A grassroots movement challenges Citizens United, corporate power, and…
A Tale of Three Chinatowns
A TALE OF THREE CHINATOWNS explores the survival of urban ethnic neighborhoods in three American cities: Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston. Through the voices of residents, community activists, developers, and government officials, the film looks at the forces altering each community and the challenges that go with them, including the pressing issue of urban development and gentrification.
Liz Cheng | WGBH General Manager
“The film does an extraordinary job positioning how fragile the current Chinatown in Boston is. It has to be more than the community itself that wants to preserve it. A film like this is very important to get the word out that the public needs to join the fight for its future.”
Tristan Au | theEagle, American University
“This is an extremely important film that shines a light on the histories and experiences of Chinese Americans in these cities.”
Lisa Simmons | Roxbury International Film Festival
“Gentrification is an ongoing problem, and people across communities must learn to support each other in the preservation of cultures that are currently at risk.”
Vivian Wu Wong, History and Social Sciences Dept. | Milton Academy
“A Tale of Three Chinatowns provides an insider's view to communities that have sustained the Chinese immigrant experience and elevates the voices of residents, small business owners and activists. Compelling and accessible, this film was an excellent choice for my high school's celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”
Tim Sieber, PhD, Professor of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts, UMass Boston
“A Tale of Three Chinatowns is a beautifully done, multidisciplinary, and comparative look at the history and development of three of America’s notable Chinatowns – Boston, Washington DC, and Chicago. The film offers deep and complex portraits of these enclaves created in response to long-standing racism, exclusion, and segregation experienced by Chinese and later wider Asian arrivals; as sites for these beleaguered yet proud communities’ steady development of cultural and social capital; and, as crucibles for creative, heroic organizing, solidarity building, and cultural affirmation in resistance to the pressures of globalization, gentrification and displacement engulfing their respective cities and locations. A rich mix of Interpretive, specialist voices offer strategic first-person, direct commentary on history, culture, politics, and change in these remarkable neighborhoods. A Tale can serve as a valuable documentary asset to courses in many fields, such as ethnic studies, US urban and immigration history, or urban studies more widely, cross-cutting classes in many disciplines.”
Mao, Lisa (film director)
Mao, Lisa (film producer)
Lee, Penny (film producer)
Editor, Penny Lee; director of photography, Steve Cocklin; music, Lenny Williams.
Distributor subjectsUrban Ethnography; Chinese American Studies; Sociology; Urban Development and Gentrification
[00:00:12] Female Speaker 1: Chinatown for me is a cultural touchstone. This is a place where my parents and grandparents came and lived when they first came to the United States.
[00:00:22] Female Speaker 2: It's a group of folks that actually came here to settle and they were looking for a better life.
[00:00:27] Female Speaker 3: I can connect with my heritage and my identity.
[00:00:31] Male Speaker 1: Where newcomers to the country or to the neighborhood can go to have something they're familiar with.
[00:00:36] Female Speaker 4: You can do business with people who understand the way you do business culturally.
[00:00:41] Female Speaker 2: This is their spot, their place where they actually said, "You know what, this is home."
[00:00:47] Michel Martin: If you've been to a Chinatown lately, in a number of East Coast cities like New York or Boston or even Philadelphia, you might have noticed something, they're getting less, well, Chinese.
[00:01:30] Cynthia Yee: I grew up on Hudson Street. I lived there from my birth and my childhood. It was really like a village, it's a village model. You only had a limited number of Chinese immigrants. They were Toisanese rural people with rural values, you could say it's brotherhood, but neighborliness, certain basic level of honesty, and helping each other and small. We played in the streets, very easy to make jump ropes. On my street, there was one brother and sister who had a set of bikes, so we just took turns with the bikes, and all toys were shared.
I attended the Quincy School, and we didn't speak English. The only person in the classroom who spoke English was the teacher. Everybody spoke Toisanese, all the children spoke Toisanese. Everybody knew everybody else. Everybody ate the same food. Everybody's father worked similar jobs. Everybody's mother sewed. We had a lot of freedom to go in and out of each other's houses. To me, it was Toisan paradise.
[00:02:46] Raymond Lee: When my father came to this country, the United States, he was about 18 years old. My father was a merchant who work in Chicago, and nonetheless naturally, you'd bring your children. I came to this country at the age of 15 from Guangdong. Coming to here is different. Now everything's on my own. The biggest thing is loneliness. Those days in 1950, is a lot of discrimination going on. I used to write to my sister in China, I said don't come to this country is very difficult, we're lonely.
