City of Asylum at Alphabet City is a bookstore that serves many purposes—an event venue, writers' retreat, community building space. On November 26, 2018, it played host to over 100 people for a discussion about immigration policy, Asian American identity, and yes, noodles.
Pulitzer Center grantee Melissa McCart followed up her reporting in Pittsburgh and Taiwan with a panel exploring how those originally from Taiwan and China who can and could contribute to Pittsburgh's changing dynamics now face immigration issues. McCart's project, Stretched Thin: How Taiwanese Noodles Affect Pittsburgh's Economy, centers on restaurateur Mike Chen, a Taiwanese native who opened Everyday Noodles five years ago. The restaurant serves soup dumplings and hand-pulled noodles, "noodles so thin you can thread a needle with it," said Chen. But noodle pulling is a skill that takes years to develop, so Chen hired Taiwanese kitchen staff through H1-B work visas.
But President Trump's new immigration policies have created obstacles for Chen and his restaurant, including cutbacks in visa allotments.
At the November event at City of Asylum, McCart joined Chen for a panel discussion, along with Marian Lien, executive director of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, and Professor Chris Briem, a University of Pittsburgh economist. Jon Sawyer, Pulitzer Center executive director, introduced the discussion.
"Restaurants are the city's top employer now, and I would say you could go into any restaurant and they would tell you that there's a dearth of workers to pull from," McCart said.
"I'm not taking jobs away from people," Chen said at another point in the discussion. "I'm creating jobs. I've hired 20 people. They live here."
"There's nothing like food to make you feel good and warm inside," said Lien towards the end of the evening. "It becomes a starter for me to talk about what is authentic about identity."