An elderly Asian woman in traditional Chinese garments gracefully dances on an open street in Harlem as African American martial arts students watch in awe. This may not be a common sight in Harlem, but on this day the community united to celebrate the Lunar New Year and rejoice in Asian traditions and celebrations. According to the 2020 Census, 7% of Upper Manhattan population is comprised of people who identify as Asian or Islander*.
In the past year, the Upper Manhattan Asian Alliance took action to make sure that not only were Asian voices heard, but their faces were seen. With an uptick in hate crimes against the Asian community in New York, and specifically in Upper Manhattan, this newly formed organization saw an opportunity for education and change.
Columbia Neighbors recently spoke with the founders of the alliance, Eva Chan and Lilian Chow to learn more about what resources it offers to the community and ways that anyone can help with its mission.
Tell me more about the Upper Manhattan Asian Alliance. When did it begin and why?
The Upper Manhattan Asian Alliance officially started in the Summer of 2021. It was in response to the assault on Yao Pan Ma, a 61-year-old Chinese Immigrant man who was brutally attacked in East Harlem and eventually died due to his injuries months later. A couple of us came together to take action.
What services does the alliance currently provide?
In the fall of 2021, we began to distribute meals to Asian seniors living in East Harlem with the help of another organization called Heart of Dinner. We also began to do events to bring the community together to give support to the Asian community and bridge the racial gap. Most recently, we did a Moon Festival event in La Marqueta and joined forces 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 host 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 healthcare topics by bringing in medical experts who can speak to the Asian audience in their native languages. A core of our work is language assistance and helping to escalate issues to the appropriate offices within the city and advocate for elderly Asians who don’t speak English. We also hope to bridge the cultural gap by fostering 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 up to Washington Heights. Currently, we do not have a lot of activity or volunteers in Washington Heights, but it is possible if more people come on board.
What is your hope for the organization in the years to come?
The broader scope is to create stronger ties amongst the Asians in Harlem, and help them integrate into the communities they’re living in. We want to bring in 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 assistance, such as Cantonese, Mandarin, and other languages.
Long term, we would love to lend a voice to the Asian population, especially those who don’t speak the language. We would love to get volunteers for all these activities, including someone who can help with building editorial content and storytelling, explain why Asians chose to live in Harlem, and show how people of all races can live in harmony together. This way, we hope to help bridge a cultural gap and help overcome language barriers.
How can someone get in touch to become involved?
Where else can people go for support?
The most active organizations here are Union Settlement, Carter Burden/Leonard Covello Senior Program, and the East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center.
*Individual districts may report higher or lower percentages of Asian or Islander population.
Visit NYC GO to learn more ways to support New York City’s Asian Community.