By Esther Yang
Hard to believe that this is NOT intentional. Is Chinatown a step child or just invisible from the face of the earth? Racism can have many layers. It can be directly, marginalized or non existant. Chinatown is being made invisible. It can be intentional or not. No matter the excuses, the result is still the same – Chinatown once again is NOT important.
What is the issue? NY has $35 million in Small Business loans with zero interest. This loan is available to any small business except, you guessed it – Chinatown
What on earth? Chinatown is in Zip code 10013. This zip code covers Tribeca and Soho and, of course, our beloved Chinatown. The problem? Soho and Tribeca median income is almost tripled that of Chinatown income. Because of the that reason, Commissioner Jonnel Doris ignored Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez letters protesting the exclusion of Chinatown from the program.
Many life long advocates like Jenny Low also complained. She has been doing so much work for the neighborhood, she decided to run for City Council. Sometimes in life you just got to join the system so the voiceless can be heard.
When I spoke to Jenny, she was mad like me. Something has to be done. She said it best:
“The City cannot turn its back on Chinatown again! Chinatown continues to be ravaged by COVID as businesses were losing 70-80% revenue before the shutdown in March 2020. In March, I urged City and State officials to designate Chinatown as a Economic Distressed Zone to provide targeted relief to residents, small property landlords and businesses, which the Mayor’s Administration continues to ignore. Now the City wants to break apart Chinatown to help one part with storefront aid but not the other. This is outrageous and must be fixed immediately!
“I have been collaborating with leaders to provide meals, PPE and resources for small businesses in the Chinatown/Lower East Side throughout the pandemic and witnessed the devastation caused by COVID. We need experienced and thoughtful leadership to fight for equitable recovery in Lower Manhattan. When I get to the City Council, I will fight for resources for every neighborhoods that are most in need.”
Even after we all make all that noise, Chinatown is still getting zero funding. Does that make sense? Of course NOT. Is it racism? You betcha!
Who are they hurting? Small mom and pop stores like:
1. Asia Roma – 40 Mulberry Street. Asia Roma has been a popular family eatery for years, and is a woman-owned, minority-owned, and operated by a hard working Chinese immigrant. Asia Roma was listed by Time Out New York as “One of the Best Bars in Chinatown NYC”. it is now devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic that has rocked New York City’s restaurant industry.
Despite its dire need for LMIC relief, it, along with many other Chinatown small businesses, has been arbitrarily excluded from the LMIC economic relief program merely because it shares a zip code (10013) with affluent neighborhoods such as TriBeCa and SoHo. Without the desperately needed financial help, Asia Roma will soon have to shut its doors and let go its employees like many others businesses in Chinatown.
“To exclude this struggling Chinatown community from applying for the Small Business Service loan is another devastating blow,” the restaurant told me. “How can Chinatown, which is predominately small business owners, be deprived of something meant to help small business just because of their zip code. To associate Chinatown with their wealthy neighbors by zip code is unfair and unjust. Chinatown is and has been underserved in many ways. Excluding Chinatown merely because of zip code is again overlooking the needs of this hard working community.”
2. Liz Yee and her husband Brian Yee – Owner of Tonii’s Rice Noodle at 83 Bayard St. & co-owner of Kam Hing Bakery at 118 Baxter St. BOTH stores are in the 10013 zip code; which has been excluded from the new loan grants for businesses.
The couple consolidated both their eateries because of lack of staff and customers. Tonii’s opened just in October 2019 and they knew if they closed Tonii’s, they would never b e able to pay all the back rent they would owe. They opened Tonii’s 18 hours a day to keep it running and sacrificed seeing their kids to keep it opened.
“Why does Chinatown get the short end of the stick when it got hit the hardest? At the start of pandemic, people were scared to go to Chinatown because we were perceived to have the “Chinese virus” or the “Kung flu virus”. President Trump’s words at a time made it even more difficult for the health of our store. I’m American born. I was born and raised in Manhattan, New York City. For me to hear someone say, “go back to your country,” was a slap in the face. To be born & raised in America and to receive that type of treatment; made me feel ashamed for being an American,” Liz said.
She says the mayor, just like the president, let them down. They feel the mayor said all the right things, but only used Chinatown like a photo open.
“He just wanted to look like he did something when he did nothing to help at all.
“I’m frustrated because I saw first hand what businesses had to do to keep pushing forward. I saw a lot of businesses I grew up eating at close their doors for the first time. Businesses that have been around for 30-40 years; now had a ‘for rent’ sign on their gates. Essential pillars of Chinatown being lost forever; it feels like we’ve been set up to fail by our government from the lack of response to Chinatown’s plead for help.”
Are you mad yet? Well I hope you can do something – anything. (Of course Ethically, Morally and Legally)
A. Sign a petition – take action now. https://www.welcometochinatown.com/news/take-action-now-ask-sbs-why-chinatown-is-still-excluded
B. Go to Asia Roma – 40 Mulberry Street and Tonii Rice Noodle on 83rd Bayard Street or any store in Chinatown. Buy something, order take out. No $? Volunteer.
Chinatown is sacred. The only way we can have Chinatown is to support it. You can share in your social media. Instead of doing the easy way with Amazon or other online store, buy from Chinatown. Shop, browse, spend dollars and bring your friends. The more the merrier. Remember that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. SIGN THE PETITION. Make that noise and do the change that you want to see. No one is going to take care of us, we need to take care of our own.
FYI – If you are a small business owner in the Chinatown area who faces the same problem, please contact me at estheryangNY at gmail dot com. so I can advocate on your behalf. I do this as a volunteer who cares about our communities, at no charge whatsoever. Through “Strength Through Numbers” we can have a better hope of succeeding – as a community.
As a grass-roots community activist, and Advocate – I have been working hard to try to help Asia Roma, and other small businesses in the Chinatown area open, through serving as a liaison to community leaders and local elected officials.
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