[00:03:36] Eddie Moy: We live right on 6th and 8th Street Northwest. We had a house, and we had basically three rooms, one for my parents, one for the girls, one for three of us, the sons. My father, who is Ham H Moy, he grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and then when he graduated from high school, he was drafted in World War II. He met my mom from China and eventually got back to the United States. They came out here and live in Chinatown with some relatives. Then eventually, he wound up buying a house.
Growing up from DC, Chinatown was very memorable only because we had a lot of our friends who lived very close by. Whenever we want to do something we would just knock on the doors, run over to the house, and say we wanted to play football or basketball. We'll go to a certain park, just walk over here. We didn't have cell phones, we didn't have malls, we didn't have luxury cars that we like enjoy the time we had together back then.
[00:05:03] Andrew Leong: All Chinatowns have served as a sanctuary row from the 1850s onward with the anti-Chinese era. The Chinese at first were welcomed because of the need for cheap labor, but then they were harassed and had to gather back together. In numbers, we have greater level of protection.
[00:05:25] Mary Ting Yi Lui: We have seen, as historians looking back into this period of the 19th century, that the term Chinatown gets used very loosely. Basically, if there's a cluster of Chinese seemingly residing in even a block, or a street, it suddenly gets labeled as Chinatown, so the space itself becomes racialized as connected to Chinese people. Chinatown itself isn't just simply because the Chinese chose to live there. It's also a process of racial segregation. It is partly created as a result of whites not wanting the Chinese to expand beyond a certain part of the city, and so definitely limiting their abilities to live or work.
[00:06:09] Andrew: There were not just local laws, there were state laws that were anti-Chinese in flavor. In the 1860s and '70s, Chinese could not own property Chinese could not intermarry.
[00:06:22] Tunney Lee: The Chinese by that time, were in all kinds of activities, fisheries, farming, and they were working very well and working very hard, and generally paid less.
[00:06:40] Andrew: After the establishment of Chinatown in San Francisco, we actually saw the expansion of the Chinese community into the United States, and then they started going elsewhere informing Chinatowns in Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, as well as throughout the west and the northwest, but were met with violence, lynchings in Ohio, Los Angeles, Rock Springs, Wyoming massacre, the Snake River massacre, all this type of violence drove the Chinese out of these settlements where they had their own gold mines or their own fisheries.
Where did they go? They were forced to go back to either larger Seattle Chinatown or San Francisco Chinatown.
[00:07:31] Tunney: The context of why the Chinese were driven out of the West was that the very railroad they'd built brought Euro-American immigrants to the West.
[00:07:49] Mary: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 really marks the first time that Congress has ever named a national or ethnic group to be barred from immigration. This is a profound moment in the nation's history where it's clearly pointing to one group and saying you are not welcome here. The fact that the US Federal Government has passed something like Chinese Exclusion really sends a signal that the government is no longer there to protect Chinese.
[00:08:25] Tunney: There was a campaign against the Chinese, they're taking our jobs, white people should be working these jobs, and the Chinese were vilified. They were physically driven out of small towns, and there's no place to go, but to the cities and to the east. That's the first settlers coming in around 1870 Chicago, New York, Napoleon, main destinations but then they went on to places like Boston and DC.
[00:09:00] Paul Lee: My father came to this country when he was 13. My grandfather was already here, running a laundry and they wanted to bring my father over. By 1944, he became of age, so he was drafted. My father served in the army, and actually, we have a picture of his company. They were all white males, except for my father and one of his colleagues, who were both Chinese and they were about a head shorter than everyone else.
After World War II, and he went back and married my mother, they came here and lived in Chinatown. I was born here in Boston, we lived on Hudson Street in a rowhouse. It's basically a two-room apartment with a bathroom down the hall. Back when I was a kid, Chinatown was a really vibrant neighborhood, a residential community. There were two or three main streets, Hudson Street where we lived, Tyler Street and then Harrison Avenue and both sides of the street were these three-story tenement buildings, rowhouses, full of families.
We would just walk out the door and we would have friends to play with. Since we all went to the old Quincy School on Tyler Street, we're all classmates too so we just knew everybody. My father, initially, worked in a hand laundry, and then he moved on to work in restaurants as a waiter. Most of my friends, their fathers were working in restaurants and my mother and a lot of the other mothers worked in sewing factories as garment workers
[00:10:41] Cynthia: Mothers all sewed at home. Every home had a sewing machine so what you heard everywhere was the sound of sewing machines. Children of Chinatown had lots of freedom, mainly because their fathers were not home. What you would see every day around 2:00 is this parade of fathers all going to work at the restaurants where they worked as bartenders, maître d's, waiters, but basically, you had no fathers to really monitor you except one day a week, you'd be really special. It's called a day off so they would cook special meals and maybe take their child to what we thought was our park was the Boston Common. I didn't realize it was a tourist attraction. I thought it was our park.
