Meet Mae Lee. She’s worked at the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) since the early 1990s and is a fourth generation Chinese-American.  

We always have to be a part of it
— Mae Lee
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I: What drew you to the CPA?

Mae: I was in school at the time, I started out as a volunteer. CPA was involved in tenant organizing and fighting gentrification. A building on Market [Street] and Madison [Street] was to be built as a luxury condominium but the Chinese community wasn't consulted. Many heard about it after reading a story in the Sunday Times. So there were a lot of protests and community meetings. CPA went to the meetings to speak about how such a development would cause the rents to rise and that would be harmful to low income tenants who’ve been here for a long time. It was one of the first fight against this type of development. The building exists right now but it never quite became the luxury condominiums. The city learned that there needs to be a consultation process——they can't just decide to do it.

I: Do you identify as Asian American? If so, what is Asian Americana?

Mae: I just say that I'm Chinese but of course I also say I'm American. I say I'm Chinese American or sometimes Asian American. That's just generally what I tell people. Maybe because it's easier. Asians are from Asia. Asian American is another culture that has developed here in America. In Chinatown, everyone is from another country; it's the norm, it's something to be proud of. Someone might say, "Your English is very good.” Sometimes, they are genuine. Some Chinese immigrants have never met Asian Americans —after all, everyone they know is from another country. But other times, another person might be making assumptions about you, your history and contributions here and what you can do. Everyone in America is from another country. Being American means being from another country or maybe [being] descendants of those from another country.

I: How do you think we can exercise our power?

Mae: Registering to vote―that means becoming an American citizen―then actually voting. We have a Chinese American city council member but the voter turnout in the Chinese community  is always lower than the rest. Those in power always look [at these things]: do you come out to vote, do you speak out, [are you] being vocal at town hall meetings or finding out what's going on. Some people don’t even know how to do that, let alone vote. It's about being more involved in the decision making processes that the government does, processes that affect us. With all these developments, there's a lot of money involved, and decision making processes being made at the government level -- we always have to be a part of it.


I’ve always done what my heart wanted me to do.
— Cynthia Koo

Human of Chinatown:

Meet Cynthia. She runs a dimsum-inspired Etsy store called Wonton In A Million. She was born in Chinatown, raised in Chinatown, spent her weekends there as her parents worked in Chinatown. A few months ago, she moved back into Chinatown. She’s a first generation American; her parents were immigrants from China in the 1980s.

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I: What makes you unique as a person?  

Cynthia: There’s this Cantonese word my parents used to call me when I was younger: ‘yum sing’. The way I interpret it is that you are a little rebellious, but you are also very strong-headed and go your own way. Given the backdrop of Asian expectations for Asian children, especially first generation Asian Americans, I found that [yum sing] has served me the best in getting me to a place that I’m really happy about. I’ve always done what my heart wanted me to do. I tried to studying economics for a little bit and realized I hated it. I’ve always been very interested in the arts. My first love was writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always done design. Those are all things that I’m able to do now; I’m very grateful for that. Maybe it’s like precociousness. I don’t know what the English translation is or if there even is one.

I: What do you enjoy doing?

Cynthia:  If I had to encapsulate myself in one word, I have always been a designer. It’s taken a lot of different forms: web design, print design, even building a business has been a form of design. Essentially, the act of creating something from scratch to solve specific problems or fill specific wants or needs—that’s what I enjoy doing.

 

I: What do you think it means to be American?

Cynthia: The way I love to think about being American is that it’s a combination of a distinct set of beliefs from my family’s traditional Chinese background and a sense of American individualism. The American Dream takes a unique form for Asian Americans. My parents don’t necessarily understand how pervasive the  notion is (despite having achieved it for themselves). But I think that being American is to believe that as an individual you can affect change; in a way you make your own luck and your success. While that notion is a distinctly American one, I also have an acute sense of the importance of community support in helping an individual achieve their success. Everyone’s successes are built on those of people before them and on the support of the people in their lives. To me that's a combinaton of my Asian heritage and my American upbringing.

I: How do you think being a first-generation American has influenced you?

Cynthia: I think first generation Americans occupy this unique space that future generations aren’t going to occupy. My kids aren’t going to feel the same pressures that I feel or the same dichotomies that I feel between my American upbringing and Asian heritage. One of the reasons that I really enjoy working on Wonton In A Million is because of the impact that it can have on a community that I really care about. I know how much my parents have sacrificed for me and I know how much my dad has spent investing in his restaurant so I hope with my skills and my company, I can help it live up to the potential I see. That’s something that has a really strong pull to me that I don’t know if my kids will necessarily feel because I don’t think I will sacrifice in the same way, having to leave behind a country that I’ve grown up in, migrate to another one and restart. I think the debt that I understand I have to my parents is going to be with me my whole life.

 

I: Why did you start a dimsum-inspired company?

Cynthia: So my dad actually manages a dim-sum and seafood restaurant - Oriental Garden - in Chinatown and he has worked there my whole life. One day, I was waiting to get dimsum takeout and the idea just popped into my head that it would be really cool if there were punny dimsum greeting cards. I think that idea culminated from a lot of things: my dad running a dimsum restaurant my entire life, my friends and I enjoying puns, learning about a friend of a friend who quit her job to start a stationery store. All these things were percolating in my head at the time and so when the idea for punny dimsum greeting cards popped into my head, I was ready. Possibly I happened to be the right person at the right time, with a design background. I’ve started a lot of personal projects in the past that I didn’t end up finishing. So that year was my year of finishing projects that I always wanted to do. My original plan was to design 20 greeting cards and move on to my next design project. I launched it; people reacted so enthusiastically; I made sales that I didn’t expect to make; people started sending me suggestions. I ended up expanding to t-shirts, to stickers, to other types of stationery products. It’s been 2 ½ years since I did those first 6 cards.  

 

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You’ll forever be your separate entity and part of a bigger thing.
— Chen Yo Chi

HUMAN OF CHINATOWN:

Meet Chen Yo Chi, the staff organizer at Chinatown's CAAAV (Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence), and is a first generation American who immigrated here from Taiwan as a young child.

I: What does it mean to be Asian American?

Chen: Yeah it’s a hard one … I think being Asian American is recognizing that you’re Asian and that you’ll never fully melt into the pot. You’re an ingredient in a salad bowl, and you’ll forever be your separate entity and part of a bigger thing.

I: How did you come about identifying as Asian American?  

Chen: I don’t know if there was a specific moment, it just took time. I wanna say after 18 as a marker. You’re always aware that you’re Asian but to really grow into it, it wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I was like “Oh yeah, I'm Asian.” There's that weird dynamic again: being Asian you’re taught to go to a good school, get good grades, get a good job, get married, buy a house, follow your “American dream,” but not every Asian person falls into that cookie cutter model. Asians go into music or entertainment. You don’t have to become a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer or what your parents told you. You don’t have to play piano or violin. You can do other things.

I: How do you reconcile being American and being an immigrant? Are they mutually exclusive?  

Chen Yo: I don't know if they're mutually exclusive. They might be. I’m definitely aware of that factor and that definitely plays into a lot of my experiences growing up in NYC and probably the experiences of other immigrants of being in a foreign country. Being Chinese especially, also being the constant outsider and how we're brought up to want to assimilate, assimilate, assimilate and then you get older and you realize no matter how hard you try, you're always the outsider. When you think American, you think of a white person, right? You don't think, "A Chinese, or black, or brown person." (chuckle).

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I: Can you elaborate on what you mean by experiences growing up here?

Chen Yo: There's this weird dynamic of do you fit into whiteness or do you lean into blackness too. Those seem to be the 2 dominating groups. Being Asian, you have a bit of fluidity in the sense that you can fall into both camps. But ultimately, as I'm growing, I wanna say you don't necessarily have to play into a black and white or a dualistic view. Asians can have our own group separate from a white or black narrative. We're always the outsiders. There's something empowering about owning it and being like "Yeah, I am different." and that makes me special (chuckle).

I: What do you mean by owning it? How does one do that?

Chen Yo: Being proud of who you are. It’s like the salad bowl. We're actually different ingredients but in this bowl together instead of melting into one amorphous blob. I think that's ok and it's like phoning in Chinese barbecue pork over rice. My grandma makes wonton and char siu. That shit is mad good. (chuckle) Your culture doesn't have that so I own that. My culture has thousands of years of history and just because a white person doesn't get it doesn't make it any less valid. I would almost say "Yo, my shit is more ill because I have thousands of years of heritage behind it."  .

I: How is heritage cultivated in Chinatown? How was it cultivated when you were growing up?

