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Family Hands Out Masks to Keep Chinatown Safe

By Shirley L Ng, AsAmNews Staff Writer

We are in a pandemic and masks are like gold in Chinatown

A generous donor sent me masks to distribute in #NYC #Chinatown. When I finally had a chance to do so, my mom got wind of my plans and decided to join me. She said, “Don’t you remember when the garment workers went on strike against the sweatshop owners for fair wages and holiday pay, I was in Chinatown passing out flyers to gain support?” she said to me as her proof of community outreach experience.

Shirley hands out masks on Grand St. to street vendors who are in the streets the entire day to support their livelihood.

The Chinatown garment workers strike occurred in 1982. I was in high school. I remember it happening, but was too young to understand what was going on. The garment workers supported the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and rallied against the sweatshop contractors. Over 20,000 garment workers rallied in Chinatown’s Columbus Park, my mom included. In the end, the strike ended with a victory for the union and the garment workers. I clearly remember my mom finally announcing she had weekends off.

Two homeless were asleep at the steps of a Chinatown public school. We left several masks on the handlebars of their bicycles for them.

When I met my mom Sunday morning, I was pleasantly surprised my mom recruited my aunt, her younger sister. The three of us set out looking for the underserved, seniors, the mom and pop vendors selling produce and the homeless. We gave two to three masks per person. Some refused the masks, but more than enough gladly took them. In two incidents, we left masks behind while the homeless were sleeping. In a video to be uploaded later, you can hear my mom say to a man in Cantonese after she handed him a mask, “You better put on that mask!” He was walking through the park without one on.

Shirley’s aunt on Eldridge Street, distributing masks to a line of people in front of a church.

It was interesting to hear my mom and aunt decide who to approach and utilize their limited English. Many would not want to take the risk being in contact with so many people. My aunt just had a hospital procedure done just last week and here she is distributing free masks in Chinatown. And, my mom, a two time cancer survivor who wanted to take part in doing this with me is here. So courageous. I playfully called both of them, the “Chinatown Mask Squad.”

It is upsetting toread or hear of racist rhetoric about Asian communities, as if COVID-19 lurks there only, but in reality it can be anywhere. Based on NYC’s COVID-19 Zone Finder, Chinatown and its surrounding areas is currently not a designated hot spot (based on 10013 zip code). The current hot spots are located within the Hasidic and Orthodox communities of Queens and Brooklyn, which have been defiant of the NY Governor’s restrictions on congregating as an attack on their religious freedom.

Many Asians have been wearing masks long before COVID-19 arrived in the US. Staying healthy is a huge mindset in our culture, so if a mask will protect them, they will wear it. I tend to think that’s why COVID-19 death rates are lowest when compared to Whites, Blacks and Latinos. In the recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) “Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report” published just on October 16, 2020, Asians had the third lowest number of COVID-19–associated deaths at only 3.5% total deaths from May through August 30, 2020. It showed a clear difference between the COVID death rate among races. The two lowest ethnic groups were categorized as American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic and native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

Homeless man accepts the masks as he sits in the exact location where Chuen Kwok was killed in his sleep just a year ago.
Shirley’s mom distributes masks at Columbus Park where many seniors come to connect with friends and play table games. A rise of homelessness have been seen in the park.

We had about 50 left and the remaining masks were distributed to people waiting on line for either food other resources outside a church on Eldridge St. They swarmed my mom and like a bodyguard, my aunt led my mom away as people started grabbing from her. My mom and aunt quickly crossed the street to get away. When we were done, it took just about an hour to to give all 400 masks.

A canner in Chinatown accepted free masks.

I texted some photos to my cousins. One of them, Elisa in Seattle wrote back, “Yes! Make them go exercise and feel useful. I am so proud of them.”

Yes, our family is so proud of them. They are looking forward to doing this again.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story.



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