[00:11:28] Richard Chin: Well, I lived on Tyler Street. Life was pretty much four blocks. We had our elementary school, we had our YMCA. We had our local church and we were told not to go beyond the Chinatown borders. If you didn't see any more Chinese people, that was the end of your line. Of course, I always ventured beyond those boundaries.
I was able to learn about the Western ways of life because it was downtown. It was the Combat Zone we had theaters to go to. We can learn all about the different types of food that the American pallet offered. The only contact we came with white people were our teachers in the late '50s, was prior to 1965 in the Civil Rights Act, there wasn't a lot of privileges for Chinese people. When I used to go in the afternoons to spend at my father's laundry, I would go into the backyard and play with the Irish kids. They, of course, would introduce me, Ching Chong, Chinaman, new Ching, and that sort of thing, which really didn't bother me because I didn't really know the racial repercussions of it. One time some kid said something very bad to me and I got so mad that I picked up a big boater and smashed it on his foot.
Well, he got hurt and he told his father and his father came right up to my father and said, "What are you going to do about it? Because your son just hurt my son. He had no reason to do that." This was a learning point in my life. My father slapped me twice in front of the white kid and the white parent and said, "My son will never do that to you again." I'm thinking, why did I get hit? Then, later on, I realized that he was protecting me from further abuse because unless he took immediate action to show that he was sorry for what happened and that my son would be repentant that this white man would then further take more liberties in harassing and maybe even doing something bad to my father's laundry.
[00:13:49] Cynthia: My mother wasn't the only one and many of Toisanese mothers who were basically on the owner because their husbands were at work in the restaurants, raised their children with this idea of separateness and this idea of how we're different from what was around us. Therefore, because we were being raised under adverse conditions and it was a way of telling us, "Well, we're not like them." It was always made clear to us they're different from us.
That separateness in some ways was good. Okay, in some ways. When you have insularity and you have patriarchy, it can be toxic for girls and for women and for boys and for men. When I discovered my aunt would call me to wash the dishes at age 12, but not her son who I loved was because I was a girl and I knew that was why. I was a woman warrior starting at a young age because I could see the patriarchy in Toisanese culture. That preference for the special treatment of boys and then if you have insularity, you don't think you can go outside of your community to get help, you essentially can get trapped. We were forced to move around 1962. We were told we were being evicted because the expressway was cutting through Hudson Street. It's ironic that tearing down in my street, coincided with me hitting puberty or shortly after puberty. You have major changes with your body, but then you have some major changes with your environment. Suddenly, lose all your friends and neighbors.
[00:15:45] Richard: I recall in the late '50s they started breaking down the houses, all the buildings on one side of Hudson Street and they had begun building the highway.
[00:15:57] Paul: It really broke up the neighborhood. Everybody virtually everybody moved.
[00:16:02] Richard: They were building the new Massachusetts Turnpike extension and they tore down half of Chinatown on Hudson Street.
[00:16:11] Cynthia: There was a full block, there were four apartments in each building.
[00:16:16] Richard: 200 families had to find a place to live and it forced the remaining housing stock to diminish even further, and the landlords, I don't know if they were Chinese or not, but they doubled and tripled the rent.
[00:16:31] Andrew: All those people were displaced and this was one of the longest continuous existence of Chinatowns across the United States.
[00:16:40] Paul: I remembered my parents looked at a place in the south end and in the south end back then was pretty run down too. It was so run down and the neighbors were just so sketchy that they just decided they didn't want to raise a family there.
[00:16:56] Cynthia: My family moved to the Combat Zone, which is grungy because it's the prostitution one house area. I was afraid. Once we moved into the Combat Zone, that was a shock to me after leaving paradise, Toisanese paradise. I saw prostitutes at work and I knew what they were doing, but I was always sassy I like to ask my mother something I already knew just to see what she'd say. She would always say, "[unintelligible 00:17:21] don't look."
You lost that community of neighbors because everybody had to scatter.
[00:17:30] Andrew: Throughout lower Washington street, there is the adult entertainment Combat Zone. By 1974, because the Boston police department said we don't want adult entertainment to be scattered throughout. It would be a very difficult situation for us to manage with all the various different associated crime that goes with adult entertainment. Now let's create an adult entertainment zone, Boston, Chinatown, in probably one of the worst instances of environmental racism in the United States is the recipient of the zone.
[00:18:03] Richard: We moved from Chinatown about town about six blocks away into the south end part of Boston, which at that time was run down. Many Chinese went to this particular area because it's walkable to Chinatown and bought homes for dirt cheap, but the move for many of the Chinatown families meant that they had to be a little more brave and courageous to be mixing with non-Chinese.