Chen Yo: Heritage speaks to something where I feel comfortable. Maybe to a white person, they see Chinatown as dirty, full of Chinese people. But to me, I feel comfortable. I don’t feel like a constant outsider. I get that enough going elsewhere-Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Chelsea. If I go to a restaurant and its majority white people, I immediately know I'm the only Asia. Heritage is walking through Chinatown and realizing that I'm around people who look like me. Heritage is cultivated through the people. There are many [generations] unique to Chinatown because the people run these businesses or can only make this certain food that you can only buy  in Chinatown. You want to assimilate but at some point, I realized you can only assimilate so far where you have to acknowledge your own heritage.


The ideology behind my name is that like I’d be able to easily move past any difficulties
— Lisa Ng

Human of Chinatown

Meet Lisa Ng, the head organizer of NYCAASC (New York City Asian American Student Conference), an annual conference that brings together youths from all over the city to talk about Asian American Pacific Islander. She attended school in Chinatown and spent her youth in Chinatown. 


Inteviewer: Is there a story behind your name?

Lisa: My parents came to NY in the 70s and in the 70s, Lisa was a very common English name. So that’s my name. Because my parents don’t speak English, they were like, “Ok, cool! This is a common name. This is a name we know. So that's your name!” I do have a Chinese name - 伍泳超. It's my surname, the character for “swim”, and then the character for “surpass.” Basically I have that name because my uncle and my dad (his brother) decided to have the character for 'surpass' in their kids names. I have three older male cousins from that side of the family and an older brother. We all have the same surname and 'surpass' in our names, but with a different character in the middle. The ideology behind my name is that like I’d be able to easily move past any difficulties. I think my parents wanted me to have an English name so it’d be easier to interact with me but my Chinese name is my real name.

I: What does being an American mean to you?  

Lisa: This is a question that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Because the concept of what it means to be it an 'American' as we know it is the social construct because a vast majority of indigenous American populations were wiped out by settle colonialists. It means something different to everyone involved. I was talking to this person who was from China while working at Times Square one day. He asked me - "What do you think freedom is?" I was like, “What?” I thought about it for a while, and I said “I think freedom means the ability to be whoever you want to be” and then we had a long discussion about it. He was like “I think freedom means having the ability to say no,” cause he comes from China. I think, down to the very core, there’s this concept of freedom in America and what it means to be 'free'. Cause also that means something different for everything. What does it mean to be like truly free? Free from capitalism? Free from racism and all the -isms in the world? I don't know what it means to be American and I don't think anyone does know and I think we're all trying to figure it out together. But it's important to acknowledge that there are people who have more say in what it means to be an "American.”

I: What does "Asian-American" mean and what does it mean to you specifically?

Lisa: Well, to be Asian American, down to the very core, means that you're never truly an 'American' because of the hyphen, right? Cause you're Asian but also American, not just American, right? We don't say German-Americans, we don't say Jewish-Americans, we say Asian-American, African-American, Latinx-American. So to be an Asian American means always living on the fringes, just because of the way we constructed the identity of America. I've been thinking a lot about what it means to Asian-American because growing up, I went to Shuang Wen School. We learned Mandarin, we also learned about Chinese culture. I thought every single American could speak a second language up until I was 15. When I was at orchestra, I had an interesting conversation with my stand partner:

"What language do you speak at home?"  

"English."

"No, but what other language do you speak at home?"

"I just speak English."

That just blew my mind. I used to think that being Asian American meant like being super immersed in your Asian culture but also being super immersed in American culture. But now, I'm realizing that not every Asian is fortunate enough to learn how to speak their native tongue. So I think being Asian-American is whatever you it to be, right? Other than Asian-American being something that's othering, I think it's also being able to live in between two distinct cultures. The most accurate portrayal of what my Asian-American is is eating Asian food in a Chinatown and having conversations with people where I can switch between languages. But that's just cause to me, language is still very important. I speak 3 Chinese dialects. I speak Toishan pretty fluently, so whenever I meet older folks who speak Toishan, they're always surprised to hear a 竹笋 (young bamboo shoot) speak Toishan so fluently. I grew up in Chinatown but I also grew up in a majority black community. I'm used to living in between communities.  

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I: How has living in the fringes shaped you?

Lisa: I think I'm happy living in the fringes, honestly. It's where it is, it's where it's at. I think it's given me a really unique perspective on life just because I haven't met many Asian-Americans who have such a strong cultural tie to their native tongue and who live in a majority black community. Honestly, from the start of my life till now, I've had very little interaction with white people, which is very, very, very unusual in the US, right? So I think that gives me a very unique perspective on race and class especially since I do live in public housing. A lot of people I meet don't come from the same background that I do. So whenever I bring something up, they're like, "Oh, I never thought about that that way." And then, sometimes I'm like, "Oh, you never thought about it that way because you never had to think about that that way.” Just living on the fringes has made me more able to think on my feet more. There's so much power to be had in the fringes. I think I do well there because I believe that everyone has whatever they need or want in them and it just takes someone to help them find. I'm really lucky that I get to help them find what it is they want to be or want to do. And I can't do that if I'm not in the marginalized communities. So I think I'm really fortunate to have been able to grow up in such an interesting intersection of margins

I: Has the significance of Chinatown has changed over time for you?

Lisa: I think the significance of things change all the time, right? As we develop new memories, things change. So something that was important to me then might not be as important to me now. It's still important to me because it was important to me then. It helped formed parts of my identities. So, I grew up going to school in Chinatown, so to me, Chinatown will always be where I grew up. It's where I became who I am. But after I started going to high school and college, I started spending less time in Chinatown and a part of me really missed being all of me at once. So, something's that really important to me, is having friends who are able to communicate in another language with me other than English because I realized that there's some phrases that I don't know how to put in English. Chinatown has always been a place where I can be my entire self, where I can easily switch between languages and have people understand me, you know. I don't wanna say that I'm not allowed to be myself, like all of me, outside, but I think because of how segregated our societies are, my identities are also similarly segregated. The significance has changed cause I always assumed that it would be there but then after sometime, after spending several years not consistently going to Chinatown, I'm like, damn, there's a really big part of me that I'm missing when I'm not in Chinatown.


You feel that you’re not doing what you should do, like you’re not doing your potential, what was given to you, you’re not using all your opportunities.
— Ethan Kwok

HUMAN OF CHINATOWN

Meet Ethan Kwok, a Current high school student who has lived with his family in Chinatown his entire life! He’s a first generation American; his parents immigrated here from Hong Kong

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Interviewer: What do you think it means to be Asian American? Is it a label you identify with or is it something stuck onto you?

Ethan: I identify as Asian American. Honestly, I think a big part of being Asian American is your family, your culture, and who you're around with a lot. It's also your parents because that's where I come from. It's just people. (chuckle) Being an American is... it's not just where you live, but it's how you act, who you are. It's also just who you're around. I can be apart of both cultures and they are, in a way, the same culture in certain places. 

I: How has being the child of immigrants affected your upbringing and your sense of self?

Ethan: When they came here, they worked very menial jobs like distribution at warehouses and they wanted me to, I know this really sounds like a stereotype, do more intellectual stuff -  go to school, college, go into some type of profession that's not just lifting. I know that sounds like every Asian parent: be a doctor, surgeon, lawyer. I was born way after my brother and sister. With [my siblings], it was like that; my parents did have very big expectations for them so  they forced them to a certain field. But with me, they don't press me into a certain field but they do want me to do well and they help me, which is great. They want me to just do what makes me happy. It's awesome but also it's terrifying because I have no idea what I wanna do.

I: How have you struggled with the Model Minority Myth growing up?

Ethan: I've always been seen as a timid person who wouldn't fight back at all. It's definitely based in the fact that I'm Asian. I went to an elementary school. There was not a lot of [Asians] there so we were minority and there were definitely aspects of exclusions. I know it sounds like what everyone says, but I do feel I have to be good at math. It is partially, I tell myself it's not, because I'm Asian I need to be good as math. It's just something I feel. When I fail the myth, it's not like less American. It feels like I'm not living up to my own people. It's a feeling I feel to my own Asian Americans. It's actually hard to describe. You feel that you're not doing what you should do, like you're not doing your potential, what was given to you, you're not using all your opportunities.
 

I: Can you talk about what you mean by "[Henry] Street is being gentrified"?

