Americans have been busy coping with the coronavirus epidemic that has raging across the United States. At the same time, Chinatown, which used to be regarded as a “working-class fortress”, is becoming completely different: first becoming a “ghost city”, then a protest area, and now it has become an open-air restaurant.
For most of this year, the owners of Chinatown stores have been fighting on two fronts. Not only have they suffered huge losses in the coronavirus epidemic, but also have also suffered the impact of political, environmental and social unrest, including Trump’s inflammatory anti-China remarks and protests against racial discrimination and police brutality that have swept across the United States.
NBC reported on the 14th that as early as the beginning of the 2019 lunar New Year, Chinatown in the United States suffered a huge blow. Some businesses have lost 70% of sales due to anti-China prejudice, fear of the virus and a sharp decline in international tourism.
Seattle, San Francisco and New York’s oldest and largest Chinatowns are now facing an unprecedented existential crisis, and some shops may even be “evicted” by landlords and forced to make a living because they can’t afford rent and debts.
This also directly affects the livelihood of some new immigrants. According to a report from the University of California, Los Angeles, as of May, 83% of Asian-American workers with high school education or below in California had applied for unemployment insurance, compared with 37% of other workers with the same education level.
Despite the attempts of young people in the local community to stop self-help, with the “third wave” outbreak, their fund-raising activities can only be “a drop in the bucket”. Justin Yu, president of the China Office in New York, said bluntly: “I’m not so optimistic about what will happen this winter.”
In New York: “They can’t start over in other communities”
This summer, New York City, at the peak of the epidemic, launched an “open restaurant” plan, and for a while, Manhattan’s narrow alleys of Chinatown were crowded again. However, this growth does not save all enterprises. Several long-established brands in the local Chinese Street have closed forever.
Yu Jinshan, chairman of the Chinese Institute of New York, told NBC that the resumption of 25% of indoor services has benefited some large restaurants since the end of September, but for small restaurants, the benefits are often not enough to pay wages. NBC added that New York City stopped eating indoors again on Monday.
In addition, the upcoming cold winter also means that fewer customers will choose to eat out. Now, many young Asians have stepped forward and organized fund-raising and promotional activities, helping to save many such enterprises.
However, some restaurant owners have a more worrying problem that defaults on rent will be “evicted”.
Most stores could close if the city refused to waive rent to tenants and waive property taxes from landlords, said a community activist who runs senior centers. He stressed that Chinatown merchants and workers were “geographically constrained by unique linguistic and cultural needs”, so it is essential to protect them from expulsion.” They can’t have a new start in another community.”
In Seattle: Fearing violent demonstrations, many stores have not opened for months.
In addition to the shaky economy during the coronavirus pandemic, the livelihoods of Seattle’s Chinatown stores are also affected by demonstrations that swept across the United States.
This summer, protests over Freud’s death in Seattle led to massive violent destruction of dozens of Asian-owned stores. Compared with most other big cities, the protests in Seattle triggered a longer and more violent confrontation between police and protesters.
Ms. Qin, executive director of the Seattle Chinatown Conservation and Development Administration, a non-profit organization, pointed out that five months after Freud’s death, many shop owners have not opened the wooden boards on their windows, and they may not open until early next year, considering the possibility of turmoil after the election. She said: “There is a lot of anxiety now. We’re still wondering when we’ll transition from overreacting to recovery.”
Seattle’s youth have also been on the front lines of helping Chinatown recover. In addition to fundraising activities, young people have arranged volunteers to patrol the streets at night and try to help homeless people on the streets of the community.
In San Francisco: “There will be mass displacement”
Golden Gate Lucky Biscuit Factory is one of the most famous buildings in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It has been making handmade lucky biscuits for more than half a century. However, during the busiest Lunar New Year in the past, the coronavirus and rampant racism have caused the store to sell almost zero daily sales.
Kevin Chan, the boss, said in September: “It’s all over. We thought we would recover, but it wasn’t the case.”
Mr. Malcolm Yeung, executive director of the local Chinatown Community Development Center, said that the fate of all Chinatowns is affected by these restaurants. Because restaurants employ a large number of new immigrants, they have become “the economic engine of Chinatown and also bring spin-off benefits to other enterprises”. But now everything has changed.
NBC noted that for many businessmen, the more pressing concern than the instability of passenger flow is that the “commercial eviction ban” is about to expire. San Francisco’s ban was originally scheduled to end on November 30, but was extended to March 2021 last month. This means that if the tenant fails to pay rent by March, the landlord has the right to “evict” him.
Allan Low, a real estate attorney who has been providing unpaid services to commercial tenants in Chinatown, said that only a few of his clients have the financial resources to repay rent in the short term, and unless someone intervenes, “there will be mass displacement in our communities of color”.
“Retaining these small shops is a crucial first step to protect the oldest Chinatown, which was established in the 1840s,” he said. If these shops disappear, how can you preserve the cultural characteristics of the city?