[00:18:11] Paul: When I moved out into the suburbs, first of all, it was a culture shock because we were the fourth Chinese family to move to Brookline. My classmates were primarily Jewish and I had never met anyone Jewish before. With that, I was really putting all my energies into trying to find myself in the suburbs.
[00:18:56] Lydia Lowe: Chinatown's whole history in different stages is a history of being shaped and squeezed by development events. In the '50s and '60s, it was urban renewal, so it was actual federal government laws, which decided to take homes from people for the so-called public good and ended up using the land primarily to build highways.
[00:19:21] Andrew: With the Chinese merchants building here on Hudson Street, the community did a fundraiser post-World War II to build the building. This was a brand new building with this Chinese pavilion on the very top, in order to attract tourists to come into Chinatown back in the day. The original plan of the state was to take the whole building away. This was one of the first incidents in Asian America where you actually saw people, Chinese Americans organizing.
People were able to do letter-writing campaigns, petitions protest and got the state to back off. What the state was successful to do is to-- basically of a settlement where they would only take half of the building. That was one chapter in the various different struggles that we've had in Boston, Chinatown.
[00:20:21] Lydia: Those zoning decisions, created huge profits and created the speculation that we see today that caused the rise in prices and forced people out of the community.
[00:20:38] Andrew: Throughout the '60s and into the '70s, because of the civil rights era, we saw younger Asian Americans coming back in the movement to serve the community.
[00:20:50] Paul: A number of the major social service organizations in Boston, Chinatown date from the late 1960s. The Community Health Center, the Asian American Civic Association, which provides Immigrant Services and job training, the Boston, Chinatown Neighborhood Center, which provides daycare, adult learning. A lot was happening in the late 1960s. As part of that activism, the government authorities were forced to agree to some affordable housing developments.
[00:21:23] Richard: A lot more college-educated Chinatown kids came back to try to help out to be the spokesmen for the Chinatown interest.
[00:21:35] Cynthia: I became a teacher in Chinatown because we were the generation of the Civil Rights Movement of Martin Luther King, of John F. Kennedy. We were so inspired. When I arrived to teach at the Quincy School, the science books said someday man will go to the moon. That's how outdated the materials were in Chinatown. We became politicized. Of course, we spoke English. We knew how things worked. Then the school department started paying attention. Actually, they picked on some of my friends who were teachers and say, "Are you responsible for putting this in the newspapers." They didn't want the world to know that they were taking advantage of the Chinese community.
[00:22:17] Paul: At that time, the Consolidated Benevolent Association was really the only organization in town, everyone looked to them as the representative of Chinatown. They were involved in building a couple of large, affordable housing projects, Tai Tung Village, and also Mass Pike towers.
[00:22:38] Cynthia: Tearing down all that housing was major and the building of Tai Tung Village, Mass Pike towers, the high rises, life for a child in high rises is not the same as life for a child in a row house. Simply because in a row house, you go in and out easily, you will have somebody upstairs and somebody downstairs. When you're in an apartment building, it's a little more complicated. You don't necessarily know who your neighbors are, you end up with a little more crime.
[00:23:04] Richard: In the last 50 years, there's been enough of a base that's been established that the immigrant can have a better way of life than they did, perhaps maybe 50, 60 years ago. I think Chinatown is a passage for many people now.
[00:23:26] Lydia: Chinatown has so many stakeholders, that's one of the strengths of the community. There's the residents whose lives depend most on the survival of the community. [Chinese language] There are also the small business owners. There are community organizations and social service agency professionals whose mission is really to serve what this community need.
[00:23:58] Paul: I think that because of the power and the importance of the social service organizations in Chinatown, it still is the magnet. People still come back to Boston, Chinatown. The question is, can we preserve it? Because all the row houses that you see in Chinatown now are being sought after by commercial developers.
[00:24:31] Andrew: Chinatown started as a racially segregated forced sanctuary in various undesirable neighborhoods. People felt a sense of communal bond in their shared language and culture. Over time, because of its proximity to the Center City next to culture, restaurants, and everything else, it became desirable and so now is ripe for gentrification. With communities, ethnic enclaves communities across the country, we're seeing huge forces happening whereas before in the '50s, and '60s, it was a white flight to suburbia. White folks with the creation of suburbia via redlining and the history of wealth creation that the government gave to white folks to create white suburbia.
