New York City’s first Asian-American, female-run bookstore recently opened on Mulberry Street in Chinatown. Yu and Me Books, the brainchild of 27-year-old chemical engineer Lucy Yu, is already well on its way to becoming a neighborhood institution (and a wonderful alternative to ordering from Amazon!).
“I’ve always found so much comfort in books and had a lot of relationships with all the books I had growing up,” Yu said. So it was always a dream of mine to open a bookstore.”
This bookstore distinguishes itself from others in the area by featuring an overwhelming selection from Asian and Asian-American writers. It is no mistake that authors such as Min Jin Lee, Hanya Yanagihara and Farheen Mirza can be found at easy reach on the shelves. Yu opened this bookstore as a way to uplift and highlight Asian voices.
“Especially after seeing so much of the anti-Asian hate crimes, a lot of the hate crimes against other communities of color, Black communities, Latinx, it was just terrible to see, and I wanted to create a space for people that look like me, and people that look like my mom and grandma to come in and see stories that resonate with them,” she said.
Throughout the pandemic, hate crimes against Asian Americans rose exponentially. In 2021 alone, New York City reported 118 hate-crime incidents against Asians — a more than 300% rise from the previous year. Yu hopes that her bookstore can be a safe space for all affected communities.
Yu also prioritizes books written by Black and Latinx authors, as well as those with immigrant protagonists.
“I think [the immigrant story] is a very unique story. It’s also a very common story. I think across different types of cultural differences, different types of generations I think we can all relate to a story like that,” she says. “I think that it’s important for us to hear voices like this now and forever. There’s just not enough representation out there, especially in the literary community. So to have all my shelves filled with books like that is really important.”
People who visit Yu and Me Books, especially those who are Asian or Asian American, can see themselves represented all over the shelves. Tina Li, 35, visited the store after discovering it through an Instagram post.
“I love everything. This is my dream and this is what I would love my house to look like,” she said. “I just really like that this is a space where the primary focus is authors of color because when I go to other bookstores I have to dig for that and search for that, but I know it’s the majority here. So I feel comfortable. We are not a minority, so we shouldn’t have to search for a little part of the bookstore for [authors] who have written stories about us.”
This is precisely the impact Yu wanted to have on her community.
“When people come in, they’re like, ‘I see myself on the shelves and it means a lot to see an Asian-American female running it,’” Yu said. “The support I’ve gotten has been just wonderful. I think sometimes when you put your dream out there, you don’t know what to expect. And to see that some people share that dream with me just means so much.”