Ethan: Honestly I don't live in the richest area so a lot of immigrants that don't have a lot of money, a couple of years ago, would go [to Henry Street] to live. But recently, they're being bought up a lot by their real estate. So a lot of people have been forced out to the projects like Knickerbocker area. I used to have a lot of local restaurants where people make their livings like family restaurants and a bunch family store. Recently, they opened up a wedding shop which has been doing terribly; it's kind of like Anthropologie except for weddings. (chuckle) They'll have ridiculous presents. They also have a place that sells flavored water (chuckle). It not actually flavored though apparently. It's just like unflavored flavorful. I don't understand it at all.

I: (Laugh) Why do you think Chinatown has this reputation for being really dirty neighborhood?

Ethan: Honestly, Chinatown is not a top priority for New York City. We're at the bottom. It is easy to ignore us. Even during Sandy, we were hit really hard.. Everywhere got flooded. Lost power; lost water; lost everything, especially near the Hudson, Seaports Area. I got hit really hard. No water or power. I was twelve when it hit, I was freaking out because I couldn't leave the house for a while because it was so flooded and it's too dangerous outside. We didn't exactly get emergency help. They did help us, but not as much as we needed. It took a long time for everything to get back to normal. It took a long time for them to fix everything. There's certain buildings that still have damage and they're still fixing them. But the thing is, they are building new stuff. There's the giant skyscraper being built next to the Manhattan Bridge. A lot of people think of China as a disgusting place, gross, there's trash everywhere, and they move that belief to Chinatown also. We have trash on the street sometimes but it's not much more than anywhere else. 

 

Hands of Ethan

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Humans of Chinatown - The Origin Story

Hi W.O.W Blog Readers! My name is Whitney Yu and I am currently a senior at Hunter College High School. Currently, I am an intern at the W.O.W. Project and am producing a blog called Humans of Chinatown. Inspired by the Humans of New York blog, my project spotlights the humans of this beautiful neighborhood and the Asian-Americans that make up Chinatown. Serving as a platform for Asian-Americans and those connected to Chinatown to openly share their stories, my goal for this blog is to amplify and elevate the unique voices of Asian-Americans, which are often silenced and/or marginalized, and create a sense of community amongst the interviewees and amongst those connected to Chinatown. I will be sharing snippets from interviews with residents and activists speaking about their lives and experiences with Chinatown alongside photographs of them that I captured during the interview process. I hope you all enjoy yourselves on this voyage with me into the minds of Asian-Americans!

Excited,

Whitney 


W.O.W in China Trip 2017

Photos taken in China's porcelain capital, Jingdezhen

Published on September 21, 2017


Reflection on the W.O.W Internship 

Pearl Ngai 

Published July 24, 2017

Hello W.O.W Weekly Readers! 

I hope that you are all doing well. Today, I will be sharing my own personal reflection on my internship at the W.O.W Project. It has been an amazing time of learning and engaging with a community that I deeply care about. Most importantly, I want to note that I deeply appreciate all the support that I have gotten in running this blog. I hope that my reflection can inspire others to support and join the W.O.W Project in any way possible.

"Before I was an intern at The W.O.W Project I had very one sided, biased opinions what I saw was happening within the Chinatown community; although I was passionate and sought to be a part of change, I was partially in it for the wrong reasons. Being a part of the W.O.W Project has really helped me see things in a more nuanced manner. Big topics like gentrification are hard to talk about, hard to understand, and I feel that, at least for me, it was easy to get caught up in the exciting, rousing and emotional rhetoric. Through my time as an intern, however, I was able to hear various sides to the story I had thought I knew very well. Being an intern and learning from Mei helped me immerse myself in the Chinatown community; it is important to learn about something you love and care about, but I would say that it is even more important to truly engage yourself and experience things firsthand. The things I enjoyed the most from being at W.O.W was hearing stories from people like Mei’s dad, Gary. One of my favorite events was the Chinatown Storytelling Open Mic because I was able to hear from such a wide range of people with all different backgrounds speak about their connections to the Chinatown space.

My advice to any future intern would be to think as realistically as possible about a project while also remembering that the sky's the limit. While that might seem contradictory, it’s definitely something that I experienced. Working on W.O.W Weekly, the blog, was something that attracted me right at the start of my internship. I had to plan and think realistically about how often I would be able to post content, how much content, etc. On the other hand, I was free to post about what I cared about, I was free to post about the things that interested me. Working with Mei was really smooth and easy because there was so much support and encouragement, I just always had to remember to remain in communication with her so that things ran accordingly. So dream big with your project!!"

--Pearl Ngai, W.O.W Weekly Editor 

 

 


Reflection on the W.O.W Internship 

Michelle Lee

Published July 17, 2017

Hello W.O.W Weekly Readers! 

Shared today is W.O.W intern Michelle Lee. In her reflection, Michelle recounts what it was like to plan her own W.O.W Project program and also includes additional advice to future W.O.W interns. I hope that you can learn something new from her account and be encouraged by her time at W.O.W! 

--Pearl Ngai, W.O.W Weekly Editor

Michelle: "My 9 months at the W.O.W Project have been a blast. I had the opportunity to build on my skills while also deeply processing the issues my neighborhood is going through and feeling more like a part of my community. Even though I didn’t lead any projects in the fall semester and helped out with projects here and there instead, I still learned a lot about taking inventory, the designs of porcelain in the shop, Chinatown history through transcribing oral histories, etc. For my project for the spring semester, I led the Asian American Female Filmmakers Panel, which was such an exciting experience. It was one of the first times in my life I had even taken a leadership role, which was why I was hesitant at first to do this project. However, all the guidance Mei gave me definitely inspired me, shaped the idea for the panel, and gave me all the support I needed. The whole event was intern/volunteer run as well, so the team’s support was invaluable. It was really surreal and empowering when it all came together and I got to be in the space that I helped create for female AAPI youth. Hearing words of encouragement from and actually getting to interact with these Asian American female filmmakers I looked up to, a part of the experience I almost forgot about while trying to get the event together, was unreal and a very memorable part of the event as well. The event taught me a lot and sharpened specific skills such as budgeting and email-writing, but it also made me realize the value in different kinds of activism and creating empowering spaces for youth to learn and engage in dialogue. It was humbling to see that kind of tangible impact and to be trusted to use the space at W.O.W for this program."

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Michelle's advice to future W.O.W interns:

1. Be open to tackling any project and especially to leading your own project. I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone when leading a panel, but the rewards were more than worth it. Mei’s guidance also helped me a lot and she was always there to help me when I needed it. There was a perfect balance between freedom with the project and guidance/support. So I was never really overwhelmed since I had a lot of support and I’d also say don’t be scared to ask questions.

 2. Take the opportunity to attend the workshops, panels, events, etc. that W.O.W puts on. I helped Mei out with a closed meeting about the Gateway project and I got to listen to a really important conversation between a lot of prominent members of the community that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. Seize these kinds of opportunities when you can.

3. Last but definitely not least, enjoy the presence of your fellow interns, Mei, and the whole W.O.W team. The people in the space really made it feel like a warm community as well and I always looked forward to coming in and being greeted by everyone in the store. While the work of course requires your time, commitment, and effort, it was never a dull time with the other interns. Working in this environment with other younger folks who have common interests with me was great and we ended up getting along super well, which created such a fun atmosphere. The other interns and I are great friends now, and it’s definitely a friendship I wouldn’t have had without this internship.


Reflection on the W.O.W Internship

Jenni Loo 

Published July 13, 2017

Hello W.O.W Weekly Readers!

Today we will be reading intern Jenni Loo's reflection on her time at the W.O.W Project. Hope you are inspired by experiences and her passion for Chinatown! 

--Pearl Ngai, W.O.W Weekly Editor 

Jenni: "For me, interning at W.O.W meant reconnecting with the Chinatown community I've always called home but never fully felt a part of. My project was to transcribe the oral histories of local businesses owners, artists, activists, and residents, and in the process I got a glimpse at the intricate webs of family, tradition, and history that binds CTowners together so tightly. Through this, and through helping out with panels and discussions, I became much more mindful about the many experiences that influence community members' opinions about the future of Chinatown. I've realized the importance of facilitating community discussions, utilizing grassroots activism to provide a platform for voices that are not heard otherwise."

Working with the W.O.W team has taught me that effective and enjoyable teamwork experiences start with friendship and shared passions! I really looked forward to coming in every week and working alongside people who were just as passionate about Chinatown as I am. It's truly been a wonderful time, and I'm sad to leave but excited to carry on the lessons I've learned!"


Reflection On The W.O.W Project Internship

Jamie Noh

Published July 6,2017

Hello W.O.W Weekly Readers!

I hope that you are all enjoying summer and that you all had an enjoyable 4th of July Weekend.