Now we have the forces coming back into a reverse trend into the Center City. Empty nesters who want access to art, culture, food. They're moving out of suburbia, and coming back into the Center City, which means that the working poor, the immigrant that had occupied this particular space in the downtown area, where at one point in time, it was not attractive. It was dirty, it was congested. Now they're being displaced. We're seeing a massive demographic shift. With the current course, unless there's further activism, I really see it becoming DC, Chinatown.
[00:26:16] Wesley Chin: My parents were originally from Toisan and my grandfather actually had come over to the states much earlier. In the late 20s, he worked in a laundry on Main Street. In 1950, he sent back for my father as a store manager. My father along with my mother and their five children came here.
[00:26:41] ?Male Speaker: The original Chinatown was located along the south side of Pennsylvania, roughly between 3rd to 7th streets Northwest. In the 1920s, a government wanted to build a set of government office buildings called the Federal Triangle that was bounded on the north by Pennsylvania Avenue on South by Constitution Avenue, and stretch roughly up to 13th or 14th Streets. Chinatown head we moved about five or six blocks north to 8th Street and up to the High Street from 5th Street to 9th Street Northwest.
[00:27:23] Wesley: There were a lot of kids around the Chinatown area. At first, it was just a matter of running around the neighborhood. We got roller-skates together, we had bicycles together and we play football and baseball in the alleys and in the parking lots. What I loved the most about Chinatown was gathering with friends. You'd have automatic teams of baseball players or basketball. Back then you just go in the alley and you have a pickup game.
[00:27:53] Linda: The sense of community was the defining factor. It's a little self-contained community, kind of like Mayberry. You didn't just know your neighbors but, you knew the business owners in Chinatown, and talking to business owners knew everybody else.
[00:28:15] Eddie: We had a clubhouse in which CYC or Chinatown was known for. CYC stands for Chinese Youth Club. We do lion dance, basketball, and volleyball. It was fun and it was convenient because everything was within walking distance, restaurants were available.
[00:28:39] Cynthia: I remember it to be quite a thriving area where I won't say exclusively for pretty much but almost exclusively Chinese businesses that cater to people in the neighborhood and who catered to Chinese families who came into DC to do their grocery shopping because that's where the Chinese markets work.
[00:29:14] Raymond: We lived in the basement of what is now the Moy's Association. Each family has an association where they did things to support the family. It's just like a lease association. The Moy's Association was a group of elderly people that got together and helped to assist new immigrants. The goal of the association I believe was also to support things back in China. A lot of the debt dealt with paying homage to the ancestors, the funerals, and every year they pay folks to do cemetery rites that they perform. You also have to understand that the basement the Moy's Association wasn't a lot of room for the seven of us. There was a kitchen area with a side room and all seven of us lived in one area basically. We had to make do with what we had to make do with, so it was a transition.
[00:30:14] Wesley: We saw some new immigrants coming in, but pretty much after the '60s, the new immigrants were actually moving into the suburbs instead of moving into Chinatown area. Some people say it was because of riots in DC in 1968.
[00:30:40] Eddie: We lived right next door to a liquor store, and the liquor store actually was broken into during the riots. The police threw the smoke bomb and they had to keep their blowers out, but the problem was that we could smell their smoke and gas in our house. We had a rough time doing the riots.
[00:31:00] Wesley: First devastated 7th street or anything above Massachusetts Avenue was pretty much burned out that did make a lot of people leave, but I don't think it was the only thing that was happening there.
[00:31:12] ?Female Speaker 2: It's not like the safest part of town either.
[00:31:16] Wesley: The thing about I guess being in the middle of Chinatown was that it was usually loud until really late at night. Some of the gambling houses were led out at like two or three o'clock in the morning.
[00:31:32] Raymond: There were areas that you were wary of. There were biker bars. We didn't feel uncomfortable, but we always travel in numbers because we were always in groups.
[00:31:46] Wesley: It was a rough neighborhood. It was basically a ghetto. If you want to call it that, but it was a fun place for us.
[00:31:55] Muriel Lee Sarmadi: The reason that we moved out to Virginia was to seek the American dream. My parents bought a carry-up in Vienna in early '70s. I was told to get on the bus on Friday afternoon and ride out to Vienna to help wash dishes, and then a year later, my parents said, okay, we need you out there more often. It was my second sister, myself, and my brother right after me. We moved out to Vienna. When my parents moved us from Chinatown, we just went with the flow of things. We came here to come out of poverty. This was the beginning of our journey to, I guess, meet the American dream.
[00:32:45] Wesley: Then it was a Convention Centre roughly in 1976 that got rid of the Chinatown area past 9th Street and pretty much eliminated the Chinese folks that were in New York Avenue.
