Oakland Asian Cultural Center, a non-profit organization, located in Chinatown's Renaissance Plaza. Credit: Amir Aziz

The Oakland Asian Cultural Center will launch its third annual “Virtual Community Night Market” on Mar. 15, featuring local Asian-American and Pacific Islander-owned businesses, from restaurants and artists to non-profit organizations and retail stores. The night market is actually an online directory that will be active on OACC’s website from mid-March until the end of April.

Participating businesses will be spotlighted by OACC on social media in an effort to promote AAPI entrepreneurship. The night market coincides with the various Asian new year traditions and the celebrations held between January and April

“The springtime has a lot of cultural significance for us and so it’s a nice way to highlight our heritage and then lead up to AAPI Heritage Month [in May],” said Saly Lee, executive director of OACC.

The first virtual night market launched in 2021 after the pandemic made it impossible to safely host in-person events. “Our entire Chinatown neighborhood was shut down but we still wanted to find a way to support our businesses here and other AAPI businesses throughout Oakland,” Lee said.

The “night market” branding was conceived as a way to celebrate the culture of open-air night markets found in many Asian countries. This year’s directory has also expanded to include other BIPOC vendors such as Melanin gang, a Black-owned clothing brand, and Taylor James Monét, a Black queer female artist from Oakland.

Now in its third year, Lee and others want to keep it going because the event has become a way to provide more support for businesses in addition to hosting in-person programming again. OACC wants to include the wider Oakland community in these online festivities and sees it as an opportunity to bring a new clientele to the 15 mom-and-pop shops that have signed up. The directory includes returning vendors such as Thơm Candles, Town Print Shop, and Shades of Sugar Bakeshop.

Lee said the OACC gauges the event’s success if it leads to new customers discovering local AAPI businesses. “We don’t see it as a revenue-generating event, but a good way to produce community engagement.”

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.