Two weeks ago I, along with the my fellow interns Michelle Lee, Jamie Noh, and Jenni Loo, put on the “soft opening” of our cumulative final project, “W.O.W on Wheels.” We had an amazing time working together to engage with our Chinatown community. Leading up to the event, we spent hours organizing and learning together, making silly jokes, and just enjoying each other’s company.

 

 

 

 

Jamie: "Working at W.O.W is a really rewarding experience! I would say that this internship is what you make of it. You get just as much out of it as you put in. To make the most of working at W.O.W, I would definitely try to make it to as many W.O.W Project events as possible. Whether it is an open mic or a panel, you always end up learning something! You also really get to see the community that the W.O.W Project engages with. They are normally really welcoming and excited to talk about their interest and connection to the project. Another tip I would give would be to choose a project that allows you to meet and learn more about the project and community. I came into W.O.W not really knowing a lot about the history of Chinatown and the work that W.O.W was doing. For my own project, the W.O.W fundraising videos, I got to meet a lot of amazing influencers, activists, and members of the Chinatown community. Through interviews with them, I got to understand the significance of the W.O.W project and also the importance of grassroots community activism. Finally, the last thing I really valued about my W.O.W experience was  the team. When you are a teenage intern, at most other places you get treated like a child. At W.O.W, you get treated like an equal and like you have a major voice in the conversation. I would definitely make the most of that valuable experience!"


Michelle Lee On:

"The Asian American FEmale FiLmmakers panel"

Published June 23, 2017

Hello W.O.W. Weekly Readers!

Last week my fellow W.O.W intern and friend, Michelle Lee hosted the "Asian American Female Filmmakers Panel," her semester project, which featured three documentary filmmakers, ManSee Kong, Ursula Liang, and Theresa Loong; the panel's focus was on discussing how race and gender intersect to inform their work and address their challenges working in the film business. As an attendee, I learned a lot and felt refreshingly inspired by the panelists and what they had to say. For this week's post, I asked Michelle to write about her experience putting together the event; it was great to read her reflection on what was challenging, rewarding, and generally what she learned from the full experience of organizing program. 

Michelle: Planning the Asian American Female Filmmakers Panel was the project I focused on for this semester of the internship, but I actually didn’t anticipate the event being a panel of Asian American female filmmakers specifically or that it would be part of a series. Mei guided me and helped shape the idea and also helped so much in general the whole way. I knew I was interested in a youth event and started brainstorming in a Google doc I shared with her back in March. The idea of an Asian American female filmmakers panel became finalized in April. We postponed the original date from May, which would have been fitting since it was AAPI Heritage Month, to June 15 so that the event would be better planned. After scrambling to finalize all the panelists, our Google doc became crazy long - 11 pages to be exact, of research and first drafts of emails and ideas. We were lucky enough to get someone as awesome and talented as Denise Zhou as our moderator and 3 talented, kind, and knowledgeable women for our panelists: ManSee Kong, Ursula Liang, and Theresa Loong, and we were set. I had never actually led a program at W.O.W before, so I was definitely anxious but excited to organize the program.

I’ll admit, I had doubts about myself and the panel during the process. I started questioning if this was even important enough, if people would be interested, and if I could and should be directing my time and energy to more urgent activism for the community. But once the panel began, all those doubts were completely erased. The event wouldn’t have been possible without Mei, the W.O.W intern team, Gary, Eric, and of course Denise and the panelists. Seeing a full and packed room with a bunch of younger folks and hearing the panelists’ insightful and valuable words was also surreal. I remember seeing youth ask important questions during the Q&A part of that panel and also one of them mentioning how empowering it personally felt for her to attend this panel and that it made her feel seen, which was such an amazing thing to hear. It was a really humbling and exciting experience witnessing such a powerful space, that was something I helped create and come to life.

Getting to interact with the panelists afterwards at a dinner was also an awesome experience. I am so grateful that they took the time to engage with me and the W.O.W Project and the audience (and that ManSee generously provided her presence even though she was sick!). The fact that Ursula told me more than once how much she appreciated by introduction speech for the panel meant a lot to me. I have also been studying film/tv production the past 2 years, so getting to hear their advice and connect with them as people who share so many of the same identities as I do was great. Seeing that I could make a tangible positive impact on my community and be a part of a space for such important dialogue felt really fulfilling. It definitely assured me that there are all kinds of activism and that spaces for youth empowerment and dialogue are just as valuable and necessary.


W.O.W ON WHEELS: ZINE DAY

Published June 20, 2017

Hello W.O.W Weekly Readers! 

 

 

I am excited to announce that this Saturday, 6/24, The W.O.W Project Interns (starring: Jenni Loo, Michelle Lee, Jamie Noh, and yours truly!) will be presenting a culminating project, W.O.W on Wheels: Zine Day! W.O.W on Wheels is a mobile resource and community engagement center for the residents and members of our local Chinatown community. Through this event we wish to celebrate and disseminate the rich history of Chinatown's art and activism, and continue the tradition of connecting our community with local artists. 

We hope you'll join us from 12PM to 5PM at W.O.W's storefront!

If you are interested in contributing to this project, please click here to fill out a submission form. Please keep in mind that submissions are due this Friday, 6/23, at 10AM. 

Hope to see you there! 

--Pearl Ngai, W.O.W Weekly Editor 


W.O.W Zine

Published June 12, 2017

In celebration of W.O.W's 1 Year Anniversary, we put together our very own zine with reflections from the W.O.W fam and our artist-in-residence, Melissa Liu. Check out the digital copy here and swing by Wing on Wo & Co. to purchase a hard copy. Huge thanks to the amazing team of W.O.W interns that made this possible: Donna Karimi, Jenni Loo & Jamie Noh <3. 


ALL ABOUT AALFY

Published May 25th, 2017

Hello W.O.W Weekly readers, long time no see! 

For today's post I wanted to feature a very special event: the 2nd Annual Asian American Leadership Forum for Youth! The event will be happening this Saturday, May 27th at Hunter College High School. This conference was cofounded last year by one of my fellow interns, Jenni Loo. As a participant, I remember taking away a lot of knowledge and feeling connected in a deeper way to both my school community as well as the larger Asian American youth community within the city. This year, I have had the amazing opportunity to be able to help organize the event and hope that y'all can make it out.  AALFY's 2017 theme is "Coming of Age in a Shifting Political Climate" which is extremely fitting for our day and age; additionally May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (you can read more about that here) and so AALFY will be a great way for more AAPI youth to come together in a community space to learn and build relationships.

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The day will include:

  • a panel of three diverse and educated AAPI community leaders
  • 8 different workshops covering a wide range of topics such as healthy relationships, having intergenerational conversations, immigrant health advocacy and access, etc. 
  • a community organization fair full of internship opportunities
  • AND free Chipotle burritos and pizza (!!)

Similar to the April Activism series, I was able to ask Jenni some questions about AALFY and she responded with answers that explain the beginning and purpose behind AALFY. If you have any questions regarding the conference this Saturday, feel free to reach out and/or check our our Facebook event page. Again, the event is FREE and you can register here!

With all that, happy reading B) -- W.O.W. Weekly editor, Pearl Ngai 

Q&A WITH JENNI LOO

Q. What is the theme that will be discussed in your upcoming conference and why was the theme chosen? Why do you think there is significance in this specific theme? 

This year's theme is "Coming of Age in a Shifting Political Climate." This past year has revealed a lot about the political culture of the United States, making it clearer than ever that we need to overcome partisan differences through honest, open dialogue. Regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, I think we’re all frustrated with the perceived lack of cooperation and efficiency within American government. 

Given all of this, our theme is about answering these questions:

How do we leverage AAPI political power to advocate for issues we care about? How do we act directly within our local communities to fix problems that are under-addressed? How do we do all of this while also being young people in NYC?

Q. How was AALFY started? What was the intention behind holding this conference? 

My friends and I started AALFY in our junior year of HS, the fall of 2015. We all became involved in the AAPI activist community by doing youth programs at local organizations, learning about the various ways we could advocate for residents in our neighborhoods. We were usually the youngest people on our teams, often told that we were precocious for being politicized so soon. However, we knew that there were many people our age who were curious about these issues as well; they just didn’t know how to start engaging with them. 

AALFY was intended to be a space where teens could have direct access to methods of community engagement, regardless of their previous experience with AAPI advocacy. We also wanted to provide participants with a comfortable learning space to dissect the social and political influences upon our lives—Asian identity, immigration, language barriers, socioeconomic access, education, cultural capital, and much more.