[00:33:00] Raymond: We had to move because they were going to build the Convention Centre. We moved in the spring of 1979 from ninth and I street up to 16th and Longfellow Street. When we moved, it was like a bomb hit everybody just disappeared. We all went different ways. Everybody on our block had to move that we know which were at least about half a dozen families. I can't even speak to the volume of all the other families in the other areas within that area, how many actually had got displaced.
[00:33:31] Wesley: When the new Convention Centre came in, they basically took away the boarding houses from 9th Street over and above New York Avenue. There were few fewer places for immigrants to stay.
[00:33:46] Anita: It wasn't that the Chinese American community, Chinese community just got up and walked away and said, "Goodbye, Washington, DC." It was quite different. Many persons who lived in the community were actually displaced. Some homes were torn down and as a result, the government made the commitment to create the Wah Luck House.
[00:34:14] Eddie: There was a lot where the Wah Luck House is now and we would play football, which was back then was the empty lot.
[00:34:22] Linda: When the Wah Luck House started, many Chinese against it. That project was designated to in a field dislocated Chinese residence from the old Convention Centre block. They have the first Royal priority to move in the project.
[00:34:47] Wesley: Then it was the Verizon Center coming in in 1997, that brought a lot of businesses into the area.
[00:34:55] John Tinpe: There was a plan during the '80s to develop it into a shopping center, business office building that would become Asian-owned and Asian oriented, but that plan was not successful due to lack of funding and investment, so for many years the land stood empty. There was a lot of parking lots and DC government office building, all that was put together, and the arena was founded.
[00:35:35] Soohyun Julie Koo: In 2001, there was a lot of demographic changes, of course, and also economic change in Chinatown. The main point of struggle is that we don't have a community who actually live in Chinatown to support Chinatown. In terms of the actual number of Asian American community members in DC is already small. Since 2010 was 4%, and out of that, those members who actually live in Chinatown were the members who actually live since like '80s.
You had to have like residents who live in Chinatown to have these many aspects of Chinatown to continue to sustain a Chinatown, but it wasn't there. There were buildings owned by Chinese American members being sold and therefore, those stores being also changed to different box stores. Also, when people have family and people start having more money, they want to live in suburbian area.
[00:36:44] Wesley: My grandfather passed away in the 1970s and then my dad took over the grocery store and he basically ran in until he passed away in the mid-1990s. Then my oldest brother took over the store and he ran it until 2004. During that time though business had been steadily declining. The thing that pretty much broke the camel's back was the establishment of Gallery Place in 2004 because brought a tremendous amount of new businesses on 7th Street. All of a sudden you saw these big high rises coming in, the condos and they came much more expensive in the downtown area.
[00:37:31] Linda: I don't recall what year it was, but one of my very good friends, we got together and were just walking around Chinatown and we turned the corner and walked down 7th Street and I saw Hooters, and that was the moment I thought, yes, this is not where I grew up.
[00:37:54] Anita: Neighborhoods changed, but it doesn't mean that all of the people in a neighborhood are gone, and it doesn't mean that their culture is not there any longer.
[00:38:10] Soohyun: I was head of the agency called Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. My role is to provide equal access to government services for Asian and Pacific Islander Communities. There were a lot of talks about shrinking of Chinatown and the community members have expressed a lot of concern about it to the point where the mayor thought that we actually had to have a plan to have a systemic approach to preserve Chinatown.
We have a committee to support the action of preserving Chinatown, but that again was more of aesthetic factors of Chinatown. Businesses who opened their business in Chinatown proximity have to follow this design guideline to use Chinese characters to translate the names of business establishments as well as have Chinese team design in their establishment. Talking about facade.
[00:39:14] Andrew: There's a portion of cultural appropriation. This is exotic for me. This is the Disney-fication that I've talked about that exists in DC, Chinatown, because we don't have a whole lot of residents left here. Maybe what? Roughly under 300. Disney-fication is a term that I started using around gentrification. Disney-fication is the destruction of a traditional living community. A traditional community is no longer present in that area. You don't see Chinese businesses, you don't see Asian American businesses there. You see some of a city ordinance to say all the signs here have to be in Chinese.
Who are the Chinese business signs for, but for bringing in the tourists. That is really our ultimate fear for the destruction or for the Disney-fication of Chinatown to happen across the United States.
[00:40:24] Raymond: The Chinatown that's there today, from my opinion, is not the Chinatown that I know and I would not call it Chinatown.
[00:40:33] Soohyun: One of the biggest challenges is lack of sustainable actions that can be only achieved by having a pointed leadership with a support in funding, whether it's from government or from community to continue to carry out action items to sustain and preserve Chinatown. I would say is--Desire is there, but sometimes it's hard to bring out actions it's easy to talk about, but then it's hard to sustain that action. Whether it's a community-supporting funding or government funding, you cannot only rely on volunteers forever.
