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China in America: 100 days until 2022 Winter Olympics

New York City's Chinatown isn't just for those of Asian heritage. It's America's town.

NEW YORK — America has always been a land of immigrants. New York City includes people from all over the world. Just 3 miles from the energetic pace of Times Square is a neighborhood with a rich history: Chinatown.

"Where else can you go in America that you can go to see an historic neighborhood that dates over 100 years," said New York City author and resident Grace Young.

"Most people treat this as Chinatown. But in fact, this is America's town," said Wellington Chen, the executive director of Chinatown Business Improvement District.

Chinatown has long been popular for great food and restaurants offering Dim Sum, Peking duck and a variety of other dishes, including hand-pulled noodles.

"It's just a big dough and you pull it and then you fold it again. Then you pull it and fold again. It just keeps pulling and folding," said Brooklyn resident Livia Kao.

Credit: WTHR
13News anchor Scott Swan poses with a chef presenting Peking duck in New York City's Chinatown.

Chinatown has great shopping.

"It's an Asian-American wonderland," said Joanne Kwong, of her Pearl River Mart, which sells everything from ointments and soap to tea and robes. "We carry goods that are created and designed by Asian-American designers. We showcase artists and authors. Really it's about the community as well as the products."

13News spent a week exploring Chinatown in Manhattan. Like many others, the pandemic has crippled the historic neighborhood. When businesses tanked during the pandemic, many restaurants and shops closed.  

"I glance into restaurants and they're empty," Young said. "The pandemic basically stripped Chinatown and AAPI businesses throughout the country of their businesses and their livelihoods. Business is so bad they're operating on 20% of what they had pre-COVID."

Young engineered a social media campaign with the hashtag #LoveAAPI to support Chinatown businesses after posting interviews with shop and restaurant owners who were closing stores and laying off workers.  

"We have to show up and not only eat in the restaurants but shop in the markets because it's great," Young said. "The produce is super reasonable. It's super fresh. Shop in the stores. If you want to experience America these days, go to Chinatown."

Chinatown has also seen a spike in incidents of anti-Asian violence.

"The overall effect has been devastating," Young said.

The future of Manhattan's Chinatown is filled with challenges. They need more tourists and office workers to return. 

"The biggest population in Chinatown is not Chinese, it's government workers. If government workers come back and are willing to support Chinatown, we have a fighting chance," Chen said.

Leaders realize the next generation of residents want more than lanterns.

"People want a better life. They want more room. More space. More opportunities. And more importantly, they have more up-to-date facilities," Chen said. "You better have very good living conditions, a roof over your shoulder. We have a homeless issue. And, you want to create job opportunities here that people cannot wait to get out of bed to work."

Chen said now is the time to figure out new ways to find opportunities.

Our coverage of China in America not only includes New York City. In the coming weeks, 13News is headed to San Francisco and Chicago, too. You'll see the stories in February, during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.