Q. How did you personally get involved with AALFY? Why did you get involved? 

I got involved in AALFY because I wanted to learn about how to make my own activism more effective, especially from than people who advocated professionally. I wanted to learn about their best practices and motivations, as well as how to influence change myself. I also wanted to learn from and build connections with my peers, who are similarly incredible activists and thinkers. I figured that if we had a single place to meet and just talk about what we knew, we could start building a citywide network of teen activists! The AAPI teen population is so large in the city; I really believe that if we collaborated and unified ourselves behind any one issue, I think we’d have incredible influence. 

  Jenni Loo, HCHS Senior and W.O.W Intern

Jenni Loo, HCHS Senior and W.O.W Intern

Q. How do you think people will be able to benefit from attending your conference? What sort of take aways can people expect to bring back into their own communities?

Networking! This is a gathering of future and current young activists, who have the entire day to network and share their skills, perspectives, and interests with each other—I think people will benefit from building a network of collaborators across ages, schools, and boroughs.

Exposure to new issues and orgs! People will also get to learn about issues from organizations that work directly on them—this is a great opportunity to correct any misunderstandings or learn about what is already being done on a certain topic. The community organization fair will hopefully expose attendees to the resources and advocacy groups that are already around them.

Volunteering and internships! Concretely, I think attendees will come away with knowledge of volunteer or internship opportunities so they can start working in the communities they care about!

Also, free food! :D


APRIL ACTIVISM EVENT 3: Asian AMerican Feminism x mental health

Published on April 28, 2017

Happy Friday W.O.W Weekly readers! 

For this week our post will be centered around an event hosted by National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF*NYC.) The program is called "Asian American Feminism x Mental Health and Wellness" and will take place this Sunday, on April 30th, from 1:00-3:00 pm. I was really excited to get in touch with NAPAWF*NYC because having conversations centered around mental health has always been something close to my heart. I think it is important for all ages to be open about discussing mental health, and I think that this is especially true for Asian American communities where stigma is compounded for cultural and social reasons.

I was able to get in touch with Connie Cho, who is a lead organizer for 'Open in Emergency' and she responded with some really thoughtful, insightful, and thorough answers that touch on not only Sunday's event but also other future programs led by NAPAWF*NYC. For more details and links check the list below the Q & A! 

Happy reading :) -- W.O.W Weekly editor, Pearl Ngai  

Q&A WITH CONNIE CHO

Q. What is the theme that will be discussed in your upcoming conference and why was the theme chosen? Why do you think there is significance in this specific theme? 

A. In our upcoming installation, we will be exploring mental health and wellness in the Asian American community from an Asian American feminist perspective. While there’s no one definition of Asian American feminism because to a great extent, it is what we make of it, I mean an analytical lens or an approach to social justice that recognizes the diversity and multi-dimensionality of experiences that Asian American women/trans/gender nonconforming people have because of the intersecting power dynamics of race, gender, class, sexuality, migration history and immigration status and that uniquely shape our lives. It’s not an idea that we have to be taught, it’s our aspirational worldview, the lived identity and constantly refined political agenda that will work for all of us--especially the members of our community that have the least privilege and power. Of course, we might also identify as intersectional feminists or women of color feminists--terms that come from Black feminist thought and third world feminist movements--as they are extremely powerful and necessary identities, especially for coalition building. Yet in a political moment when so many marginalized communities are simultaneously facing deeper and often distinctive threats, the Asian American feminist identity that practices intersectional feminism allows us to more explicitly name what we stand for as well as the structures of oppression that we see around us and see in ourselves that we must break free from. I probably don’t need to explain how the intense social stigma around discussing or disclosing mental health concerns in society at large would inhibit people from seeking mental health care.  What is so devastating about mental health for Asian American womxn is that there are often culturally specific experiences and barriers to care that our current institutions -- including the medical and psychiatric community, universities, employers, our own families -- don’t understand and haven’t devoted the proportionately appropriate resources to addressing. We want to both destigmatize and decolonize our understanding of mental health and wellness through this installation.

Q. How was NAPAWF*NYC started? What was the intention behind opening the gallery installation? 

 

A. NAPAWF*NYC is the New York City Chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). The national organization was formed in 1996 after the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where AAPI women were motivated to self-organize back in the States (https://napawf.org/about/our-history/). Currently, the New York City Chapter mobilizes Asian American womxn and gender nonconforming folks. On April 30th, we’re going to be curating materials from The Asian American Literary Review's Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health (http://bit.ly/2oloSDR), which brings together a dynamic mix of writing, visual art and interactive mini-projects into a "mental health toolkit." We call it a toolkit because each artifact in the Special Issue helps us discuss Asian American mental health in the context of war, imperialism, heterosexism, racism, and the capitalist exploitation of labor that informs our sense of self and experience of wellness. Each object will be displayed with an reflective activity that corresponds to the object. For example, alongside the letters from daughters to mothers, the exhibit will ask that you also write a letter and the tarot cards will be presented by card readers who will give you a reading, etc. If you want to know more about the Special Issue, come to the installation! The A/P/A Institute at NYU is graciously subsidizing the toolkits on-site so they’re only $10 at the event! New York City is also home to the Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute (RJLI), a cohort of 15 young AAPI reproductive justice advocates. RJLI is actually hosting a really important community forum on healthcare access on May 5th (https://www.facebook.com/events/1876945832548013/) -- so I encourage you to check that out as well. In the meantime, I’d highly recommend listening to this interview with Mimi Khuc, the creator and co-editor of the AALR Special Issue: http://ideasonfire.net/podcast/26-mimi-khuc-lawrence-minh-bui-davis/.

 

Q. How did you personally get involved with NAPAWF*NYC? Why did you get involved? 

A. In October 2016, I was looking for a community of other progressive Asian-American womxn and I really admired NAPAWF’s national policy work. The NYC Chapter leaders were all really inspiring in their own right as individuals, and were welcoming of new ideas for projects. After the November 2016 election, I didn’t feel like I could truly express my whole self with most people so I was really grateful that they held a Post-Election Debrief. That’s when I met some of the folks who I would end up co-creating the Asian American Feminism Series with. Many of us are so involved in other local political or service institutions, but NAPAWF*NYC allows us to be our whole Asian American feminist selves and lift up the folks we know are doing phenomenal work, like the panelists from the last Feminist Organizing in NYC Panel.

Q. How do you think people will be able to benefit from attending the upcoming event? What sort of takeaways can people expect to bring back into their own communities?

A. By bearing witness to each other as seekers of healing willing to unlearn and end cycles of intergenerational trauma, we hope the attendees will be able to experience a sense of collective healing. We want to provide folks an opportunity to be inspired by something that was truly created for them and to affirm the value of each other’s lives. I hope that our creative curation of the AALR Special Issue components--which are enthralling by themselves--allow the attendees to be more vulnerable and open to both reflection and peace. I hope that attendees will take away a strength and confidence in the worthiness of their own experiences thus far and a renewed commitment to self-care as a part of community care in the future.


April Activism Event 2: DIY!

Published on April 23, 2017

Hello W.O.W Weekly readers! 

This week's post is a little twist on our theme of activism in April in that it features an event you can bring anywhere with you! In my personal experience, I have shared that I have learned a lot from attending different events and forums where social justice topics have been discussed. At the same time, I know how hard it can be to get to some of these community spaces, whether it be because of a long commute or a scheduling conflict. That's why this week, I've compiled some podcasts for you all to listen to, wherever you are! They are free and can be easily downloaded for your drive home or train ride to school. 

The themes covered in the various podcasts either talk about current/specific activists movements, or they discuss topics pertaining to some of the more general challenges the W.O.W Project is currently working through, such as opening up more intergenerational conversations on social justice. (In fact, the first podcast listed actually features Mei, Jenni, Diane, and Melissa!!) In a lot of ways, I think it is important for everyone in a community to become well acquainted with the issues that they would like to solve before thinking of what the next step forward should be. That is to say, it is crucial to understand the nuances of a problem before we can decide how to best find a solution. 

With that being said, I know I learn a lot from simply listening to a podcast and totally immersing myself and hope that you will do the same and enjoy the few that I chose!

-W.O.W Weekly editor, Pearl Ngai

 
 

1. "ORAL HISTORIES, ACTIVISM, AND CHINATOWNS AND FUTURE CITIES WITH DIANE WONG, MELISSA LIU, MEI LUM, AND JENNI LOO"

  • PODCAST NAME: TRYTOBEGOOD
  • AVAILABLE ON ITUNES AND SOUNDCLOUD
  • CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE PODCAST ACCOMPANIED BY A  SUMMARY OF SHOW NOTES 

2. "CHANGING COLORS IN COMICS"

  • PODCAST NAME: CODE SWITCH,
  • AVAILABLE ON ITUNES AND NPR.ORG
  • CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE PODCAST

3. "A LETTER FROM YOUNG ASIAN AMERICANS TO THEIR FAMILIES ABOUT BLACK LIVES MATTER"

  • PODCAST NAME: CODE SWITCH, AVAILABLE ON ITUNES AND NPR.ORG 
  • CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE PODCAST SITE, AS WELL AS AN ARTICLE EXPANDING ON THE PROJECT DISCUSSED WITHIN THE PODCAST 

4. "ASIAN-AMERICANS, REPRESENT!"