[00:41:26] Andrew: Without younger generations taking over all the necessary roles in social services, in activism, we will not have these Chinatowns for the future. The exception to the role of these shrinkages of Chinatown and the changes and the Disney-fication of Chinatowns that's happening across the country is Chicago. They have attractive spaces, a park. They have a water view as well as highway access. Chicago, Chinatown is also located on a transit line.
All those particular features that we're seeing the demise out of the traditional older Chinatowns across the rest of the country. Those are the danger signs, the warnings that the residents and the leaders within Chicago, Chinatown needs to be aware of and to make sure that policymakers address to preserve, to make sure that this community exists into the future.
[00:42:39] Gene Lee: Having been born and raised in Chicago, I knew everyone. The decade of the '50s, the '60s, Chinatown was very small, couple of blocks. Growing up in this community back then, sometimes it wasn't the safest thing to do to travel outside your community. Other times you made friends, but it was usually after you tangled or fault. I went to John C. Haines School. The class was a majority White, Black, some Latino, and a handful of Chinese.
You did something bad, your parents and everyone else in the community knew. If you were dating, shoot, my parents would know who I'm dating in the community before I even got home. My father served in the Navy. When he got out of the service, we learned to be a shoe repairman, simply a cobbler by day. He drove a taxi cab at night so the family could survive.
[00:43:55] Raymond: I came over February 1950. The first day when I arrived Chicago with my father, we both lived here on the third fall of the Southwest corner of this building. This used to be a grocery store, wholesale to a restaurant.
[00:44:23] Anita Lau: I came into the US from Hong Kong in 1963. I was 12 years old because my dad and my mom, they don't speak English. Then my dad works in Chinatown. That's why we moved to Chinatown. Chinatown was small. We don't even have one [unintelligible 00:44:42] in the '60s. None. That time, CCUC they had a classical English as a second language to help us, newcomers, to learn, to improve our English. During that time is very funny because we had two separate group.
One is called ABC American-born Chinese, and the other Chinese group is called FOB fresh off the boat. I'm fresh off the boat so we don't get along very well because they think we are in a little lower class because we don't speak English that good. We are not in their category. At that time, even in Chinatown or friends-wise, that's two separate groups, ABC and FOB.
[00:45:36] Raymond: When you come to this country, you get education, you got a better job, good job. Then you move to suffer. That was almost most people do that. I did not because my mother is always in Chinatown and my wife didn't want to go. I came in Chinatown in 1950 and I'm still here as now. I graduated from college in 1960 and then will call as accountant. I was very fortunate because in a few years I become assistant office manager, office manager, and a controller, a vice president, and a senior vice president. I really did not get involved in Chinatown because when I finished school, I raised the family and all that.
[00:46:41] Anita: I worked at Hank School and that time there were lot of new immigrant in the '70s. I worked there as a school community representative. I'm a liaison between the parents and the school. We had a department called multilingual education. They need a multilingual person. After my children are going to school, I stopped volunteering.
[00:47:11] Gene: I was drafted during the Vietnam conflict. When I came back in approximately September of 1970, I became active in the community. What I noticed in the community was obviously there was some growth. Some organizations are starting to become more active, not only in the community but in the political mainstream as we would say. I got to know my alderman a little bit better, Fred Roddy, because he got his shoes fixed by my dad.
Politics is important here in America. If you're not involved in politics, you don't have a voice. I'm going to give you a little story about this Chinatown. 107 years at [unintelligible 00:47:57] and Wentworth back in 1912, before we moved to this location, we were at Clark and Van Buren, south loop. Our business people were not able to extend their leases, buy property, do upgrades. What's going on?
What's going on was that we were not at the table. We had no voice. We had no input in regards to our future or our issues, our needs, the planners, the people that had the power want to expand downtown. We were not part of that plan. We were looking around and we found this area, [unintelligible 00:48:52] and Wentworth, which is why we have 107 years. How does that relate to politics? Everything revolves around politics, whether you're an immigrant, not yet a citizen. That's how I helped Alderman Roddy to encourage our people, to become registered to vote.
[00:49:14] Mary: At the turn of the century, increasingly what you begin to see is the use of restrictive covenants that bar people from renting or purchasing a property on the basis of race. You begin to see Chicago employing these restrictive covenants in the early 20th century. That really starts to cover in the area from downtown Chicago, all the way to Chinatown. It's almost as though the Chinese are settling into an area that they can only move into because these restrictive covenants were not present in that location.
[00:49:54] David Wu: Ping Tom was a businessman here in Chinatown and he is one of those leaders in the community that wanted to help the community take the next step.
