New York, NY – There is a new cozy oasis for book lovers in New York’s Chinatown. Yu and Me Books is a new location that uplifts writers of color and creates a safe space for those who need it. With the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans in New York City, Lucy Yu opened the bookstore and coffee hangout to highlight and celebrate people who don’t feel safe because of their identities.
“Especially with the hate crimes that were going on, I wanted to do things for communities that look like me – immigrant communities. Something that makes them feel a little less alone, a little less scared in the world,” she said to The Guardian. “Our immigrant communities can come together and find a lot of commonality and connection with each other.”
Yu opened the store with writers of color and immigrants in mind. There has been a need for more writers of color to be highlighted in the book community and the need for more stories based around people of color. Yu’s inspiration for opening the bookstore came from her own experience growing up in west Los Angeles to a single, Chinese immigrant mother. She was a big reader as a child, but was often left feeling disappointed by the lack of representation in the stories.
“I was a big reader as a kid, but I didn’t see myself in a lot of books,” Yu said. “That’s not just my experience. Any child growing up in an environment where no one looks like them or very few look like them, that’s what they experience,” Yu told The Guardian.
The name of the bookstore is not only a nod and funny pun to her last name, but an ode to her mother whose initials were “YM”. Before opening the shop, Yu worked as a chemical engineer which gave her a lot of security, but she felt like something was lacking in her life — a sense of passion for what she’s doing. After a tragedy in 2020, Yu decided to take a new approach to her life and fulfill her dream while she was still young. Yu’s mother was pretty skeptical about her sudden change in lifestyle, but grew accustomed to the idea.
“It took her a while to get used to the instability [of running the bookstore]. She came here to have stability. She escaped the Cultural Revolution, all these things. So I understand the perspective that she has, it’s just very different from mine,” Yu said to The Guardian.
Yu designed the store with the community in mind. The store is meant to be a place for reading and gathering, spending some quality time either together or by yourself. Not only has it been a space for a sense of community, but also for safety and healing for the Asian American community. In March 2020, New York City nonprofit Soar Over Hate handed out free pepper spray and personal safety devices in front of Yu and Me Books.
Yu and Me Books also hosted the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW), which honored those who were the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings on the anniversary of the attack.
“I feel like the store is a huge celebration for the community and something that we can all look to. I feel so grateful to have the store,” said Leanne Gan, a Brooklyn-based designer and illustrator to The Guardian.
Yu has said her favorite part of opening the store has been the chance to meet so many new people and hear their stories. “There’s so much beauty in Chinatown that I don’t think gets represented as much as it should be,” she told The Guardian.
Yu and Me Books is located at 44 Mulberry Street New York, New York 10013. Visit their website for online orders.