Teenagers often hang out in parks in New York’s Chinatown after school, waiting for it to get dark before heading home. This group of girls were sitting on a bench in Grand Park on a warm fall day while their friends played handball. Photo/An Rong Xu

Photo Essay: Celebrating Chinese Americans

By An Rong Xu

Chinese New Year is celebrated by over a billion people across the globe. In honor of the holiday, I chose a variety of photographs that I’ve taken over the years which depict scenes from Chinese American life.

Mr. Lee, left, is all dressed up in his double-breasted suit on Chinese New Year. Mr. Lee is a neighborhood fixture; I often see him wandering around Doyers street, in the heart of Chinatown in New York City. As Chinatown ages, we often see the older generations wandering the streets to pass time during the day. Above right, another gentlemen takes a leisurely walk around Chinatown after the Memorial Day parade.

I met “Buddha” back in 2011 when I was at the School of Visual Arts. I was working on a project on the handball courts in Chinatown, and I was drawn to photograph the kids at the park because they reminded me of my adolescence and the cool kids who used to cut school. “Buddha” is the encapsulation of the cool kids I knew back in high school.

Oct. 10 marks the founding of the Republic of China, and every year the school within the Chinese Consolidated Benevolence Association has a parade down Mott Street to celebrate. They proudly wave the American flag alongside the flag of the Republic of China, aka Taiwan. In America, the older Chinatown communities were often established by those backing the Kuomintang, and until recently you would never see the flag of mainland China in these areas. There’s a layered history within the politics of the Chinese in America, and every little custom and history plays a part.

Reverend Norman Fong is one of the most inspiring grassroots activists I’ve ever met. He’s been fighting for tenants rights in Chinatown in San Francisco for more than 40 years.

Shawn is my second cousin. I met him for the first time at my grandpa’s funeral. After my grandpa died, I tried to find out more about our extended family. Shawn and I share the same great-grandfather, and through this project, I learned more about my family history and the stories of those who I met along the way. As humans, the best thing we can do is share our story because it helps us empathize with others and creates bonds that bring us closer together.

I met Ryan years ago while I was in high school. Ryan led a workshop at an Asian American student conference, focused around the idea of creating an Asian American renaissance. This photo was taken in 2014, when Ryan and I traveled from Oakland to the Grand Canyon. We had a few days, and we thought, why not?

Barbershops and hair salons have always fascinated me. In any Chinese community around the world you’ll find businesses like this one, serving local residents.

More of my photos are featured here.

I’m An Rong Xu, a New York City-based filmmaker and photographer. Follow me on Instagram here.

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