  • PODCAST NAME: ABOUT RACE
  • AVAILABLE ON ITUNES AS WELL AS PANOPLY.FM
  • CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE PODCAST 

April Activism Event 1: NYCAASC

Published on April 14, 2017

Happy Spring W.O.W Weekly readers! I am happy to announce that this week, we  will be featuring the New York City Asian American Student Conference, or NYCAASC, on W.O.W Weekly. I was able to get in touch with Lisa Ng, one of NYCAASC's directors, and she answered some questions about the upcoming event. Keep reading to learn more! 

NYCAASC: The New York City Asian American Student Conference is a free, intercollegiate conference that aims to empower students form a consortium of schools in the metropolitan area by providing a space for activist and student leaders to engage in diaglogue on racial and sociopolitical matters pertaining to Asian/Pacific America. Under the question and answer section is the link the NYCAASC's website, where you can register for the conference and learn more about the program as a whole. 

-W.O.W Weekly editor, Pearl Ngai 

 

Q&A WITH LISA NG

Q. What is the theme that will be discussed in your upcoming conference and why was the theme chosen? Why do you think there is significance in this specific theme? 

A. The theme for this year's NYCAASC is REALITIES. We hope to provide a platform in which various marginalized groups can share their lived experiences, or their "realities" with one another while interrogating the structures that form various realities. The most effective way to build community begins with listening. Listening, learning, and loving - these are the three L's that I believe are necessary for community building and mobilization. I want NYCAASC to be a space where everyone feels safe and comfortable sharing, listening, and learning from one another. As we listen and learn more about one another, we will learn how to love one another better. We will learn how to build communities that are equitable to all, regardless of race, gender, and socioeconomic situation. Love is what drives out hate, just like light is what drives out darkness. Here is the full theme description:

2016 was an extremely divisive year - it revealed how little we truly know of our neighbors, even in New York City. Our city is segregated by our various identities, like race and class. Although we share a single city border, we hardly know our neighbors beyone appearances and preconceived notions. This year's conference will explore the theme of REALITIES -- by delving into the experiences, histories, and communities of our families and neighbors, NYCAASC 2017 aims to identify and question the power structures that shape our realities. 

Q. How was NYCAASC started? What was the intention behind holding this conference?

A. NYCAASC was started in 2007 as a collaboration between NYU students and Columbia students. It was created as a space for Asian Americans to learn about Asian Americana. 

Q. How did you personally get involved with NYCAASC? Why did you get involved? 

A. I attended my first NYCAASC in 2014. As an attendee, I was so gratedul to have found such a loving space to learn about Asian Americana. I was so excited to have found a space to learn about my history! I immediately felt at home and knew I had found a community of folks who inspire me to question, learn, and love more. I got involved because I wanted to be a part of the community! I spent the past two years as a member of the workshops committee doing programming for attendees, and now I am one of the directors of NYCAASC! I love this community with all my heart and I really hope that attendees feel welcome, safe, and loved in this space. 

Q: How do you think people will be able to benefit from attending your conference? What sort of take aways can people expect to bring back into their own communities? 

A. When I was tabling at the APA Community fair at Hunter College, someone came up to me and told me that NYCAASC was the reason they are now studying Asian American Studies. NYCAASC always has been (and hopefully, always will be) an accesible space for all to learn about Asian Americana. NYCAASC is always free to remain financially accessible to all. NYCAASC offers a range of workshops, so those not as well versed on socio-political jargon have the oppurtunity to learn from folks who are. Everyone is welcome at NYCAASC, and we work hard to make sure that people feel welcome. When folks attend the conference, we want them to feel like a part of the community. We want people to bring back what they learned at NYCAASC to their communities, share it, and get involved. We're always looking for folks who are passionate about APA issues to help us out! 

LINKS

  • To learn more about NYCAASC and to register for the event, click here to access their website. 
  • To keep updated with NYCAASC through videos and posts, click here to access their Facebook page. 

MORE ABOUT LISA NG:

 

Lisa studies Urban Environmental Policy at Brooklyn College - she is particularly interested in the intersection between solid waste management and environmental justice. She will work to ensure NYCAASC continues to be a nurturing space for folks to learn, love, and grow. In her free time she loves to watch TV, rock climb, and listen to her friends tell stories. 


APRIL ACTIVISM: AN OPEN CALL

Published on April 9, 2017

Hello W.O.W Weekly readers! Long time no see. It has been a while since the last post, but within that time the W.O.W Project has been thinking deeply about ways in which we can make W.O.W Weekly an even more interactive and open community space. We hope to engage more with our readers through posts like today's, which will be an open call!

For the month of April, I would like to focus on activism and ways that people can get involved in organizing within their community. In my own experience, I have learned a lot through attending different workshops and conferences. To me, it is most impactful and valuable to learn from people who know best; attending spaces offered by activist groups enable us to learn from those who are experts in their fields. That being said, I thought it would be really awesome to show some support and feature upcoming conferences that cover a variety of topics, themes, and issues on our blog. 

That leads up to this week's open call: If you are involved in any upcoming general forum, event, or conference that you would like to have promoted on the blog, please email us at: wowblog26mott@gmail.com! We are looking for anything that has an emphasis on creating open, inclusive environments for people to learn from others, regardless the topic. We would be more than happy to use W.O.W Weekly as a platform to spread the word. 

-W.O.W Weekly editor, Pearl Ngai


Our Asian American identities

Published on March 2, 2017

Hello WOW Weekly readers! Throughout the next year, I wanted to start a series that will allow the W.O.W community to share reflections about their identities. When I attended the W.O.W Panel "Tough Times: Chinatown Women and the Struggle to Build Community," I was struck by a personal story told by one of the speakers, Sophia Ng, who is now Vice President of her family's supermarket, Po Wing Hong on 49 Elizabeth St. She shared an experience about when she was asked to bring in snacks to share with her classmates at school for her birthday. Her parents suggested she bring in shrimp crackers, but when she brought them to school the other kids thought the snack was strange and didn't eat them. Sophia explained that this experience had stuck with her ever since and has very much shaped the way that she thinks about her Asian American identity as being the 'other' and different. Inspired by this, I thought it would be really meaningful for the W.O.W Project team and larger community to share a memory or experience that has shaped the way we perceive our own identities as Asian Americans. For this post, we are featuring a reflection from intern, Michelle Lee. Hope you enjoy! 

 

"I went to elementary school in Chinatown, so it was at my middle school where I was surrounded by more white people for the first time which made me really self conscious and want to fit in with them really badly. It was definitely a time when I internalized a lot of racism and self-hatred that I would eventually unlearn. I remember during 7th grade, I was at the home of this guy in my grade, it was my first time hanging out with him and two other girls, and they were all white. It was getting late, so I had to call my mom on my friend's flip phone. I basically never talk to my mom in English, so there I was sitting next to three white kids as I told my mom in Cantonese when I'd be coming home. They heard me speaking in Canto and were giggling uncontrollably and tried to repeat some of what I said, followed by more giggling. I definitely felt embarrassed, but I wasn't really mad or upset at that moment. In retrospect, it was a moment that just reminded me that being Asian American made me feel like an outsider. " -Michelle Lee

 
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Reflections on WOW's 2017 Visioning Retreat

Published on February 17, 2017

On Saturday, February 11th, W.O.W hosted its first ever visioning retreat. It was the first time that all W.O.W team members were able to share a space to reflect on 2016 and brainstorm ideas for the upcoming year of the rooster. Researcher and educator, Austin Volz facilitated the W.O.W team through a morning of reflection on W.O.W's journey to date, followed by an afternoon of asking tough questions about what the future of W.O.W's growth and development will look like in this political moment under Trump's presidency. Read some of our W.O.W team members' reflections on the full day retreat.

 

Sharing stories and reflecting about the objects that connect us to each other and to Chinatown.

 
 Brainstorming ideas for W.O.W in 2017

Brainstorming ideas for W.O.W in 2017

 

 

 

"The visioning retreat was a really unique and important experience -- firstly for the W.O.W project, but also for myself. Simply having a day to disconnect from everything else and to focus on this project that we all care so much for was really special. By asking questions of ourselves and of each other (and then wading through the resulting answers) we were able to collectively carve out a core set of values and goals for the future of W.O.W. I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this conversation with such an inspiring and driven group of people." - Juliet, W.O.W permanent artist-in-residence.

