Alvaro Gutierrez interviews Wellington Chen, executive Director of Chinatown Partnership

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Alvaro Gutierrez

Today we have the honor to talk to Wellington Chen. He’s the executive Director of Chinatown Partnership. We’re gonna talk to him about diversity. We’re gonna talk with him about Chinatown, the lovely place in New York City. We’re gonna talk about also inclusion in society, access, the ADA 25 and his organization as well.


Alvaro Gutierrez: Hello and welcome to Project Access For All. Today we have the honor to talk to Wellington Chen. He’s the executive Director of Chinatown Partnership. We’re gonna talk to him about diversity. We’re gonna talk with him about Chinatown, the lovely place in New York City. We’re gonna talk about also inclusion in society, access, the ADA 25 and his organization as well. So thank you so much Wellington for being with us today.

Wellington Chen: Good morning. Thank you.

Alvaro Gutierrez: My first question would be, can you tell us a little bit about your background, your life in general?

Wellington Chen: I been blessed to be exposed to all kinds of cultures around the world because my father was a seaman and he later on became a ship captain so I have the blessing of having been having been gone from port to port, from city to city, from town to town, been exposed to the richness and the depth and the breath of the culture that is on this little oasis???.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now, can you talk a little bit about Chinatown Partnership?

Wellington Chen: Yes. The Chinatown partnership began as a creature outgrow of 911, of the handiwork of Bin Laden and a few years Chinatown was part of the frozen zone so a few years after 911, all the stakeholders got together and including the public and private sector community created this new organization called Chinatown Partnership in order to
be transparent, accountable and you know has a good you know integrity board that the people can trust.

Alvaro Gutierrez: For those who have never visited Chinatown and wonder firstly what covers Chinatown, what can you tell us about that?

Wellington Chen: Well I think that’s a great question. The There’s a lot of discussion about what is Chinatown but the uniqueness about this Chinatown is that it’s actually everybody’s town. This town is located where 90 years ago was part of Little Italy and a little bit longer than that was part of little Germany, Klein Deutschland, and it was part of the great migration of the Eastern Europeans of the Jewish community, the Irish community, of the Anglo Dutch community. So Chinatown despite its current status as Chinatown is really the home of all Americans including the namapi??? Indians that began here 12,000 years ago at least because it has a source of the water called Collect Pond.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Can you tell us a little bit what are some of the activities you can do in Chinatown?

Wellington Chen: Well Chinatown has many needs so after 911, they interviewed about 2000 stakeholders from across all spectrum from all walks of life Asian and non-Asian a like and one of the things that stood out was begin with the basics which is that they found that the area is in need of a major clean up because as Charles Dickens noted during his visit 100 year earlier the thing that struck him was the sanitary condition of this area and so we we began by cleaning it up first so that you know just because a destitute community low income community they equally deserve a clean shirt just like everybody else. WE may
not have the silk shirt but we deserve to be clean and healthy and sanitary and healthy.

Alvaro Gutierrez: I grew up in Barcelona, Spain. That was a city that was not very appreciated even by the same people that was leaving there. It was dirty. It was not respected by the citizens until a great major?????? and he changed a lot and then the Olympic games of ‘92 came and then Barcelona became world known. How important is for you Wellington and I have seen that on your website to make it a very positive and lovely place to live like it has to be your home and you have to take care of that. You have to be able to alert when there is a problem. You have to educate people about emergencies you have to keep it clean like you were saying before. How important is that in any place?

Wellington Chen: I think that we have to give credit to the Spaniards because not only you make us you have such a high standard that we are so in awe because subsequent to your Olympics you also won the contract to clean the Beijing Olympics compound so that speaks volumes about how Madrid and Barcelona are keeping their cities clean and it is it is important in a sense that it’s the basics. If you see any Chinese martial arts movie with the monks and the masters or the Karate Kid, what’s the first thing they ask you to do? Sweep the courtyard! The opening scene is the monk sweeping the court yard. The opening the first thing the martial arts master have the karate kid learn was to wax the car and wash the you know and go and clean something and so everything has to begin with the basics you know, after, 911 is such a dark event and they gave us some lighting money so why would you want to shine a spotlight on a street full of garbage and how can you command respect as you say. If I smell like a total bum and I come up to you and just say, “Mr. Gutierrez, I demand respect from you.” Or that just because I’m poor and I come up with a very you know very clean and decent presentable shirt, you will look at me very differently and that’s about self-dignity, respect for the community and treat humans with the proper respect and humanity.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Right, very well said Wellington. For Project Access For All, for this podcast, for Arts Beyond Sight, for you and for Chinatown Partnership, diversity, people with disabilities people of color people of all communities, the importance of having them always involved and always included in everything why is that so important for our society?

