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People across U.S. come together to support Chinatowns as Coronavirus fears hurt small businesses

Politicians, organizers, and nonprofits across the country are striving to support Chinatowns in an inspiring show of solidarity.

People across U.S. come together to support Chinatowns as Coronavirus fears hurt small businesses
Image Source: People walk through New York's Chinatown on February 13, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

With the coronavirus pandemic gripping the world, there has been a worrying increase in xenophobic attitude towards anything and everything even remotely related to Asia. While a number of disturbing incidents of racially motivated verbal and physical attacks have been reported in recent months, mass hysteria has also taken a toll on local Chinatown businesses across the United States. Small businesses have seen a significant drop in foot traffic, forcing some to even close their doors. Now, their local communities are rising to their aid in an inspiring show of support and solidarity.


Speaking to NBC News, a 29-year-old artist and educator named Jose Corcoles revealed that when he saw the typically humming streets of Chicago's Chinatown practically empty amidst rising fear of the coronavirus, his last thought was to stay away. With his friend Carlos Matias, Corcoles turned to social media to organize a restaurant crawl towards the end of February. Although he expected as little as five or 10 attendees, when the day came, he was pleasantly surprised to see the turnout. Despite frigid temperatures, almost 100 people showed up in solidarity and this heartwarming incident is just one of many similar stories across the nation.


"It's the love that Chicagoans, and specifically people of color, have for Chinatown," Corcoles stated. Explaining that his effort was rooted in a sense of solidarity, he added that as a child of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants he felt sympathetic to Asian Americans facing discrimination because of the virus. Corcoles further emphasized that it was important to build "some solidarity across racial divisions." Like the Chicago Chinatown restaurant crawl, politicians, organizers, and nonprofits across the country are striving to support Chinatown communities. 


In many cases, city officials and council members have made public shows of support by sitting down for meals at Chinatown restaurants and inviting others to do the same. Karen Chen—the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association in Boston—stated that although the city's Chinatown still has some visitors, "you do see a decline in business." Chen added that she's pleased to see local government officials combating misinformation and supporting the Chinese American community, but insisted that state and federal governments need to do more.


Chen believes the sudden reluctance to visit Chinatown in the past few months stems from prejudice and racism. "Some people are using it as a chance to attack China," she said of the virus. She added that as a Chinese American living in the U.S., she foresees the tension between the U.S. and China hurting her community. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Facebook announced last month that it would donate $20,000 to the nonprofit, Chinese Newcomers Service Center, to fund a shop local advertising campaign for Chinatown businesses. A spokeswoman for the company also revealed that an additional $5,000 was provided in Facebook ad credit.



Over in New York, the nonprofit crime prevention group Guardian Angels is protecting Asian Americans from hate crimes by sending volunteer safety patrols. "If anybody’s harassing you, if anybody’s targeting you, anyone’s thinking that you’re a carrier because you’re carrying a mask, they’ll have to deal with us," said the group's founder, Curtis Sliwa. "We’ll physically intervene. We’ll break up fights and disputes. We’ll make citizen’s arrests." While group members now patrol the streets of Chinatown every day, some have made it a point to eat at local restaurants hoping to inspire others to do the same.


Meanwhile, Corcoles—who is thinking about organizing another restaurant crawl in the coming weeks—says that the goal right now is to rekindle a sense of community. "We are living in a super political moment that sees us creating a lot of borders and a lot of divisions, between people and between races and nations. I was really just hoping to create community," he said. 


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