Whereas feelings are excessive in Oakland Chinatown, a dumpling class promotes Asian and black unity
When Oakland-raised chef Adrian Chang first saw the videos of the violent attacks against Asian elderly people in Oakland Chinatown that had been broadcast online in recent weeks, he was furious.
The wave of attacks, including a clip of a 91-year-old man being pushed upside down on the sidewalk in broad daylight, felt to Chang personally as it did to many Asian Americans. Just last month he and Erin Wilkins, the owner of Herb Folk, an Asian-American herbalist in Petaluma, had started a year-long series of workshops on Asian-American folk traditions and the use of food as medicine – a conscious effort to these regain the Asian roots of these practices.
“Everything we do is based on celebrating the wisdom of our ancestors, our elders,” said Chang, a third-generation Chinese-American who now lives in Sonoma County. “So we really felt called to do something.”
To further complicate matters, some of the suspects featured in the videos, young blacks, the attacks have made the already strained relationship between the Black and Asian American communities in the Bay Area even more strained.
On Saturday February 20th, Chang and Wilkins will do what they always do: host an online workshop that will focus on making dumplings during the Lunar New Year. This time the theme of the event – “Dumplings for Unity” – is a response to the raw emotions these attacks have evoked on the elderly. Against this background, cooking with us should promote the unity of blacks and Asia. In particular, it will serve as a fundraiser for Good Good Eatz, an Oakland-based initiative that Chang and Wilkins hold responsible for building bridges between the two communities.
Wilkins and Chang say some of the anger they felt was due to the fact that it didn’t initially seem like the mainstream media was reporting the attacks at all. “This event was created in response to the anger and helplessness that arose,” says Wilkins, a fourth-generation Japanese American. “My grandmother is 95 years old. I can’t help but see her face and imagine her when I see these pictures.”
But then, Chang says, when the attacks gained national attention, the narrative that was being pushed seemed to be “Asian versus Black,” with a lot of inflammatory rhetoric targeting the black community in general and calls for a more intense police presence in Chinatown – both trends that made Chang uncomfortable.
“We have to call the demon for what it is,” says Chang. “It is systemic racism: there is a history of system pit in this country [the Asian and Black] Communities against each other. “
What can a 90 minute cooking class do to solve a problem as ingrained as systemic racism? Maybe not a lot. The Dumplings for Unity workshop is the spiritual descendant of Dumplings for Black Farmers, a series of cooking events that Chang’s friend Christine Su started in San Francisco this summer in solidarity with the protests of George Floyd. Chang was one of the featured chefs for these classes who raised thousands of dollars to support local black-owned farms.
In class, participants learn how to make two different dumpling fillings. Adrian Chang
Likewise, Chang emphasizes that he has no specific background in social justice activism. But he and Wilkins wanted to use their platform to support those who are already there and doing important anti-racist work. That’s why they made the class a fundraiser to support the work of Good Good Eatz, a community organization that has worked locally to build bridges between the black and Asian communities in Oakland Chinatown and beyond. It was one of several community groups that helped organize a major rally in Chinatown last weekend – a gathering that condemned anti-Asian violence and discrimination, but also pushed back against the idea that the entire black community was cracking down on Asians.
“We always try to anchor our approach to these difficult situations in compassion, empathy, and solutions that are in solidarity with the communities we serve,” said Trinh Banh, co-founder of Good Good Eatz.
When Good Good Eatz ransacked shops in Oakland Chinatown alongside George Floyd’s protests last summer, he launched a major Asian x Black x Unity campaign that included a Black Panther-inspired line declaring solidarity between the two communities. In response to the recent violent attacks in Chinatown, the initiative is now working with Asian Health Services and other Chinatown community organizations to restart the now-discontinued Chinatown Ambassador program, which Tommy Good, co-founder of Good Good Eatz, helped create. involved several years ago – a program in which former incarcerated people with roots in Chinatown support local merchants.
“That’s the solution we want to see,” says Banh. “You know the merchants. These are familiar faces. Some of them speak the language. They don’t patrol. “
Chang and Wilkins plan to address all of these topics during the Dumplings for Unity class. At its core, however, it is a cooking class. It should be affirmative and fun. Chang plans to teach participants how to make two different fillings – one with pork and chives is his grandmother’s recipe. The other one will be vegan. And then everyone will cook, steam and eat the dumplings together.
“Food as a symbol is so important and powerful to me,” says Chang. “It is food sharing that brings BIPOC communities – Asian and black communities – together.”
Dumplings for Unity will take place on Saturday, February 20th, from 12pm to 1.30pm. The suggested donation is $ 30, $ 40, or $ 50, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Interested parties should reserve their space at least a few days in advance to have time to purchase the ingredients.
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