Behind LA Chinatown’s Hip Food Scene: Baos, Coffee, and Gentrification

The interior of the restaurant J&K Hong Kong Cuisine. (Photo credit: F. Huynh)

By Guest Contributor: Frances Huynh

Read the first of this series: “The Gentrification of Los Angeles Chinatown: How Do We Talk About It?”

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A quietness lingers as we set up shop. Empty streets fill with the jostle of clothing racks. The multiple clicks of stoves turning on. The soft smack of noodle to plate. Doors open.

On the top floor of Far East Plaza stands 香港美食坊 (J&K Hong Kong Cuisine), a 茶餐廳 (cha chaan teng — a specific type of Hong-Kong style diner). Cantonese shows play on the television in the background, while seniors chat with friends and family at the tables all around. For many of Chinatown’s residents, it is one of a handful of go-to restaurants in the neighborhood for plates of Cantonese comfort food. Peter, a long-time resident, enjoys eating their 海鮮粥 (seafood congee) and 水餃 (dumplings). “很平 (It’s very inexpensive),” Lee Tai Tai, another resident, says. The restaurant is an important community space, providing Chinatown’s seniors an accessible place to hang out and to socialize with friends over dishes reminiscent of those found in the homelands they immigrated from. They also frequent other small shops, including New Dragon, Zen Mei Bistro, and Fortune Gourmet Kitchen, in addition to larger banquet-style restaurants such as CBS Seafood Restaurant, Regent Inn, Full House Seafood Restaurant, and Golden Dragon.

Every morning Monday to Friday, Julie, who has lived in Chinatown for over thirty years, joins about sixty other seniors to eat at Golden Dragon, a longstanding Cantonese restaurant commonly frequented by residents and visiting families. She enjoys eating the healthy meals provided by the “senior nutrition lunch” program held there.1St. Barnabas Senior Services is a non-profit organization that provides free nutritious meals to low-income adults 60 years and older at fourteen congregate meals sites including Golden Dragon. There is a suggested donation. Afterwards, she walks home to her apartment several blocks away and spends the rest of the day listening to the radio and watching Hong Kong dramas. When dinner time comes, she walks to one of several restaurants in the neighborhood to buy what she considers “fast food”: convenient Chinese takeout. By then, she notes, time just passes by.

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Fighting for equal pay for Southeast Asian American women

Cropped Infographic for AAPI Equal Pay Day (Photo Credit: NAPAWF)

By Guest Contributors: Sung Yeon Choimorrow and Vimala Phongsavanh, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

Disaggregated data indicates that Southeast Asian women in the U.S. are making on average 61 cents to the white male dollar — and this pay disparity is hurting their ability to make choices about their bodies, their lives, and their families.

Imagine having to work an extra nine months to for your pay to catch up to that of a white American man. For millions of Southeast Asian American women, this is no fictional scenario.

In 1981, Vimala’s parents and sister fled the country of Laos to escape political persecution and arrived in Rhode Island as refugees. Just a few months after settling in, her mother, Kongdeaune, began working at a factory where she ended up being paid the same minimum wage for the next 35 years of her life. She worked many 16 hour days just to be able to afford to give her kids a comfortable life and send some money back home to her family in Laos — and she did all of this without paid sick leave or vacation. Vimala saw the weight of the financial burden take a toll on her mother’s emotional and physical health. Women like Kongdeaune would have greatly benefited from equal pay and — and it’s about time they get it.

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Still Processing: Imagining Myself as Asian/American

Two Asian Americans chat over some Starbucks. (Photo credit: Roger Kisby / New York Times)

By Guest Contributor: Yaoyao Liu

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series by Yaoyao Liu, reflecting on an episode of the “Still Processing” podcast on Asian American identity.

For their second installment on the experiences of Asian Americans on the Still Processing podcast, Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris focus on the interlocking issues of dating, politics, and professional life. Their curation of voicemails, guest speakers, and personal insight presents a vivid array of perspectives that all touch upon the idea of how Asian American people are seen, and how we see ourselves.

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Reflecting on ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and Being “Asian Enough” as an Asian American Adoptee

A scene from 'Crazy Rich Asians'. (Photo credit: Warner Brothers / Crazy Rich Asians)

By Guest Contributor: Katie Mantele (@chenqiaoling)

On August 15, 2018, the release of Crazy Rich Asians was celebrated by members of the Asian diaspora across the globe, and especially by Asian Americans who have both longed for and championed more diverse Asian representation in Hollywood. As many other op-eds have pointed out, it is the first major Hollywood studio film that stars an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club twenty-five years ago.

As a 20-something-year-old Asian American woman who was adopted from China and raised by white American parents, the significance of this film was not lost on me, nor was the fact that I have lived up until now not seeing any faces that resembled mine portrayed in such a contemporary and nuanced way.
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Multiplying the Meaning of Asian American on ‘Still Processing’

Two Asian Americans chat over some Starbucks. (Photo credit: Roger Kisby / New York Times)

By Guest Contributor: Yaoyao Liu

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series by Yaoyao Liu, reflecting on an episode of the “Still Processing” podcast on Asian American identity.

I’ve only been listening to the Still Processing podcast, hosted by New York Times culture writers Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, for the past couple of months. In that time, however, I’ve devoured their pertinent and thoughtful episodes so quickly that I’m almost done listening to the entire archive. I was already looking forward to their episode on Asian Americans in the today’s cultural landscape, and was even more excited when I realized it was going to be a two-part episode featuring a number of special guests. This morning on the bus, I just finished up the first segment, “Asian-Americans Talk About Racism, and We Listen – Part 1.

From Amy Chua’s account of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother; to Emily Yoshida’s discussion of coming to terms with her mixed identity; to Pablo Torre and Andrew Ti emphasizing the colorism inherent in model minority stereotypes — the episode highlighted that the term “Asian American” can refer to a diversity of experiences. Nonetheless, I appreciated that Jenna and Wesley started off the episode with some definite commonalities: name mispronunciations, feeling protective of immigrant parents, and alienating vertigo that sometimes comes out of vacillating between cultures imagined to be wholly separate.

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