Last week, the Forest Hills community came together for a candlelight vigil in front of Great Wall Chinese Restaurant to honor Zhiwen Yan, a food delivery worker who was killed at the end of April.
Yan, who lived in Middle Village, was fatally shot on the night of April 30 while riding his scooter on his way to deliver food in Forest Hills.
He was 45 years old, and leaves behind a wife and three children.
“He was a kind and beautiful soul. And to think how he did everything right in life as an immigrant: he worked three jobs and he leaves three children behind. He epitomizes what we all strive for as Americans,” said Ethan Felder, a labor lawyer and candidate running for NYS Assembly District 28, who co-organized the vigil. “The fact that he had that all taken away two weeks ago… it really strikes at the heart of who we are. That is why we had to memorialize his life and what happened to him and his family, and to our community.”
Zhiwen Yan’s wife, Kunying Zhao, was comforted by the community during her time of grief, and spoke out about how she feels and what the city should be doing to help.
“New York City, you owe me a life. You owe me a husband. You owe an explanation to the Chinese community,” she said through a translator.
She emphasized that Yan and his coworkers had been threatened for months prior to his death, and said that police could have taken protective measures to prevent the worst from happening.
“He should have been able to watch his children growing up, but everything ended,” she continued. “We want New York City to give us an explanation.”
Yan was a beloved member of the community, best known for his signature greeting, “Hello, my friend.”
Several residents took turns with the microphone to share their stories about him.
“I knew Mr. Yan for over 25 years. He was the best delivery guy you can ever ask for,” one resident, Ariel, said.
“If you ordered from Great Wall when he was alive, you got your food in 15 minutes or less — no matter how far you lived, or how much food you ordered,” he continued. “I’m so heartbroken.”
“This is a terrible loss to the entire community. He reached so many different people, and I think that just goes to show by how many people showed up to the vigil,” another resident, Michael, said.
“I have met many people over the past several days on my walk to Walgreens, saying they would see him on his scooter, always working,” he added. “He was the hardest working man I know in the neighborhood.”
Kai Yang, the manager of Great Wall who worked with Yan for more than 10 years, shared a powerful speech with attendees, demanding justice for his former employee.
“He was taking care of the neighborhood, delivering to the neighbors who needed food. And then without any notice, that guy came out and shot him. His blood is spilled at the crosswalk of the streets in this neighborhood,” Yang said through a translator.
“This is an insult to the city, and something we need to look into and take care of,” he continued. “My workers and I are still working in fear. We are in fear for our own lives and safety working here every day.”
He addressed the racism against Asian Americans that came out of the pandemic, which has affected the success of his business, and resulted in his workers being verbally assaulted with racial slurs.
“We deserve safety. We deserve peace so we can make our living and we can make this city somewhere worth living,” he said.
Donghui Zang, a candidate for District Leader of the 28th Assembly District, said that despite Yan’s death taking place nearly three weeks ago, his family has still not secured a place to bury him.
He said that he and the community are doing what they can to help them with this process, along with help from Uber Eats, where he also worked, and other Asian community leaders and elected officials.
“Saying ‘stop Asian hate’ is not enough. You need to prosecute and charge the criminals to the maximum extent of the law,” Zang said. “The penalty is too low so it doesn’t scare off the people who commit crimes: murder, robberies, and shootings in the subways. It’s still not enough, and we have to revise the law so people can feel safe and restore the peace.”