Phoebe Tran (BA Food Studies ’19) is using her passion for food to change the way local communities think about, understand, and define the Asian diaspora. As Co-Founder and Executive Director of Happy Family Night Market, a one-day annual event and growing community that celebrates the Asian diaspora through food, art, and education, Tran’s passion for using food as a means to celebrate Asian-American heritage has grown into a diverse, interdisciplinary, and experiential set of programs that provide local communities the opportunity to join the discussion and gain insight and understanding of Asian culture in the U.S. and around the world.
“Our broader mission is to deepen people's understanding of Asian heritage and to challenge preconceived or colonial notions of what ‘Asia’ means,” Tran explained. “That’s the underlying question of our programs: what is Asia? We don't claim to be an authority of Asia – we want our audience to question what it means, what borders represent, and what people think of when they think about what it means to be Asian in America."
Tran launched Happy Family Night Market in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in 2018, and her first event saw more than 2,000 attendees. In 2019, she moved Happy Family Night Market to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and extended its programming to include and focus on art and education in addition to food. Tran said her success with Happy Family Night Market is largely due to the diversity of courses she was able to take during her time as a student in the Adult Bachelor’s Program.
“While I was programming the first year for Happy Family Night Market, I took a really incredible course called ‘Food and Migration,’ and it had an impact on the way in which I thought about how to talk about food,” explains Tran. “The classes that I took at The New School allowed me to understand food from varying perspectives, whether it be through policy and business or through the environment.”
An Asian- and women-owned organization, Happy Family Night Market is currently a fiscally sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and is on its way toward becoming a nonprofit.
“For me, as both a food studies major and also as a second generation Vietnamese-Chinese American, I saw an opportunity to reimagine what an Asian food festival could offer beyond consumption,” Tran explained about Happy Family Night Market. "I wanted to create a space for dialogue, community engagement, and collaboration."