Banana Magazine Gives You an Insider’s Look at Chinatown

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Banana Mag, issue two.Photo: Banana Magazine

Soon Banana magazine will release its second issue, featuring stories on Chinese jewelry, the kawaii lifestyle for men, restaurateur Wilson Tang, fashion designer Sandy Liang, and much more.

“We want to reach anyone of Asian descent (full and partial) and anyone who is just interested in reading about creative, bomb-ass Asians,” co-founders Kathleen Tso and Vicki Ho explained over email. “The intended audience is everyone who celebrates and appreciates Asians and Asian culture.”

And on the name? “The name Banana is meant to be an inside joke,” they said. “For anyone who has ever been called a ‘banana’ (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), you know that it’s a nickname that has been given to many first-generation Asians growing up in the Western world, like us.” But the magazine intends to flip that narrative for readers who don’t quite get it. “It’s not meant to be derogatory but celebratory. For a lot of Asians growing up in the contemporary world (whether in the East or West), we’re being influenced by both cultures. (People growing up in Asia are experiencing Western influences within their own overarching cultures as well as growing up in an Asian household in the West.) Banana represents where those two worlds collide.”

In Banana’s second issue, Tso writes about living in Chinatown

Every now and then as I exit the Grand St. BD subway station, I overhear visitors and tourists take a big whiff of the fish markets that occupy two corners on the Chrystie/Grand cross streets, pinch their nose and joke, “Oh man, we’re definitely in Chinatown now.” And however foul the smell gets in the summertime, I’ll never tire of the fresh seafood scent that I see as a defining element of the neighborhood. I have only been able to call Chinatown home for a little over two years, but the stretch of my block–on Chrystie from Grand to Hester–offers a taste of all the characteristics that shape the neighborhood. I have become absolutely enamored with all the quirks and people that occupy the stretch. It’s hard not to be reminded of my summers growing up in Taiwan as I walk past fold-out tables with rows of silky bras outside storefronts and carefully dodge Chinese men’s loogies on the street. And although most people come to the block to wait in line at Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food for their famous $5 pork over rice, stop in for a bubble tea at Kung Fu Tea or score cheap fruit and vegetables at the corner, if you look deeper there’s more.

Her words run alongside photos of Chrystie Street taken by Chinese-American photographer An Rong Xu — someone who’s spent a lot of time venturing around the area.

The second issue of the magazine is part of a Kickstarter campaign that ends on February 8. For more on the ever-evolving world of art books, zines, small presses, and indie magazines, check out the Cut’s monthly column Zine and Heard.