"What a special moment! Focused and spirited, while taking a bifocal look back and forward! Everyone's heart and likemindedness, to engage and empower all neighbors in our changing community was inspiring! Thank you to all, for breathing into, and sustaining W.O.W's community building mission." -Gary, W.O.W steward.

 "The W.O. W visioning retreat was a really great opportunity for me to reflect on the past year at W.O.W and get a glimpse at what it has in store for the future, and how I'll play a role in that. I was reminded of what the project is about and what it means to me, as well as inspired by where other W.O.W community members and I want to see it go. It was also just really nice to regroup and spend time with other interns, who I hadn't seen in a while." -Michelle, W.O.W intern.

"It was great to reflect on past accomplishment and to build with so many people who have made the W.O.W Project what it is today. I feel energized and excited about the projects that we have in the works for the upcoming weeks and months. It's incredible the kind of creative ideas that come out of putting a bunch of people who care about the neighborhood in a room for six hours." - Diane, Cornell University doctoral candidate.

 

To learn more about our hardworking & passionate community, visit our team page. 

 W.O.W's timeline of memorable moments in 2016

W.O.W's timeline of memorable moments in 2016

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Year of The Rooster Celebrations in ChinatowN, NYC

Published on January 30, 2017

Watch this short video from this past weekend's Lunar New Year festivities in Chinatown NYC directed & edited by Eric Jenkins-Sahlin. 


W.O.W Snapshots from 2016 

Published on January 2, 2017


2017: A Year To Participate in your Community 

Published on December 23, 2016

 
 

Hello WOW Weekly readers! Today’s post is very special to me. Inspired by the resource sheet compiled by our panelists from our discussion “Tough Times: Chinatown Women & the Struggle to Build Community,” this post will be focusing on ways in which my teenage peers can get involved in the Chinatown community. We first spoke with community member, Jimmy Yee, President of Kiwanis Club of Chinatown. Kiwanis is unique in that its mission focuses its efforts intergenerationally to help both youth and elders in senior centers and at public schools in our Chinatown community. The second organization we reached out to was the Teen Resource Center (TRC) at Charles B Wang Community Health Center (CBW). Sonora Yun and Kyla Cheung (two wonderful people who were both my past supervisors!) gave us insight on how TRC, under the leadership of CBW, is engaging teens within Chinatown to actively learn about important health topics and become involved in volunteer positions for different service projects in the neighborhood.

I think oftentimes we think of community participation and involvement as a huge commitment. With this post, we hope to provide a starting point for younger folks to get involved in the Chinatown community.

-Pearl Ngai, editor

JIMMY YEE of Kiwanis Club of Chinatown

Q: In what ways do you see your organization influencing and affecting the growth of Chinatown?

A: “Kiwanis Club of Chinatown helps promote and develop leadership skills of our children through sponsorship of Key Clubs and Circle K Club. We are currently supporting 2 High School Key Clubs, Stuyvesant  High School and Nest M High School, and Baruch College Circle K Club. Part of our activities involved our Key club and Circle K members to volunteer in helping Chinatown Community, such as acted as translator for PS 124 Parent Teacher conference and organized the library for Transfiguration Pre-school campus. In addition, Kiwanis International organizes Leadership Workshop and conference to provide Leadership Training to our Key Club and Circle K Club members every year. They meet other club members from all over the United States, learning best practices and understanding diversity as well as building leadership skills. Our children are our future leaders. Their current active involvement in our Chinatown Community plant the seeds for their networks and roots here. They will be the group of people make our Chinatown Community strong in the future.”

Q: What are some upcoming events that you would like to promote to the community of Chinatown? (Who are these events mostly targeted towards in terms of age/accessibility?)

A: “One of the major projects we are working on is to publish a Chinese version of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Booklet for Parents to help them understand the impact of drug and alcohol as well as how to educate their children to prevent the abuse and get help from other resources in the community when needed. We are looking for partnering with professional organizations to deliver educational seminars on this topic and then distribute the free booklets to non-English speaking parents. We are working on the translation and targeting the distribution in 2017.”

SONORA YUN AND KYLA CHEUNG of Teen Resource Center at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center

Q: In what ways do you see your organization influencing and affecting the growth of Chinatown?

A: Charles B. Wang Health Center (CBWCHC) started as the free Chinatown Health Fair back in 1971 to address the needs of Chinese people in NYC, who faced many barriers to health and healthcare (many of which still exist today). It’s pretty amazing to me that since then, the center has grown to 5 buildings (3 in Chinatown, 2 in Flushing) and literally hundreds of employees. To me, it’s pretty unquestionable that CBW has served as a source of life and health for many people in Chinatown.

Teen Resource Center (TRC) started back in 2003 to coordinate youth development within the Pediatrics department. One thing that’s important to me about both CBW and TRC is that when we think of health, we don’t just care about the clinical and biological – it’s also your mental and social health. We don’t expect a magic pill to solve everything. So TRC aims to create a safer space for youth, who are mainly Chinese from all over the city, to feel free to express themselves and to ask us for what they need, whether that be finding a swim teacher to reading college essays to being vulnerable to discussing what Asian American means to learning how to make a videos that enable us to be effective community health advocates.

Q: What are some upcoming events that you would like to promote to the community of Chinatown? (Who are these events mostly targeted towards in terms of age/accessibility?)

A: Teen Resource Center has our holiday open mic this Friday! Catch us at Project Reach, 39 Eldridge St starting at 4pm, and we’ll be giving a free goodie bag to the first 50 attendees. We’re definitely teen-focused and this year we’ll be having both English-speaking and Chinese-speaking emcees! Check out the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1818534808364680/

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All about the 店面 Residency

Published on December 16, 2016

Chinese New Year has always been a time when community members share in celebration of welcoming a prosperous and lucky new year. Storefronts (店面 in Chinese, pronounced diàn miàn in Mandarin and dim3min6 in Cantonese ) hang red banners with new year’s wishes, Chinese lanterns light up the streets, and families gather and watch the numerous groups of lion dancers perform. For the inaugural 店面 Residency, The W.O.W Project has teamed up with China Residencies to award one artist with a $500 stipend and a two-month residency to create a new, exciting and festive Lunar New Year window display for the year of the rooster during December and January. The artist's work will be on view until the end of March in the street-level windows of 26 Mott Street. This residency will provide access to Wing On Wo & Co's basement studio space equipped with silkscreen facilities, as well as project support from China Residencies and The W.O.W Project. The 店面 resident will be invited to give a presentation about her work, and there will be an opening reception party for the window unveiling on January 26, 2017.

Read more about Melissa Liu, our 店面 resident and what's coming up for the 店面 Residency in the coming months. This residency is in part possible thanks to the support of Nom Wah Tea Parlor

 

Wing On Wo & Co.'s 店面 storefront at 26 Mott Street

 
 
 The screen printing studio at 26 Mott St.&nbsp;

The screen printing studio at 26 Mott St. 

 

OUR 店面 ARTIST IN RESIDENCE: Melissa Liu 劉慧慈

As Wing On Wo.’s inaugural Lunar New Year 店面 Artist in Residence, Melissa Liu is creating a window installation that will be filled with handmade red envelopes (紅包, known as lai see in Cantonese, hong bao in Mandarin) and short-form oral history responses collected from members of Asian Communities in New York City and beyond. In the weeks leading up to Lunar New Year (January 28, 2017), anyone identified with the Asian Diaspora celebrating the Lunar New Year is invited to participate in workshops organized by Melissa in collaboration with The W.O.W. Project, local artists, and community members and groups. Participants will have the opportunity to design and make their own red envelopes, in which they will place a question to share with a family member or friend from an older generation and collect a written response from. Participants will also receive basic training on how to conduct an oral history interview within their community, and have a safe space to discuss issues that Asian communities face in today’s political moment.


Through her window display project, Melissa hopes that the exchange of questions through red envelopes between younger and older generations will spark deeper conversations and moments of empathy that can help bridge intergenerational understanding in Chinatowns and Asian American communities through shared Lunar New Year traditions, and also result in the sharing of stories, experiences, and memories from the Asian Diaspora with locals and street passersby.

Want to get involved? E-mail: Chinatowndiaspora@gmail.com and sign up for the Lunar New Year Red Envelope & Oral History Workshop on 12/29.

