An elderly Asian woman dressed in traditional Chinese clothing gracefully dances down an open street in Harlem as African American martial arts students watch in amazement. It may not be a common sight in Harlem, but on this day the community came together to celebrate the Lunar New Year and rejoice in Asian traditions and celebrations. According to the 2020 census, 7% of Upper Manhattan’s population is made up of people who identify as Asian or Islander*.
Over the past year, the Upper Manhattan Asian Alliance has taken steps to ensure that not only Asian voices are heard, but their faces are seen. With an increase in hate crimes against the Asian community in New York City, and specifically in Upper Manhattan, this newly formed organization saw an opportunity for education and change.
Neighbors of Colombia recently spoke with alliance founders Eva Chan and Lilian Chow to learn more about the resources it offers to the community and how everyone can contribute to its mission.
Tell me about the Asian Alliance of Upper Manhattan. When did it start and why?
The Upper Manhattan Asian Alliance officially started in the summer of 2021. This was in response to the assault on Yao Pan Ma, a 61-year-old Chinese immigrant who was brutally attacked in East Harlem and ultimately died from his injuries months later. . A few of us have come together to take action.
What services does the alliance currently provide?
In the fall of 2021, we started distributing meals to Asian seniors living in East Harlem with the help of another organization called Heart of Dinner. We also started organizing events to bring the community together to support the Asian community and bridge the racial divide. Most recently, we hosted a Moon Festival event in La Marqueta and partnered with Marcus Meets Malcolm in Central Harlem for a Lunar New Year event near Marcus Garvey Park; and we look forward to doing more events in the future.
We hold monthly virtual meetings to bring together local organizations that serve the Asian population here and Asian organizations outside of Harlem. We have provided webinars covering health topics using medical experts who can speak to Asian audiences in their native language. Language support is central to our work and helps us escalate issues to the appropriate city offices and advocate for older Asians who do not speak English. We also hope to bridge the cultural gap by promoting mutual understanding between people of all races.
What areas of Upper Manhattan are covered?
We are in Harlem, which includes both east and west but can go all the way to Washington Heights. Currently, we don’t have many activities or volunteers in Washington Heights, but it is possible if more people join us.
What is your hope for the organization in the years to come?
The broader scope is to create stronger bonds among Asians in Harlem and help them integrate into the communities in which they live. We want to bring culturally appropriate social services for the Asian population here. We want to help people register to vote so they can have a voice and get help from students to provide various language support like Cantonese, Mandarin and other languages.
In the long term, we would like to give a voice to the Asian population, especially those who do not speak the language. We would love to have volunteers for all of these activities, including someone who can help create editorial content and storytelling, explain why Asians choose to live in Harlem, and show how people of all races can live in harmony together. In this way, we hope to help bridge a cultural gap and help overcome language barriers.
How can someone get in touch to get involved?
Everyone is welcome to contact us through the submission form on our webpage or send us an email. They can also reach us at TwitterInstagram or Facebook.
Where else can people go for help?
The most active organizations here are Union Settlement, Carter Burden/Leonard Covello Senior Program, and East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center.
* Individual districts may report higher or lower percentages of Asian or Islander population.
To visit NYC GO to learn more about ways to support New York’s Asian community.