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The Forgotten Ones

Myra Kim | September 9, 2016

My parents grew up in post-war China, when food was already a dwindled resource. I haven’t heard all of the stories, but finding enough to eat was often a bigger concern than making sure they ate right. When they made it to the United States, their first apartments were in Manhattan’s Chinatown and food continued to be central to their lives: my mom worked in a bakery but she hadn’t fallen in love with him yet. My dad worked hard somewhere else, so he could afford going back to the same bakery until she did.

In a way, hunger stopped defining such a large part of their lives. They had children, bought a house. But when I watch this documentary, I’m reminded of how close we still remain to it. My high school was a 15 minute walk from these same streets; my grad school is a 10 minute walk. I keep returning to these stories, of King-Sim Ng’s and of my parents’. -Jon Chin.

In Mantai Chow’s documentary, The Forgotten Ones, the struggles of senior citizens in New York’s Chinatown are revealed, as the camera crew follows an elderly woman named Ng living alone in an studio apartment in Chinatown.

The film begins on the night before Thanksgiving, as Ng walks along the streets of Chinatown, pushing a small shopping cart in front of her. She stops in front of a pile of trash bags that have been left out and opens it, removing bread that have been discarded by the bakery and placing it into her own cart. She separates the damp pieces, while explaining to the film crew how restaurants will often throw water into their trash to discourage scavengers like herself from going through their bags.

Ng’s experiences reflect those of many of the elderly seniors residing in Chinatown, unable to rely on community center of social services, because of the pride that they take on their independence. In response to a comment that inquired about why her children and local charities had not stepped in to help Ng, Mantai Chow, the director of the documentary responded:

“As far as I know, she is aware of some community/charity groups in Chinatown. But I know there are elderly people including Ng who are somehow reluctant to reach out for help.”

“The reasons might involve personal preferences, cultural issues, etc. It is a lot more complicated than what we think. I feel like it is the time to ask questions and figure it out together… To be honest, I don’t think it is fair to put blame on her children because we simply don’t know much about their family. They might have their own difficulties. In terms of what we can do, I think we can keep our eyes open. When we see a need in our own community, we give a helping hand. It can be as simple as chatting with the elderly people in the street, buying them lunch and eating with them. This kind of support is especially important for those who are reluctant to reach out to the community centers and social services.”

This response demonstrates the importance of taking a grassroots approach to addressing hunger in our city. By taking personal initiative to tackle the issue of hunger, we can help to meet the needs of those in our communities, who may be reluctant to reach out themselves.

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