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In Malden, the booming Asian community could soon have a place of their own

$1 million in funding from Congress will jumpstart the process of creating Malden’s first community center for people of Asian descent, who account for 27.5 percent of the city’s population

Asian American seniors played ping pong at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church on May 13.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

MALDEN — Asian American seniors play ping pong five times a week at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church. Another group gathers Monday nights to dance at the Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy. After years spent fitting in where they can across this city of 65,000, the growing Asian American community has no place to call their own.

That’s about to change with $1 million in funding from Congress to jumpstart the process of creating Malden’s first community center for people of Asian descent, who account for 27.5 percent of the city’s population. Malden has the third-highest concentration of Asians in the state, after Lexington (31.6 percent) and Quincy (28.9 percent), according to census data.

For Mai Du and Andrea So, founders of the Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition, a community center has been a dream years in the making. First, it was hard to find a site, then the grassroots organization had to come up with millions of dollars in funding. They even considered asking community members to take out home equity lines of credit to help pay for the project.

“We’ve gone through all kinds of options and never would have imagined that we would get a million dollars to get started,” So said. “It’s just really exciting.”

Du, who runs the Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy, still gets emotional talking about how transformative the project will be for the Asian American community, not just in Malden but also in nearby suburbs like Lexington.

She envisions the center as a place that can bring different generations together for generations to come — where seniors can play ping pong, children can attend afterschool programs, and people in need of mental health services can seek help.


“We are a hub here for the Asian American community,” Du said. “We need a permanent home so that we can never be kicked out.”

That the money is coming from Washington — thanks to the efforts of Congresswoman Katherine Clark, whose district includes Malden — is even more meaningful.

“We feel D.C. being in Malden,” Du said. “We feel seen and heard.”

Andrea So and Mai Du, founders of the Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition, chatted with Representative Katherine Clark inside Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy on May 13. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Clark’s relationship with Du and the local Asian American community dates back to her days as state representative and state senator. Not long after Clark got elected to Congress in 2013, she joined the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus because of her district’s sizable Asian American population. Through that work, Clark got to know Representative Grace Meng, who is New York’s first Asian American member of Congress.

When a wave of anti-Asian American hate gripped the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark championed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, Meng’s legislation that President Biden signed into law in 2021 to combat hate and violence targeted toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

In January 2023, Clark became House minority whip, a move that made her one of the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress but also meant she had to step down from her caucus roles.

But that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to be an ally to the AAPI community. Clark and her staff first heard about the need for a community center two years ago and realized it would be an ideal candidate for Congress’s Community Project Funding program. This year Clark was able to secure funding for 15 community projects in her district.


“Whether it’s for a community center for the AAPI community … a bike trail or a climate resiliency project that is put together by constituents, it matters that they can see themselves in government and see government working for them,” Clark said in an interview last week in Malden.

Du and So’s coalition has identified a location in downtown Malden and hopes to raise another $3 million from public and private sources to acquire and build out the space. The center could open in phases starting next year.

Malden’s Asian American population is primarily Chinese, followed by Asian Indian, and Vietnamese, according to the census. Much like how Quincy became a hub for Asian Americans south of Boston, Malden plays that role for Asian Americans north of Boston. Malden is also on the Orange Line, giving it easy access to Chinatown.

Beyond the community center, the Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition has pushed for language access and voting rights and fought against anti-Asian hate. Their growing influence is not lost on Malden Mayor Gary Christenson. He meets monthly with the coalition and began taking Mandarin Chinese classes three years ago to better connect with constituents.

“I’ve always felt since being mayor that it’s one thing to be diverse, but it’s another thing to actually do something with it,” Christenson said. “We’ve always felt that a center would be the next step in continuing to bring our community together.”


Shirley Leung is a Business columnist and host of the Globe Opinion podcast “Say More with Shirley Leung.” Find the podcast on Apple, Spotify, and globe.com/saymore. Follow her on Threads @shirley02186

Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com.