Community Initiatives Are Using Food to Respond to Attacks on Asian Elders

A new grassroots initiative of 22 Asian-owned food businesses has come together under the banner #EnoughIsEnough to feed New York City’s underserved communities in the wake of recent attacks on Asian American senior citizens and in celebration of Lunar New Year, which began on Friday. “We’re trying to focus on empowering people and showing people that the small guy counts too,” said Eric Sze, of the Taiwanese restaurant 886. “We’re a collective of relatively small restaurants and have [banded] together to give a bigger, grander positive message.” 

Next week, 886 along with the restaurants Junzi Kitchen, Saigon Social, Fish Cheeks, and more; coffee brand Nguyen Coffee Supply; non-profit community group Heart of Dinner; seafood purveyor Aqua Best; and many other businesses will donate free meals to Asian elders, underserved Black and Latinx homeless shelters, and people experiencing food insecurity. They’re crowdfunding towards these efforts, and as of this writing, that campaign has received over $43,000. Those funds will support meal donations as well as charities helping Asian communities, and anyone who donates will receive a link, as well as recipes, for a three-hour-long virtual cooking class on February 22. Called “Lunar Banquet for Uncle Vicha,” the four-course virtual cooking class will honor Vicha Ratanapakdee, the 84-year-old Thai man who died in late January after a violent attack in San Francisco

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The violence Ratanapakdee experienced is a deadly example of the verbal and physical attacks Asian Americans have experienced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, his family has written; between its creation in March 2020 and August of the same year, the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center received 2,583 reports of anti-Asian discrimination—nine percent of which involved physical assaults. Attacks on at least five Asian American elders since the end of January alone have sparked renewed attention to these issues and to the importance of community-based action and cross-cultural solidarity. 

The business owners taking part in #EnoughIsEnough aren’t the only ones leaning on their expertise in food to foster solidarity: On February 20, Adrian Chang of Mori House and My Kitsune Cafe and Erin Wilks of Herb Folk Medicine will host a “Dumplings for Unity” cookalong fundraiser. Viewers will get a dumpling recipe as well as access to the virtual class on making, folding, and cooking dumplings, and 100 percent of proceeds will go towards Good Good Eatz, an Oakland-based organization that works “to connect ethnic districts throughout [Oakland] through food and culture.” Oakland’s Chinatown was the site of a recent attack on a 91-year-old Asian man, which prompted actors Daniel Wu and Daniel Dae Kim to offer a reward for information leading to an arrest.

In line with Good Good Eatz’s mission to “create a bridge between ethnic communities,” Chang wrote in an Instagram post that the goals of the dumpling fundraiser lie in the idea of cross-cultural solidarity: “In honor of both the Lunar New Year AND Black History Month, we are honored to support Good Good Eatz in their efforts to revitalize marginalized neighborhoods and forge UNITY across BIPOC communities.”

This message of unity is particularly important at a time when the idea of BIPOC solidarity has come into question. In an attempt to bring visibility to the recent violence, some high profile Asian American figures have portrayed Black communities and the Black Lives Matter movement as being at odds with Asian American communities; the fact that the people arrested in the attack in Oakland and the attack on Ratanapakdee are Black has also fueled anti-Black sentiments. 

And though people like Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu have called for justice through the police system—the city of San Francisco even increased police presence in Chinatown leading up to Lunar New Year festivities—activists and organizers in Asian and Black communities have emphasized mutual aid and community-based efforts over policing, because of their effects on Black communities. “We recognize that policing has led to the criminalization of communities of color, and mass incarceration,” Russell Jeung, the chair of the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University and one of the leaders of Stop AAPI Hate told the New York Times last week. “Why perpetuate a system that doesn’t work?” 

Instead, many organizers call for community-centered solutions including “non-police safety measures that address crime at the root, such as volunteer neighborhood patrols and more culturally competent, and language-accessible support for victims,” KQED reported in reference to a recent joint statement from over 40 Asian American organizations in the Bay Area. That statement reads, in part: “We believe that our strength is in unity, not division, and that our histories and futures are intertwined. That is why we are committed to working with Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Pacific Island communities for long-term shared vision and solutions to stop the violence in all our communities.” 

These organizers and initiatives remind us that one community’s success and safety can’t come at the expense of other communities, and the desire to protect our own shouldn’t be a reason to stoke division. As the promotional materials for #EnoughIsEnough state: “Through cross-cultural community building, we believe that unity and love should never be lost during times of crisis.” 

Donate to #EnoughIsEnough on Givebutter and to Dumplings for Unity at Herb Folk Shop.

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