Hit hard by the COVID pandemic, New York’s Chinatown hopes for the new year

NEW YORK, Feb 7 (Reuters) – Red lanterns and festive decorations adorn many storefronts along the narrow streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown, where Lunar New Year celebrations are well underway.

Longtime resident Karlin Chan, unfazed by the freezing February morning, nods to bundled-up locals carrying bags of groceries and chats with shop owners.

“Everyone is optimistic about the future,” Chan said. “A new year marks a new beginning and we will build on that.”

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In many ways, Chinatown’s experience mirrors that of Asian American communities across the United States during the pandemic: businesses were shunned and verbal abuse and attacks reached alarming levels.

As the pandemic enters its third year, however, interviews with business owners, activists and residents revealed a sense of hope in New York’s historic district as the Lunar New Year began last week. .

“Despite all the predictions of doom and gloom, I think there is some hope,” said Amy Chin, a longtime community organizer. “And you can see the resilience and also the ingenuity of the community.”

National attention to hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) drew attention in March when a man opened fire at three Atlanta-area spas, killing eight people, including six of Asian origin. Read more

Despite an outpouring of nationwide alarm and support, the violence and verbal harassment continued. In San Francisco, preliminary statistics released in January showed a six-fold increase in hate crimes against AAPI communities in 2021.

In New York, anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021 increased by 361%, according to data released in December by a New York Police Department (NYPD) task force.

Experts attribute the increased racism in part to false inflammatory rhetoric that blames Asian Americans for the spread of the coronavirus.

“We know this is an ongoing and persistent problem,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, which documented more than 10,300 hate incidents from March 2020 to September 2021.

It’s the “tip of the iceberg”, Kulkarni said, noting under-reporting of incidents, opacity over what constitutes a hate crime and language barriers mean the true number is likely much higher. .

The NYPD has added patrols to Asian communities, including additional undercover officers, while neighborhoods have launched surveillance programs to boost feelings of safety.

“You have to go on living, you’re not going to hide at home out of fear,” said Chan, who founded Chinatown Block Watch at the start of the pandemic.

‘LIKE A REBIRTH’

Jimmy Fong thought the worst was over when throngs of tourists returned to Chinatown’s Mott Street last summer and fall. Once again, customers filled his restaurant, Cha Kee.

“Then Omicron hit,” said Fong, 43.

Foot traffic dried up, even as prices for food and other goods rose rapidly, he said. Cha Kee has survived in part thanks to government assistance, but others have closed down permanently.

According to a report from Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

Financial assistance from federal and local agencies has brought some relief. The New York City Department of Small Business Services said nearly $10.1 million has been issued in loans or grants to businesses in Chinatown during the pandemic.

But community leaders cite obstacles that have restricted access for some Asian-American businesses, ranging from language barriers to the way relief programs have been set up.

The disbursements, initially by zip code, meant some Chinatown businesses that shared their code with the wealthier neighborhoods of SoHo and Tribeca were excluded a city loan program for small businesses in low-income areas.

Funds available through the federal Paycheck Protection Program could not be used for rent and other operating costs that AAPI leaders said were essential for small businesses.

“I think this pandemic has really shown the flaws in our system,” New York City Councilman Christopher Marte said in an interview.

Some businesses – even new ones – succeed nonetheless. Elizabeth Yee opened Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodles in October 2019, five months before New York City closed.

“The first two months were very scary,” said Yee, 27, at Tonii’s, a long, narrow restaurant in a tight block of Chinatown.

Yee’s family invested their resources in his business. Community organizations and volunteers helped her secure financial assistance and establish the restaurant’s online business.

“I think community has a much deeper meaning,” she said.

For Yin Kong, director and co-founder of the nonprofit Think!Chinatown, the pandemic has led many people to become more involved in their community and culture.

“Much like a revival of Asian-American movements,” Kong said. “I’m very optimistic for our community.”

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Reporting by Maria Caspani; additional reporting by Christine Kiernan; Editing by Richard Chang

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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