This article is part of Mochi’s Summer 2022 issue, highlighting the Everyday Asian American. Media often covers Asian Americans who are exceptional and defying odds (hey Chloe Kim!) or, sadly, when tragedy strikes the Asian community. In this issue, Mochi is switching things up and celebrating what the everyday Asian American enjoys, what’s on our minds, and what life looks like for us. Check out the rest of our issue here! And if you like what you are reading, please support us by buying us a boba through Ko-fi.
Tucked in between a dumpling shop and a Dominican restaurant, Mulberry Street’s Yu and Me Books is a BIPOC literary haven. Here, books showcasing the stories of the marginalized proudly overlook Columbus Park, where Chinese elders practice tai chi and play the sweet strings of the erhu. And when you walk into the cozy bookstore, Yu and Me welcomes you with cheery turquoise walls lined with fairy lights, quirky art, and shelves of thoughtfully curated books that will truly change your life.
As NYC Chinatown’s first bookstore owned by an Asian American woman, Yu and Me Books has gained recognition for its devotion to amplifying the voices of BIPOC authors. The bookstore opened during the coronavirus pandemic, defiant in the face of anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination. Since then, it has become the perfect space to learn, feel supported and seen, and join a beautiful, thriving community of activists. Yu and Me Books has teamed up with anti-racist and anti-hate initiatives like Soar Over Hate and Angry Asian Womxn to distribute self-defense tools, and they regularly host readings so patrons can meet their favorite authors and get autographed copies. It’s a space that reminds us true social change can only happen when different communities come together, uplift each other, and actively fight against oppression in solidarity.
For our “Everyday Asian American” issue, Mochi Mag had the privilege to interview Lucy Yu, the trailblazing founder of Yu and Me Books, and learn about the inspiration behind this radical bookstore, the challenges of opening a bookstore during a pandemic, and her top book recommendations at the moment!
MM: Tell me about the beginnings of Yu and Me Books. How did the idea spark into reality?
LY: I’ve always wanted to see stories that represented me in a bookstore. I spent so much of my upbringing changing my story to fit those that were readily available to me, and now I want a book to embrace me and tell me I don’t have to assimilate to the story it holds. I want a story to be a mirror in addition to a window so that we can all share our immigrant stories at the forefront. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to open up a bookstore, but the plan was always after retirement. I just sped that up a little bit!
MM: What were some of the challenges you faced when opening up the bookstore?
LY: Opening a new small business during the pandemic was definitely difficult. It was very unpredictable, and I had to take a lot of risks without knowing the outcome. I just want to, first and foremost, give a huge thanks to the community for helping me raise funding to open up the store, and I couldn’t have done it without the help from every single person that donated to the GoFundMe. We opened right before the Omicron and Delta surges and just had to adapt to not knowing what was going to happen next.
MM: What are some of your favorite things that you’ve heard from your patrons?
LY: Just hearing their stories has meant so much to me. Learning about someone’s partner, parent, or grandparent fighting for Asian American justice and pushing for our literature for decades reminds me how long we have tried to fight for our stories to be told. That always reminds me of how much I want to work to keep the bookstore for the community.
MM: How does Yu me Me foster solidarity between marginalized communities?
LY: I’ve been so grateful to support the work that Rohan Zhou-Lee does with the Blasian Book Fair and what they work so hard on to create solidarity between our incredible communities. We are working on a pride solidarity event in June as well between communities of color. I also remind those of all the immigrant stories that we have on our shelves and how much overlap there is between them. We share so much in common with each other and can achieve so much by fighting for justice together.
MM: How do you select your books? What are your top book recommendations in the store right now?
LY: They are all handpicked! I really try to do a lot of research for book titles that aren’t usually frontlist titles but deserve all the love. Some of my top recommendations are:
“Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir” by Ashley C. Ford
“What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma” by Stephanie Foo
“Disorientation” by Elaine Hsieh Chou
“Of Women and Salt” by Gabriela Garcia
MM: What’s in the future for Yu and Me Books?
LY: I try to think just one week at a time, but we are working on launching a book club and more virtual events in the future while working on our beer and wine license. We are trying to be more inclusive in our events as well!
The next time you’re in New York City’s Chinatown, Yu and Me Books is an absolute must on your list of places to visit. Give Odie, Lucy’s dog daughter, belly rubs on the weekends, relax with some tea or coffee, and support this independent bookseller by splurging on a book or two — or three or four. Check out the little white bookcase outside the store, providing free books to the community as well!
Yu and Me Books is a real dream come true for bookworms and writers of all ages, as well as anyone who sees storytelling as a catalyst for social change.
Visit Yu and Me Books in person at 44 Mulberry Street, New York, NY, or buy from their online store, no matter where you are in the world. Follow their Instagram @yuandmebooks and their website for exciting events and book releases!
Photo credits: Kai Xing Mun
Last modified: June 6, 2022