Wellington Chen: Well, this is another lesson besides learning from Spain is we will only have to learn from Mother Nature. In nature, biodiversity is actually essential, it’s critical, it’s basic and it’s undisputed. There’s no discussion about you know the lack of biodiversity because otherwise why would a bee exist? To cross pollen leaf?? right and so in academic research we have we beginning to find that the multi discipline and the inter disciplinary dialogue and discussion are what producing breakthroughs and insights into what is important and so learning from mother nature, the necessity for diversity is a given and so we are part of nature and so therefore diversity is a must.

Alvaro Gutierrez: you have a very rich we’ve seen a lot of food, very good food.

Wellington Chen: Right

Alvaro Gutierrez: How come ???? Chinatown is very diverse

Wellington Chen: Right. And this is where one of the well-known contributions that if you want good food you have to come down to Chinatown and as you know the Chinese word for how are you is not how are you, it’s have you eaten? So you have seen how important eating and food and culinary arts is to the Asian culture and especially the Chinese culture. So having been as supposed to tens of thousands of years of trials and error I’m please to say that the Chinese culture has perfected many of the great dishes and they are available here and so it’s not just one cuisine from one area, it’s not monolithic. There are hand pulled noodles here, there are dim sums here, there are great bubble teas here. There are great fusion restaurants that our youngsters are beginning to experience with our hybrid east and west combination. there are new there are spicy food as well as you know healthy food vegetarian, kosher, even kosher restaurants and then there are the fabulous bakeries with the egg tarts and the cha siu bun and all kinds of goodies and by the way Chinatown is a good alternative source for your fresh fruits and vegetables because they are ore reasonably priced, they are fresh and also the seafood markets and they are cheaper than any place else in this city so come on down and we will welcome you.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Wellington, I know that in your events you have people that are also very diverse, you have people that have disabilities, you have the Latino community going there, people that of color, can you explain the importance of inclusion in your events of everybody?

Wellington Chen: Well, being the victim of the one single group that got singled out by Congress for specific inclusion exclusion of 1882 being a victim we are not about to inflict that on any other ethnic group because we got delayed for 100 years because from 1882 until early 1980’s we were blocked we were delayed in our arrival for 100 years so having
been exposed to that kind of injustice we will never subject any other group to the same kind of treatment so and also we are staunch believers at least I’m a staunch believe in having a joint celebration. Why would I not enjoy and incorporate all the different diverse culture and all the different music and all the different histories and all the different performances, all the different dances, all the different richness of storytelling by limiting ourselves and appeals to only narrow spectrum of only one one group. As proud as I am as an Asian American as a Chinese American and we know how much we have to offer, this is a great great hidden asset of this city. That’s what makes this nation great. That’s what makes this city great; it’s about the ability to include new ideas, other peoples past and respecting their religions, their culture, their history their music, their food, their dancing, their history and this is where we should come together and have fun and celebrate together.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Wellington, in terms of making sure that this society becomes fully inclusive of everybody, do you think what is missing to achieve that goal that we are all chasing, maybe it’s the location, lack of location, lack of information, what would you say is missing in this equation?

Wellington Chen: I think it is multiple it has a multiple angle it has multiple angles that we need to be gradually raised in consciousness and where or not. AS you correctly pointed out, education is key and then informing the public informing all of us and gradually raising the level of a deeper understanding of what is means to all of us is critical and on top of that, it’s also important that we recognize our limitations as human beings is that we behave as a herd mentality for a lack of a better word what psychology is called
environmental psychology and so we have to better utilize our environmental psychologist to properly be aware of what it means for others and what it means for themselves because if I want to conserve water and the experiment and study I’ve done is if you were to turn off the water while showering in a public shower, there’s a 40% chance that the guy next to me will stop while soaping to turn off the water to conserve the water like California’s experiencing. However, if two people both turn off their water while soaping while taking a public shower, there’s a 60% chance that that individual that has not turned off his faucet will likely to do the same and so that’s just an example that we know that we need to gradually let people not only by informing them but also lead by the example of we taking the lead of doing the right thing of showing others what is the proper thing to do.