"Cooking Through the Diaspora" ongoing work around identity, self-determination, and decolonization through cooking practices and the exploration of modern-day food culture. (photograph by Ricky Flores, 2016)

Melissa Liu 劉慧慈 is a cultural worker, activist, oral historian, and social sculptor, and a first-generation Chinese American. Melissa has worked as an arts administrator in Los Angeles, Paris, and New York with institutions and organizations such as The Laundromat Project, Columbia University School of the Arts, Hammer Museum, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Terra Foundation for American Art, and The Getty Foundation. She has organized and facilitated workshops for the College Art Association and Kelly Street Garden Bronx, and was part of Arts & Labor and its Alternative Economies working group. She is currently part of the working board of Museum Hue, and a longtime advocate for better representation of communities of color in cultural institutions. As a social sculptor and oral historian, Melissa explores culture, cuisine, identity, and place in the Asian Diaspora through cooking, writing, artmaking.


Who are the chinatown women of Today? 

Published on December 9, 2016

This Saturday, December 10th, the W.O.W Project will be hosting our third panel titled: “Tough Times: Chinatown Women & The Struggle to Build Community.” We will be showcasing four prominent female leaders of our community from different generations to speak about the challenges they have faced and the ways in which they have overcome them. For today’s blog post, we will be sharing snippets of interviews with a few other female leaders in the community about their unique experiences starting businesses in the neighborhood. Below is some food for thought for tomorrow's panel discussion, Enjoy! 

Morgan, owner of Chocopocalypse, on finding balance as a long-time Chinatown resident & a new small business owner:

 

 

 

“I am a new business owner and I am a relatively young person, so, I totally welcome everyone’s advice and all that, but I do feel that at times there were more patronizing ways that people said it to me. Other than that, I really haven't faced that many challenges as a woman in Chinatown. I’m on the street, so I’m more subjected to guys screaming not great things at me, but you know, that’s more with the kids that come into Chinatown, it’s not really coming in from the locals or anything like that. I grew up here my whole life and I’ve never really felt me being a woman has really prevented me from doing anything or prevented me from wanting to start a business here. I run the business with my boyfriend, but he’s more the backgrounds guy and I’m the day to day person. I would say some challenges so far is trying to fit into the neighborhood because chocolate is not a Chinese thing, it’s not like I’m trying to sell a Chinese product or anything like that. I think that my greatest challenge is trying to be a part of the neighborhood without intruding on it, which is [a] weird feeling, you know, because I’m from here. I think most people assume that I’m a newcomer to Chinatown and that I’ve never been here before. I try to fit in but still not pretend to be anything I’m not.”

 

 

Susan, owner of Manhattan Florist, on maternity leave as a female entrepreneur: 

“I think despite the different generations, one challenge as a woman entrepreneur is, you know, I started as a single woman, I felt like I could handle as many hours as I needed, which was sometimes 70 to 80 hours a week. As we become older and go through the different processes, like becoming married and becoming a wife, and then having my children… the challenges is that we want to have a family. To have children, yet at the same time there is no such thing as maternity leave for a woman entrepreneur. I can say that I really had none. That's really one of the challenges, especially, I think, for Chinese women. I remember my mom she worked in the factories, and a lot for Asian women, even back then, there were no luxuries of a lot of time off. As a small business owner we need to be balancing between family time and children, they only get to be young once, you know?

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Nancy, owner of Wing on Wo & Co., on working in a male-dominated Chinatown community: 

“I never had any problems with men, like you say. I dealt mostly with men because there weren't that many women working [in positions] like me. Only the men that you got involved with. Sometimes they didn't...they thought you didn't know anything, like you’re a woman and they underestimate you. When they saw that I could add, they were very surprised, “Oh boy, you're very good!” (laughs) Because most of the women they dealt with were very stupid!! Now, I think it's a little different, there are more women in business and in leadership roles. They have more respect for women...I think he (Donald Trump) underestimates women, in Chinatown or elsewhere. I think Chinese women are pretty strong, they could manage very well, from what I see, the present Chinese women.”

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A Look to the Future: 

An Interview with Diane Wong & Kira Simon-Kennedy

Published on December 2, 2016

For our first post we wanted to honor and appreciate two women, Diane Wong & Kira Simon-Kennedy, who have contributed greatly to the growth of The W.O.W Project. We asked them a few questions about how they view the future of the W.O.W Project through the lens of their work. 

Diane & panelists pose after the (Re) Generation of Chinatown panel in May 2016.

Diane

Q: What do you hope for the future of The W.O.W Project?
A: It’s been such an incredible journey and privilege to see the W.O.W project grow these past couple of months. I remember when Mei and I first sat down last December to talk about the possibility of creating the W.O.W project and what it could mean for Chinatown -- I don’t think either of us imagined for it to move so quickly. In retrospect, I think much of what seemed impossible back then has already been made possible because of the W.O.W project’s ability to meet people where they are at. The W.O.W project is an example of what community control could look like for a neighborhood – it inspires us to think about the future of cities and what we would like to see in our communities. The project provides residents the space and resources to build the future they want to see. My hope is that the W.O.W project will be able to engage in these conversations across Chinatowns in the United States and in a global context. I think we are often so absorbed in what happens locally that we forget that we are all situated in global context and the issues that New York City Chinatown faces stretches to communities in other cities and across oceans. My next question for the W.O.W project is: how do we situate the W.O.W project’s current work in a diasporic and transnational context – especially with regards to displacement and resistance.

Q: What type of interactions would you like to see W.O.W have with the NYC Chinatown? If possible, how about in other Chinatown across the US? Have you seen other similar movements/projects in other Chinatowns across America? What are they like, how are they alike/different than W.O.W?
A: There have been a lot of changes in New York City due to gentrification. The push for luxury development and displacement in Chinatown reflects a systemic issue that stretches beyond New York City. I would love to see the W.O.W Project collaborate with other businesses in Chinatowns across the country to strategize on the ways that small business owners can creatively organize against displacement alongside low-income tenants. Many people including the media still portray gentrification as a natural process but there is nothing natural about the physical uprooting of families that have called Chinatown home for generations. I would love to see the W.O.W Project challenge this narrative by building with community-minded businesses across the country to uplift the struggles of tenants who are currently facing displacement and pool resources that can be used to preserve what Chinatown means for low-income immigrant Chinese families. While there are similar resistance movements in Chinatowns across the country, I think that what sets the W.O.W Project apart is the fact that Mei is always careful to build on existing grassroots efforts and is mindful of who she and her project is accountable to at the end of the day.

 Diane presenting her oral histories with 360 visuals at the W.O.W. 1 year anniversary.

Diane presenting her oral histories with 360 visuals at the W.O.W. 1 year anniversary.

China Residences and The W.O.W Project recently put out an open call for The 店面 Residency which invites creatives based in NYC to design a Chinese New Year window display for Wing on Wo & Co.'s storefront.

Kira

Q: What do you hope for the future of the W.O.W?
A: I hope that the W.O.W project continues to come into its own alongside Wing On Wo to create an exciting new chapter in the long and peaceful history of 26 Mott Street. I think the conversations Mei has started have already started to take root and will grow into action-oriented movements that shape the neighborhood for the better. I hope that the talks, challenges, screenings, and residency projects continue to inform each other so that Wing On Wo can continue to be a space for gathering, trade, and creativity for generations to come.

Q: Have you seen movements similar to W.O.W in other spaces in China?
A: There are very interesting community spaces like Digua Society in Beijing creating inter-generational communal areas through design, barber shops, and libraries. There are also artist-run and independent spaces that share some of the same motivations, like Handshake 302 in Shenzhen and Lijiang Studio in Yunnan.

Q: What is the relation of art to these movements and projects both in the States and in China? 
A: All these spaces realize that the art world and the real world are one and the same, and although the "art" world tends to isolate itself by creating often elitist spaces that comment on the "real" world from afar, it doesn't always have to be that way. Other organizations in NYC like the Laundromat Project really take this to heart too.


About Diane & Kira

Diane Wong is a doctoral candidate at Cornell University where she writes on race, gender and the gentrification of Chinatowns. As a scholar activist and educator, her research stems from a place of revolutionary praxis and love for community. As a first generation Chinese American woman born and raised in New York City her research is intimately tied to Chinese diaspora and the immigrant experience. Her current dissertation research explores how gentrification impacts low-income immigrants and how Chinese residents with limited resources mobilize to fight for their homes, shifting away from the narrative of immigrants as non-political. You can find her online at @XpertDemon.

 

Kira is the co-founder and director of China Residencies. She is currently a member of NEW INC, the New Museum's art, design & technology incubator, and produces independent documentary films.

 

 
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