I recently read a story about a young Asian woman who was saving her family’s business in New York’s Chinatown. I was moved by this story, because as a child my parents brought us (my brothers/sister) to Chicago’s Chinatown a few times a year. We would explore the different shops with excitement. At lunch my father would say, “Everyone eats with chopsticks, no exceptions!” As you know, it was hard at first, but soon we were experts. We would happily go home excited to wear our new Chinese pajamas, play with the toys we had bought and eat almond cookies. When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area one of my first stops was… YES, Chinatown.
So, I could understand how granddaughter, Mei Lun (26 years old), was inspired by passion and tradition to stop her grandparents from selling the family business (Wing On Wo & C0.) by offering to run the store as an “owner-in-training.” The store was started by her great-great-grandfather, Walter Eng, as a general store in 1890. She is fifth generation to take over the store.
Lun’s passion for her Chinese heritage runs deep. The Chinatown community has always been male dominated and now with children growing up, and not always wanting to take over the family business things are changing. In order to make an effort to bring the community together, Lun created The W.O.W Project. This is a non-profit whose mission is to discuss the future of chinatown. There is a very interesting video documentary on their website, www.wingonwoand.co, where they discuss the history of her family’s store and the start of The W.O.W Project.
There is more… China Residencies and The W.O.W Project are teaming up to create a new residency program between local artists and ceramic artists from Jingdezhen, China. This sounds like a really great program. They have already had a few events. As they are in their infancy, they are also in fundraising mode. You can make a donation on their website.
I am excited to see Mei Lun succeed, so New York Chinatown stays alive!
Happy Lunar New Year!