Alvaro Gutierrez: you know there are many events in Chinatown every year.

Wellington: Right.

Alvaro Gutierrez: could you highlight one event where you have more people attending and that’s the biggest event maybe in Chinatown during the year?

Wellington Chen: okay historically, whether it’s this Chinatown or the other Chinatowns throughout the world, the biggest event for all Chinatown is the Lunar New Year because that is a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year combined into one. So without exception, every Chinatown unless they have something really unusually, typically the biggest event is the Lunar New Year Celebration.

Alvaro Gutierrez: What’s the date of that event?

Wellington Chen: Yeah this event. The event vary from year to year because of the lunar calendar. It’s not based on the western calendar, so it is based on what the what day sometimes it’s in February most of the time it’s in February a lot of the time it maybe be fall late January as well so it fluctuates but it is a big celebration.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Would you tell us Chinatown has come a long way like any neighborhood any town in the world there are things to improve what would you say is one of the biggest challenges Chinatown still faces today?

Wellington Chen: Well You know as with any community there are a couple of things that are constant. One is the constant changes and how does a community react to the changing dynamics and Chinatown just like all the other communities need to adjust to the powerful forces that swarming around us and we have to adapt to those changes.

Alvaro Gutierrez: What would you say is the best thing that you could recommend about Chinatown if someone ask why would I go there? What would you say first?

Wellington Chen: Great question. Chinatown this Chinatown is unique in that no other Chinatown can have this asset that is you call what I call the source of the Nile where the civilization began. And this nation thanks it start in many many ways to the ability to include others in Ellis island, with the statue of liberty in the harbor and create that this great city as well as this great nation so this is the source of the Nile. This is basically where the nation because Alexander Hamilton was down there, George Washington got his start as the first president here, we fought the critical battle with the British on the Brooklyn Heights what is called the Battle of Long Island. All of the major historical events the Erie
Canal, the building of the greatest reservoir and the aqueduct system to feed 8.4 million people, the world’s largest subway system transportation system and coming down to a point which is where we are right now, the origin point.

Alvaro Gutierrez: What would you say is the most rewarding part the most exciting part that you say when you go back home at night this is what life is all about for me?

Wellington Chen: In life, there are this a great question. In life a couple of things if you are blessed you have a job, if you are a little bit more fortunate, you have a career in the profession of your chosen field and then there’s what is called the calling which I am very blessed with which is to say that I’d been blessed to be assigned to this role and this is a calling and I am just a pawn a chess piece in a greater master plan that I do not know what it is yet but just you are just we are preordained in a way to carry out this master plan and doing the best we can. One of the blessings is obviously encountering all the great people all the diverse people that is hidden in this community despite all the negativity, you find a lot of great people a lot of good people who understand right from wrong who understand what is the proper thing to do and people who step up to plate to do the right thing and those are really the true blessing. At the end of the day, it is about empowering the true individuals, to energize the community and I am very blessed with that portion of the work.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Very inspiring answer Wellington.

Wellington Chen: Thank you.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now from New York City, the MOPD, New York commissioner, Victor Calise, asked three questions for you lets listen to them.

Victor Calise: Hi Alvaro and hi everybody listening. I’m Victor Calise, the commissioner of the Mayor’s office for people with disabilities. First thanks for all your help, for your support and your commitment to New York’s ADA 25 anniversary. My first question for you is what does the ADA and the 25th anniversary mean for you?

Wellington Chen: Well one of the things that struck me was we all think you know that the so called we all think the public or generally have this sense of what does ADA have anything to do with me when in fact ADA is part of us you know because I was participating in one of the panel discussions I mean one of the discussions and it was pointed out by the participants that only 17% of the people are born with what’s called the handicap or the physical challenge. 83% of us acquire that whether we go to serve the country in Iraq in Afghanistan or we have like Christopher Reed so it is we don’t appreciate it until it is that moment so I am beginning to appreciate what it is that ADA 25th Anniversary means to us. For example the legacy so far is tremendous, every time I go to a public bathroom, the wide bathroom is because that it was due to ADA. We just to go into these tiny little bathrooms that are meant to be a closet of a jetfighter you know and you now go into the public all enjoy whether you are handicap or not. The ADA compline elevators, ADA compliant bathrooms, all the corners curb cuts so that when you are hauling some luggage along, you don’t have to do that heavy lifting that you can easily glide down and go to and order the hand truck delivery UPS, federal express and all the hand truck delivery, warehouse delivery people that are putting their hand truck have ADA to thank for. As for us there are many many other things that has been ensured 25 years. Every one of us get to benefit from it, not just the not just the people who are physically challenged.

