8Books Review: Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu

Chinatown Pretty by photographer Andria Lo and Valerie Luu is a beautiful tribute to our popos and gunggungs. The book celebrates the street styles of Chinatown’s elders in six major cities: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Vancouver.

Each city gets its own section with a brief introduction and then a series of photographic profiles. Readers get pictures of each of the featured individuals or couples, including close-ups of particularly unique items, and then each includes a title, the location spotted, and a brief story. Often these describe the fabrics or fashion elements that caught the authors’ eyes (silk, velvet, patterns abound), but just as often they include charming tidbits from their conversations. Good as the info on street style might be, it’s these latter bits that really hooked me. Reflections on life (family, immigration, war, the secret to living a long life … read the book to find out), that familiar resistance to sharing much personal information, color commentary from daughters and fathers and wives and sons. (“As for his style, we liked his pink aviators and his petite pompadour, which his daughter refers to as his ‘curry puff.'”) They are little windows into everyday lives.

Even aside from reading Chinatown Pretty, I’ve been thinking a lot about our elders in this pandemic season when loneliness and isolation are so common. My own popo stayed in her apartment when the coronavirus first broke out, then ventured outside as the situation improved, but now again is isolating by herself. I’m grateful that she has remained healthy and has folks who call her regularly (honestly, she probably has more friends than I have). But I know not everyone is so fortunate. It’s one of the reasons I so admire the work of a new Chinatown group aiding elders in New York where I live. Formed in March, Heart of Dinner aims to end isolation and hunger among Asian American low-income home bound elders. They deliver meals and groceries in beautifully-illustrated paper bags each with a note (check out their Instagram for so many amazing examples and to learn more about their inspiring work).

So I’ve been taking this #GivingTuesday to think about our elders — celebrating their fashion choices and supporting organizations that feed, nourish, and care for them.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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