Chinatown Night Market Is Cultural Power And Preservation

One organization creates “place-keeping” that fights gentrification, counters a wave of anti-Asian hate exacerbated by the pandemic, and celebrates what makes Chinatown special.

During a free program at Chinatown Arts Week 2021, Richard Chang portrays Wong Chin Foo at 21 Pell Street, steps from where Wong founded the “Chinese American” newspaper in 1883 and the Chinese Theatre (5-7 Doyers St). Wong wielded pen and pulpit to fight against the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and urged members of the community to become citizens and vote. (Photo by Edward Cheng)

In New York City’s Chinatown, businesses were hit early by the pandemic. Now construction of a mega-jail in the neighborhood has angered residents who say the disruption risks exacerbating displacement. Plus, the state has awarded $20 million in “revitalization” funds for the area, which spans roughly two square miles in Lower Manhattan.

Meanwhile, one grassroots organization’s “place-keeping” strategy uses the arts to supercharge the community engagement needed for the neighborhood to stave off gentrification. 

In this episode of the podcast, Next City Executive Director Lucas Grindley talks with reporter Emily Nonko about the neighborhood’s history of organizing. We also meet Yin Kong, a co-founder of Think!Chinatown, which hosts events like its night market to help preserve culture while developing community power.

“A lot of this is rooted in this idea of being excluded or othered and that we don't belong,” says Kong. “And every step of the way in Think!Chinatown's work, we were thinking about, how do we knit our histories together with a wider understanding of American history, that our history is American history, and that's how we overcome it.”

Listen to this episode below or subscribe to Next City’s podcast on Apple and Spotify.

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