Chinatown Workers and Visitors Respond to Changes in the Neighborhood

By Lily Wolfson and Sasha Tucker

New York City, New York

“We’re humans, so I hope the world knows that. One day there will be peace, and we’ll stop hurting people.” (Photo Credit: The Iris)

Asian American business owners and workers in Manhattan’s Chinatown have witnessed both changes to their neighborhood during the COVID-19 pandemic and a significant increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year. The Iris visited Chinatown on Sunday to interview workers about their experiences.


Lisa Sun works at Pearl River Mart, a store founded in 1971 that sells Asian-inspired foods, fashion and more. Their busiest time of year is from Christmas to the Chinese New Year. The Iris stopped by one day before the store’s move to Broadway and Grant.


“It’s been challenging like for all of New York and worldwide, but luckily we’ve just stayed strong and we’re looking forward to moving to our new space,” Sun said.


“We’re all more aware and more cautious, so we just take precautions, but we all just want to continue on with life and not be afraid to leave the house everyday,” Sun said about the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.


“Unfortunately, we hear in the news this and that happens. It’s just constant reminders that are very unfortunate.”


Sun urges readers to “keep supporting Chinatown in any way. Come shop at Pearl River. Eat at the restaurants. Go shopping.” She is “looking forward to life getting to semi-normal soon.”


On the corner of Lafayette and Walker, The Iris spotted a protestor holding a sign that read “Stop Asian Hate.” Chao Sheng Li, the sign holder, immigrated to the U.S. when he was ten years old and lives in Brooklyn.


“When I was thirteen years old, when I was in high school, I got bullied. They called me Jackie Chan or whatever. They called me Chinese n-word, and they bullied me a lot because I’m Asian,” Li said.


“At that time I couldn’t speak English, and I dropped out of high school because of that, so I just hung out in the street.”


Li was protesting anti-Asian racism with a group of other young people. He said, “We’re humans, so I hope the world knows that. One day there will be peace, and we’ll stop hurting people.”


Suki, who emigrated from Singapore, works at New Cameroon Bakery at 242 Canal Street. “After COVID-19, business is very slow,” she said.


Lily has been working at Nature Republic, a cosmetic shop at 151 Centre Street, for more than two years. The store used to attract a lot of tourists but has been “very quiet” recently.


Lily tries not to let the news of hate crimes alter her daily routine but she said, “My parents try to tell me ‘don’t go out a lot’ because of violence and things like that.”


About how the hate crimes have affected her, she said, “When I see the violence, it’s very—I don’t know how to explain it—we are all human beings, you know, and this is a united country.”


Readers of The Iris can support Lisa Sun at Pearl River Mart at their new location on Broadway and Grant. Support Suki at New Cameroon Bakery is at 242 Canal Street and Lily at Nature Republic at 151 Centre Street.