It’s more than just a welcome back party in Chinatown — a welcome home party.
The Lower Manhattan neighborhood has faced two crises at the same time. This one-two punch came first with the COVID-19 pandemic, which left a community thriving off tourism to be crippled by sudden store closures and vastly reduced foot traffic. Secondly, those who call the neighborhood home have been the victims of an unprecedented spate of anti-Asian violence.
This amalgamation of hardships has left those in the area forced to grapple with an uncertain future. However, the Chinatown Business Improvement District (BID) is looking to remind New York that it will take a great deal more than these misfortunes to tear down an historically rich Chinatown.
Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown BID, began a welcome back party designed to promote safety and oneness on May 8 at the Chinatown Information Kiosk between Baxter and Canal Streets. More than just an informative center, the kiosk is a cultural hub, and on Mother’s Day weekend it was lit up and pumping with music, capturing the hearts of passersby the likes of which hasn’t been seen since before the pandemic.
“After 15 months of being cooped up in quarantine this is the joy and sound of music,” Chen told amNewYork Metro.
Beneath fluttering banners reading “Welcome,” the Barn Vultures—a volunteer music group from Connecticut — played their guitars and bass, performing original songs and heartfelt classics. This moment instantly captured the neon words resting atop the Kiosk: “Joy.”
For a few minutes, the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple stalled as pedestrians stopped in their tracks and whipped out their cellphones to capture life in Chinatown again.
“This is the beginning of what we call ‘Have a seat series,’ and for Mother’s Day we are welcoming you to bring your mother out, to have some joy, have some fun — none of the hatred,” Chen said with great hope for the future.
Chen affirmed the importance of showcasing love and joy, which is not only what the weekend event was built upon, but also the reason why the Kiosk is decorated with those same words. In addition, the information center is decked out with artworks denouncing hate crimes, a visual that truly surges to life after nightfall with a warm, welcoming glow. This greeting gesture permeates the lampposts and trash cans with messages hailing those to the area. It is hoped this love will help combat any xenophobic feelings.
“An Asian teacher just asked for one of those posters. She said she had been teaching for 17 years and it is the first time someone called her a racist name. I said: ‘You have to be kidding me,’ it is just so, so sad,” Chen said.
Thanks to the alluring music and visual aesthetics, a melting pot of individuals gathered around the Kiosk with a sparkle of joy in their eyes and smiles beneath their masked faces from noon to 2 p.m.
This event is an offshoot of a collaboration between Schneps Media, and the Chinatown BID in which amNewYork Metro readers submitted words of kindness to inspire and reassure residents and business owners in the area. These words of kindness will be placed on shuttered businesses and other closed residences to remind the AAPI community they are cared for.