‘Have you eaten yet?’ Chinatown campaign seeks to remind neighbors they are cared for

Wellington Z. Chen Executive Director Chinatown BID/Partnership stands in front of the Chinatown Information Kiosk on Canal Street and Baxter Street.
Photo by Dean Moses

Executive Director of the Chinatown BID, Wellington Z. Chen, is working with Schneps Media to remind the people of Chinatown they are cared for. 

Chinatown has been in a unique situation for the past 20 years. The historically rich neighborhood has suffered tremendously as a result of the two largest tragedies in recent history of the United States. The 9/11 terror attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately serving as macabre bookends for all that this Lower Manhattan community has survived. The Chinatown Info Kiosk, located on Canal and Baxter Streets, stands as a monument to residents’ steadfast resilience while likewise also serving as a platform to the ideals they wish to achieve.

“This was a major gift to help Chinatown because people–including visitors to the 9/11 memorial couldn’t find their way up. This is a welcome center,” Chen told amNewYork Metro as he pointed out access points to the area on the kiosk’s large map.

After the World Trade Center fell in 2001, Chinatown was cut off from various parts of the city and inundated with security, crippling traffic movement in addition to medical issues suffered by those in the vicinity of the disaster. Now, 19 years later, in the wake of another crisis taking the form of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the kiosk has been transformed into a symbol of hope with words such as peace and joy adorning its outer walls. 

Wellington Z. Chen gestures to the word “peace” on the Chinatown Kiosk.

This gesture is a small part of a bigger plan to reassure a community suffering from vastly reduced tourism and visitations from the outer boroughs, leaving adverse effects on restaurants in the area and strips of metal shutters after metal shutters as businesses close. But according to Chen, there is also another issue at play here. Residents who were raised and educated in Chinatown are leaving their homes in search of greener pastures elsewhere, which prohibits an already hard-hit neighborhood from recovering.

“If you don’t remember where you came from, you are lost. Forty percent of all New Yorkers trace their origins to here. This was the original capital!” Chen said after discussing the history of his home.

In an effort to show Chinatown citizens who left—along with those who remain—that they are not forgotten, the Chinatown BID is collaborating with Schneps Media on a new initiative called, “Have you Eaten Yet?” This Chinese term is a way in which people show each other they care. With food being in short supply since the pandemic, Chen believes by asking if a neighbor has eaten is the perfect way to show residents that they are still highly regarded, and to inspire them to help one another.

“Have you eaten is a greeting, it means I care about you. If you are out of work or are homeless, you are struggling. Food insecurity is a big problem. Have you eaten also reminds people that the greatest food is in Little Italy and Chinatown,” Chen said.

During February, to coincide with the Lunar New Year, banners asking New Yorkers “Have you eaten yet?” will be erected around the area from lampposts and local buildings. In addition to this campaign, a contest will be held by both Schneps Media and the Chinatown BID, requesting New Yorkers submit words of inspiration and hope that they can then paste onto shuttered businesses until they return. 

A trash can says “Show some love” beside a host of shuttered businesses. Photo by Dean Moses

Chinatown has seen both racist destruction of property and the loss of financial security since the COVID-19 virus touched down in the city. Chen hopes working together on a communal art project, after such a hard year, will uplift all involved. 

“This is the can-do district. The contest is asking what would you say to someone who has not eaten? What would you say as a holiday greeting to those who are losing their jobs? It will be a message to all those who have closed to say hang in there. The message is to be kind and caring, be kind to one another,” Chen said.

As much as the campaign is to remind Chinatown residents that they are not forgotten, Chen reiterated that it is also to call on those who have left the once bustling district by asking them not to forget about Chinatown.