Last week, I attended “A Seat at the Table,” a dinner hosted by Grace Young (affectionately referred to as “the Voice of Chinatown” by Grub Street), to celebrate the traditions and flavors of Chinatown with a special menu at Hakka Cuisine.
The dinner was planned in partnership with Welcome To Chinatown and Neighbors United Below Canal to help raise awareness (and hopefully stop) the building of NYC’s new mega jail in Chinatown. The effects/impacts of such a project are massive and already being felt, with multiple small businesses closing, leaving many without income in one of the toughest economic times in years. It should also be noted that they are tearing down the old jail to rebuild this (much larger) one, with construction continuing well into 2027. Here’s another article in Grub Street about its effects on family-run businesses.
The evening was curated as not only a special dinner, but an intimate discussion with Chinatown advocates, food writers, and other media on the importance of preserving Chinatown’s history. As a New Yorker, I know how special Chinatown is to the city, and my grandfather grew up not too far away on Chrystie Street.
Now, I am not Asian, nor were a few others at the table, but we all had one thing in common: a love for tradition and celebrating said traditions through food. We listened to stories and bonded over amazing dishes like Pumpkin with Salted Egg Yolk, Sweet & Sour Pork on Ice (yes, on ice to preserve the crispy exterior – below), Lobster with Sticky Rice, and much, much more.
Chinatown is one of the backbones of NYC; the culture and culinary traditions represent the community’s strength, poise and resilience. The community demands and deserves a real seat at the table alongside City leadership to collaborate on size, scale, and other design elements that affect quality of life both for the detainees and Chinatown residents.
Below are a few bullet points to sum up, and you can learn more here, as well as some ways to take action.
- The planned mega jail for Chinatown is part of NYC’s borough-based jail plan as a solution to (closing) Riker’s
- To house the detainees and provide more humane conditions, jails are planned in four of the five boroughs
- Manhattan’s jail will take over the site of the existing Manhattan Detention Complex
- If allowed to build, this will be the tallest jail in the world and change Chinatown forever
- Demolition began in December and the impacts are already being felt
- NYC’s planned mega jail poses a threat to the community’s future, and to the preservation of Chinatown’s culture and tradition for the next generation – its already being felt among local businesses, mom and pops and the restaurant community
- The Chinatown community has been actively working with elected officials in support to advocate on their behalf with City Hall
- The effects/impacts of such a project are massive, already being felt, are long-term and in some cases permanent – environmental, cultural, economic
- Chinatown is resilient, but has already suffered so much
- Along with transparency and an independent monitor, the community demands and is currently asking City Hall for a real seat at the table alongside City leadership to collaborate on size, scale, and other design elements that affect quality of life both for the detainees and Chinatown residents
Follow @nubcnyc and @welcome.to.Chinatown and sign the mega jail petition to City Hall in support of the Chinatown community’s ask for transparency, an independent monitor, and a real seat at the table. You can sign up for the NUBC newsletter here as well.