[shedding] shed light on the way in which cuisines from around the world play an integral role in America’s gastronomic heritage. “)
Grace’s activism in rescuing the Chinatowns and supporting AAPI-owned businesses stems from the urgent need to save these kitchens and communities — and their legacies — before it is too late. “These immigrant communities hold a secret and unique place in the history of our country, which is, after all, a country of immigrants,” says Young. “So many of the traditional restaurants we have lost are our last link to the cooking of immigrants from previous generations.”
Because food is such an integral part of cultural identity, the loss of access to these gastronomic facilities has a significant impact on present and future generations within these communities — not to mention the dire threats to the livelihoods of business owners and of the employees themselves. “We have to do everything in our power to maintain and protect [these neighborhoods and businesses]. “If we do not show our support by eating and shopping regularly, we will lose them,” says Young.
In short, the #LoveAAPI campaign has its roots in the alliance, so that AAPI-owned companies can overcome the cultural and financial hardships they faced during the pandemic to ultimately support owners, employees, buyers. and community members in meaningful ways. Even with the lifting of restrictions and the opening up of many areas of the country, AAPI-owned companies that have managed to cope with the storm continue to face unique challenges solely because of their heritage. According to the New York Human Rights Commission, “Since February 2020, the Commission has received a sevenfold increase in reports of harassment, discrimination and violence against Asia.” (In addition, they note that hate crimes and incidents of bias are not widely reported.) In addition, the NYPD reported a 361 percent increase in hate crimes against Asia in 2021 compared to the previous year.
Faced with these daily threats and anxieties, both AAPI business owners and customers can not experience the relief of easing restrictions and returning to normalcy before COVID-19 (somewhat). “Now, with the ongoing hate crimes against Asia, businesses have not returned to what they were before the pandemic, because many locals are afraid to go out to eat and shop,” Young laments.
Young’s advocacy work emphasizes that alliance and support for AAPI-owned businesses is essential to maintaining access to cultural food and thus elevating these communities and preserving these shop windows before they disappear. Regardless of your cultural background or where you live, Young encourages everyone to get involved in the #LoveAAPI campaign by posting a photo or video of your favorite AAPI restaurant, market, bakery or store on social media. “Tell us what you eat and buy or why you like the business and add the hashtag #LoveAAPI. “Tell your friends and followers to do the same,” he shares. In this way, you will join legions of allies and food experts to upgrade Asian-owned businesses — and even have the opportunity to discover gastronomic diamonds worth visiting in your area. “At the beginning of the #LoveAAPI campaign, it was great that Sara Moulton made one of her first posts talking about KK Discount, one of her mom’s favorite and pop stores in New York,” says Young. Other respected chefs and culinary experts who have used their platforms to raise awareness about the #LoveAAPI campaign include — but are not limited to — Jessica Harris, Ming Tsai, and Carla Hall.
The more love and support you show for these businesses, the more likely they are not just to survive, but to thrive in the midst of such a difficult time for the AAPI community.
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