41 Ross Celebrates Mid-Autumn Festival with Mooncakes and Community

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Chinatown SRO residents draw mooncake designs at a workshop organized by artist Connie Zheng for the Mooncake Harvest Party.  (YY Zhu )

Like magic, a gleaming, gold and red metal box decorated with ornate flowers would appear on my family’s kitchen counter every September. I’d exchange playful glances with my baba in the morning. Later that night, we’d open the box in the backyard, unveiling perfect rows of mooncakes: dense, sweet pastries filled with various pastes and dried egg yolk. Like many others in the Chinese diaspora, I looked forward to the Mid-Autumn Festival as another opportunity to connect with my parents—who, under the glow of a full moon and warm from celebrations, were more forthcoming about themselves.

This feeling of warmth and community is something that artist Connie Zheng is carrying into her upcoming Mooncake Harvest Party on Sept. 8 at 41 Ross—a community art space created by The Chinatown Community Development Center and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco—for an evening of poetry readings, food, music and conversation. Attendees will also be able to observe Zheng’s Table to Farm exhibit, a culmination of her efforts in collaborating with local Chinatown residents during her residency at 41 Ross.

Inside the space, the walls are painted yellow and decorated with a collection of luminous watercolor paintings, ink drawings and a map documenting Asian farmworker history in California. “I’ve been thinking of it as an invitation for visitors to critically reconsider and rethink farm-to-table pathways through a diasporic Asian perspective,” said Zheng. “And to think of Chinatown as a center place of food culture and food history, rather than a marginal place.”

Zheng’s active efforts to contextualize and redirect attention to Asian food culture have inspired fellow artists preparing to perform at Thursday’s Mooncake Harvest Party. Poet Shelley Wong will read work that “name checks” the nostalgia of her adolescence, shouting out icons like Hello Kitty and Michelle Kwan, and reminiscing about her favorite memories of Chinatown restaurants.

“I'm just so happy to share the work with others and to write poems from joy—write the poems that I wanted to have as a young person,” said Wong. “And to share in a room with people who understand and know the references without me having to explain them, who know who Claudia Kishi is and know what jook is.”

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Will Liang and Jason Du, a DJ duo known as redbeans, similarly experience their art and music through a lens of nostalgia, reclamation and queer diasporic joy. Ready to feed off the energy of the crowd and each other, Liang and Du are in control of the sonic environment of Thursday’s party. They’ll be mixing together older Chinese pop songs with experimental sounds that are both cathartic and healing, and hyping each other up. “I love being Will’s backup dancer,” said Du, laughing.

The night will lead up to the unveiling of mooncakes designed by San Francisco Chinatown SRO residents and Zheng, with the assistance of local favorites Garden Bakery and Yummy Bakery. The process has been challenging: first, there were the several rounds of design edits. Then, there was the arduous process of translating the designs into 3D models and molds, and then testing them. Zheng credits the local creative scene for stepping up to help her during each step of the way—the night is as much a celebration of their collective efforts as it is of her own.

“It feels like the relationships I built over time are really fruiting in this beautiful way—people whose work I've admired and consider friends,” said Zheng. “I now have this opportunity to create a platform and build space and a container to bring together folks whose work I really like. It was like a harvest of sorts.”

The Mooncake Harvest Party, hosted by Connie Zheng, takes place at 41 Ross in San Francisco on Sept. 8, 6-9pm. Tickets and details here.