Victor Calise: My second question: as you know, the ADA looks out for the well-being of people with disabilities, so all of these areas where the ADA is improving people’s lives, employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services and telecommunications, which one do you think needs the most improvement?

Wellington Chen: Well I think that overall we are all winners I think that the fact that we now you know like it’s a perman that describing at the congress her was invited to congress and you know the congress have those long steps flight of steps and instead he was lifted up put into the side door and things like that. That was before ADA and I think that illustrates how far we have come now as you just mentioned you know. If I need to get down to the subway now you know the subway station are beginning to put in more elevators and so for the seniors that are that are now slower in motion, they’re also very preventing them from falling or breaking a hip or god forbid. And so all of this is is part of the progress that has been made in 25 years.

Victor Calise: And my final question: what’s your message for any young people listening to encourage them to help celebrate and keep the spirit of the ADA moving forward?

Wellington Chen: That’s a great question. I mean it’s absolutely correct. The young are going to inherit this planet and it is going to be their world and my my my advice and it’s a lesson I learn from many is a couple of things you need to do. Obviously it’s good to always give than to just receive and more importantly, you cannot call yourself a leader if you don’t mentor the future generation so we have to share and give each other a hand and for those who study longevity, the secret to longevity helping other is just not altruistic, at the end of
the day if you want to live a long life, and the secret to longevity is by helping others. Helen Hayes, the great actress, was interviewed I think in her late 90s, or 93 years old about what’s the secret to her long life and longevity and her answer was don’t bother me with that question I’m too busy helping other people with their problems. And that is an illustration of why by helping this will be helpful to yourself.

Victor Calise: and finally, I wanna make sure everyone knows about the NYC Disability Pride Parade taking place on July 12th, which is a great way for people with disabilities to celebrate their pride. So I hope to see you on July 12th, marching with us in the disability pride parade.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Well I wanna say thank you to Victor for these very good questions and Wellington, what are you going to do for the ADA 25?

Wellington Chen: Oh yes. On July 26th, we are gonna be launching a major ADA celebration and so we welcome everyone to come down to set up tables because you know lower east side, the sidewalks are narrow, the so we have closed off we will be closing off multiple blocks on Mott street, south of canal street all the way down to Chatham Square. And turn it over to the ADA community for celebration for fun and there will be you know there will be a lot of family activates, there will be tables for people to display and educate there will be as you know, our area is renowned for food so come on down for a very reasonable price foods. And then the come and have fun and so on that it is a Sunday, last Sunday of July. July 26th, we welcome not just the ADA community but the entire world to come back home and celebrate and join us and recognizing the contribution of the ADA community on their silver anniversary.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Okay so finally can you tell us please your contact information

Wellington Chen: Okay. My contact information is very simple. It’s my first name Again, Wellington is W E L L I N G T O N @ because we are nonprofit 501 C organization and so just think of Chinatown Partnership is one word, no dot, no spaces and my phone number is 9175777003. Again, 9175777003. Feel free to reach out to me and we will be delighted to welcome you to Chinatown.

Alvaro Gutierrez: And the website?

Wellington Chen: The website. There are two websites. Obviously very easy to go but our main website is called and in that on the upper right hand corner you can subscribe to our newsletter and we will notify you
of all events and what are the good things happening in the community, what are the things you should be aware of and if there are any alerts as to any emergencies we welcome you and its free and so we welcome you to subscribe to the newsletter. There are several thousand households on subscription right now so why not join us.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Sure sure. It’s a wonderful website to have to say for our listeners. It’s very accessible for the screen readers zoom text that I use as someone who is vision impaired. Thank you so much Wellington for being with us today and I hope our listeners are gonna enjoy and celebrate the ADA 25 as we all are going to do at Project Access For All and remember that you can visit us on Facebook at Project Access For All. You can visit us on twitter and follow us there at project access for all you can email us at and you can visit our website at So from Alvaro, from AVS and Project Access For All, thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful day.