Justin Bull: Good afternoon, I'm Justin Bull filling in for Erin Allen and this is The Rundown.
This week we're bringing you some character studies from WBEZ's sister station Vocalo, all about people who are building communities here in Chicago. The other day we heard from Christopher LeMark, he started an organization that makes therapy more accessible for black residents in Chicago. He started an organization that makes therapy more accessible for Black residents in Chicago. And today, we’re going to introduce you to Hac Tran. He's the co-founder of HAIBAYO. What Tran's trying to do is combat gentrification and maintain Chicago’s cultural enclaves, particularly for the Southeast Asian diaspora in the Uptown neighborhood. He’s doing that by promoting the community’s creative culture, but also by working with elected officials and supporting businesses. He explains exactly how as part of Vocalo’s series, Chi Sounds Like.
Hac Tran: My name is Hac Tran. I'm the co founder of HAIBAYO, and a community leader in the Asian Argyle community. And this is what Chicago sounds like.
It started as a creative initiative to highlight and amplify the Southeast Asian diaspora culture, creative culture, like art, music, food. We've grown significantly over the last few years and now we're an LLC. I've been part of the community my entire life. My parents came here in '75 after the Vietnam War, and I also work at the Uptown Chamber of Commerce as a cultural specialist ambassador for this area. I'm honored to be able to actually represent this community now as a community leader through different facets of my work.
I'm born in Chicago, raised in the burbs, been living here for the last 20 plus years. I currently live in Portage Park. It feels like old Chicago in many ways, but it feels like Chicago in the '90s – this energy and this camaraderie of people that kind of coexist and live together. I really would have loved to live in Uptown, but its quite gentrified. The reason why I moved over there was like, you know, it's affordable, it's diverse and not too far from where you know like a lot of my work in the Southeast Asian community here is on Argyle Street is.
I had studied abroad in Vietnam, in Eastern Europe, in Hungary, in Budapest. After college, I moved to Vietnam and I worked in nonprofit non-governmental organizations throughout the country, working with youth development mitigation of like flooding for folks within the countryside, education based organizations. What brought me back here was actually to study masters of urban planning and international development. But during that time there was a kind of a pivot, where I was working on Argyle and a lot of my focus on my energies pivoted towards, you know, the community that raised me in the city. It was at a critical juncture especially with a lot of development projects. Argyle that I knew it could potentially change. It could either be a full displacement or if there is people that come back and work with the community, worked with business owners and come together to represent and amplify the community that's been here for 40 plus years, we could serve the culture.
So that was kind of really my research, my work pivoted towards that focus. Asian Argyle is a lot of Chinese folk, Chinese folk from Vietnam and also Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Vietnamese people. So it is pretty diverse, but over the last 20 years, 30 years there's been a lot of displacement of that community who live here. It is still kind of the hub commercially and organizationally for this diaspora, but a lot of people have moved away because it's more affordable. Nut still there is that kind of identity culturally and it is still kind of a hub for people to come shop, eat, and gets services and things like that.
A lot of legacy businesses closed over the years because the succession issues, or you know the pandemic really impacted them negatively. So there's been like 8 to 9 closures in the last three years. And thinking about like how do we kind of carry on that cultural legacy of our parents, that's how kind of HAIBAYO started. At first we, we actually just had a space. My friend and co founder of HAIBAYO, Jennifer "Nuky" Pham, she also owns the first Vietnamese business on Argyle. It's a pharmacy. It's called Mini Thương Xá Pharmacy. We noticed there wasn't much of a creative space for 2nd or 3rd generation Asian American people. Um so we just kind of creating this like pop up platform that started as an underground party, and we did that like once a month and that's how we started. And during the pandemic, we kind of pivoted towards more focused on businesses and also the community and how we can have these kind of community drives of food.
Since then we got a 501c3, got grants and put on festivals. What really I think took off was last year during May, one of our friends and community members, she's the owner of Q Ideas plant shop, in response to kind of the anti-Asian hate that occurred, we really wanted to kind of create not like a visual but protest in the, in a way that was joyful. So we did like the Argyle activation walk, which highlighted longtime businesses. We brought in like young Asian-American artists and performers. We probably brought in like thousands of people to the neighborhood and from there we just kept going and growing growing.
And now we're trying to find space to have a physical home for us. Uptown has always been a point of entry for many different people. There's a lot of Appalachian white folk, Black, from the south. There was a large native population that called Uptown home, Japanese people after World War II in internment came here and called it home. So there's always, it's always been this kind of mosaic of folks that call this area home. Argyle specifically, I think in the late '60s there was a Tong called Hip Sing Organization, which is still here in Argyll today. They had to leave Chinatown on the South Side, so they wanted to create a North Chinatown and that was like right before the end of the Vietnam war. So like in the late '60s, early '70s that it was established as a North Chinatown. And in 1975 with the end of the Vietnam war, there was a huge influx of refugees from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam that came here.
This area used used to be way more bustling, like tons of like, you know, people in the diaspora here every, every weekend, even during the week. Those memories of being part of your community, frequenting the businesses. I remember there's a restaurant that's still here today, if y'all haven't eaten at it, it's called Double Happiness. It's like a tiny noodle shop and it's been here for like 40 plus years and it looks exactly the same. The menu is like it's like photo copy from the original. And then they crossed it out and upped the price. But it's still the original menu from like 40 years ago. And I still remember, you know, just eating there with my parents, my childhood friends, my parents friends and just like such an impactful thing or life changing thing.
Those like small memories really especially impacted me when I came back from Vietnam and and really kind of influenced me to stay here, because it's like those, those memories if those places vanish, and a lot of places have closed and those memories fade and it's how do we kind of maintain those memories, contribute to this area and create new memories with other folk, and folk that have built this community. So I think that was really instrumental in terms of like why I wanted to, you know, stay in Chicago, help my community here in Asian Argyle.
We've got another grant through the city of Chicago. The Together We Heal Creative Place Program. So a lot of the project and programming is not really focused on events, but it's more about cultural place keeping through food, oral history telling, film, botanic and spirituality as well as the Eastern medicine and healing that's forthcoming. In the next year, we've already got a grant and a pretty good team of people that we're working with who are also from the community. Systems changed could be beyond our generation after we all pass what we can do now I think within the system of capitalism in terms of combatting gentrification or sustaining cultural legacies, cultural enclaves, cultural communities.
I think we really want to create platforms and and spaces of incubation. So thinking about strategically how do we want to work with other burgeoning entrepreneurs in our diaspora to give them that platform to help them ultimately incubate their business, their creativity, working with elected officials and working with community organizers. One it's like a place of home, right? How do we have more affordable housing? How do we fight for affordable housing? For people who can't afford to be here? Fundamentally, gentrification is rooted in capitalism and unless we think systemically about how do we offer an alternative to capitalism, a lot of this is going to be on repeat.
Justin Bull:This feature was produced by Ari Mejia for Vocalo Radio. We're gonna play another Chi Sounds Like episode for you later this week, but for now, that's it for The Rundown. I'm Justin Bull. Thanks for listening and I'll see you tomorrow.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.