By Sophia Hsu
Photos by Cindy Trinh
Autumn in New York City is one of the almost nearly perfect times of year. The air is crisp. The heavy scents of summer give way to sweeter air with just a hint of warm campfires. The autumn of 2011 brought something different. Americans fed up with the 1% who held the majority of our nation’s wealth making all of the decisions for the rest of us 99% began to peacefully protest the injustice with a sit-in at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District. One of the many people capturing this historical moment was Cindy Trinh, an intellectual property lawyer turned photographer who was also fed up with the status quo. With these photos, she wanted to tell the story of this turning point, so she started Activist NYC to continue these stories. Over the last five years, Cindy has built quite a following on Activist NYC, which has expanded across social media and into a podcast.
However, I learned of Cindy from Asian-American social media, specifically Angry Asian Man who highlighted Cindy’s 2015 photo essay “The Model Minority Reality”. As soon as I finished swiping through these gritty, black and white photos of the invisible service workers who were overlooked and did not fit neatly into the label, I knew I needed to invite her to speak on an Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month panel. We met well before the panel over a meal to discuss topics. I talked about writing for Asian Fusion Magazine, and she talked about changing careers, becoming a photographer full-time. Her photos made me feel like my extended family was finally being seen. My family survived in the same shadows living in a one room tenement; every family member working two or three jobs, usually in restaurants or factories, to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. We were definitely invisible to the system.
Over the years, Cindy and I stayed in touch and cultivated a friendship over shared experiences like immigrant parents, fulfilling their dreams, finding ours, and so on. We talked about food and travel. Growing up in Southern California surrounded by strong Asian communities, Chinatowns were a source of comfort for Cindy in otherwise unfamiliar cities. The smells, sounds, and vibrant colors reminded her of home. Even though she began her journey in black and white, Cindy’s documentation of Chinatowns around the world has evolved to include colors so brilliant that you can almost hear the cacophony on the street and smell the cooking street food. With each adventure, Cindy has discovered something new, something familiar, something neglected, or something taken for granted in these long-lasting support networks built out of exclusion and the need for the warm feeling of family and security.
“The Model Minority Reality” was just the beginning for Cindy. “No Boundaries” builds upon that foundation and is ready to capture the hearts and stories passed down throughout Chinatowns around the world. Cindy’s solo gallery exhibit “No Boundaries” was recently on view at the New York Arts Center at 78 Bowery in Chinatown. Follow Activist NYC on social media @activistnyc, and you can find the Activist NYC podcast on SoundCloud. A catalog of her photo essays, street photography, and documentary photography can be perused at cindytrinh.com.