[00:50:03] Gene: Ping Tom, one of the founders of the Chamber of Commerce. It was Ping Tom, Alan Lee, Raymond Lee. They had the vision to start the chamber, develop Chinatown Square, connect with local government.
[00:50:22] Raymond: Ping Tom, he said, "Raymond, why don't you be a commissioner of the Park District?" I said, "Me? No." "Who else is going to do that?" I said, "I'm so busy. I'm running a business and all that." He's so convincing. Ping Tom is a very persistent person.
[00:50:50] Raymond: Ping Tom died from pancreatic cancer. I took the job to develop Chinatown Square and the parking lot.
[00:51:03] Gene: We've been fortunate to have other leaders through the chamber to continue in those footsteps.
[00:51:12] David: Chicago's Chinatown steadily has been growing over 100 years. Just in the last three decades, it's grown significantly. In the 1990s there was about 12,000 Chinese. In the year 2000, it went up to 18,000. By the year 2010 it was around 27,000. What makes Chicago's Chinatown vibrant is you not only have new immigrants who have very immediate needs and immediate concerns.
[00:51:46] Male Speaker 2: Do you have responsibilities at home?
[00:51:50] Female Speaker 5: Yes.
[00:51:50] Female Speakers: Yes.
[00:51:51] Male Speaker 2: What do you do?
[00:51:52] Female Speaker 5: Do housework.
[00:51:53] Male Speaker 2: Do housework?
[00:52:03] David: Chicago's Chinatown has incorporated enough established people, people who've returned, people've who stayed. The community can grow because a lot of times, the newest immigrants don't have time to enter politics or at least learn to interact with the government outside.
[00:52:31] Spencer Ng: I grew up right here in Chicago, born and raised in the Chinatown Bridgeport area. [Chinese language] I worked in consulting, and I was sent to Hong Kong, worked there for almost two years, met my wife out there, and came back to the family business, to the restaurant. In '92 my mom opened Triple Crown in Chinatown on 22nd Place. In 2006, she's hit a rough patch of the economy. Being the firstborn, I was obligated to come home to help the family. Also, at the same time, my brother was in between jobs, so we decided to partner up together and get the place open and up and running. That was 2009. Fast forward, and we're still going.
[00:53:28] David: Chicago's Chinatown isn't really surrounded by institutions that are trying to move into the area. For a long, long time between Chinatown and downtown was the area called South Loop. It was basically a commercial industrial area. They weren't looking to expand into Chinatown on the south, on the west side. There wasn't large universities or developments that were trying to push towards Chinatown. I think that has kept Chinatown insulated. The Chinese American Service League, it's the largest employer here in Chinatown, whether it's helping seniors to stay independent or helping immigrants just learn enough languages so they could take care of their family financially and get a good job.
[00:54:17] Andrew: Will they be able to retain and preserve those particular spaces for their elderly residents? Will they be able to preserve and save those particular mom-and-pop small businesses? It's not just about the history. It's about also serving the needs of the people, of the immigrants that are coming in to smooth their transition into a next generation. The central question that we have to answer is, who is Chinatown for?
[00:55:10] Feng Liu: [Chinese language]
[00:56:53] John Tinpe: Relatively speaking, in Washington DC, it is one of the most valued pieces of land, and it has the most traffic in terms of pedestrian traffic also. I think the prices of the properties will continue to rise. We've seen many investors come in to buy commercial properties. They're no longer just local. There are international investing companies that I would say Chinatown will be the new Fifth Avenue of Washington, DC.
[00:57:36] Eddie Moy: My dad started buying property because he wanted to invest his money. He knew that there was a market for renters because there was a lot of people that work in Chinatown. Once my dad passed away and my mom I wanted to sell the property, three out of four of us are in their '60s now. At this point we decided we should just go ahead and sell it. That way we can then do our own thing.
[00:58:03] Anita Bonds: Chinatown has been shrinking. There are two major housing developments that remain, the Wah Luck House and, of course, Museum Square. That is really about it.
[00:58:28] Anita: The majority of population Chinatown would be the elderly. The issue in the District of Columbia today is, "I got to go where the price point says I can afford it," and no community is untouchable, so to speak.
[00:58:49] Female Speaker 6: We love you Chinatown. Don't leave.
[00:58:52] Female Speaker 6: Keep going, you've got to keep it going. I was telling my colleagues here that I miss all those Chinese restaurants. I grew up here. It was far different.
[00:59:02] Male Speaker 3: We need to somehow move and get together at some point so, see you in Chinatown.
[00:59:11] Muriel Bowser: [Chinese language] Happy New Year to everybody.
[00:59:15] Anita: Displacement, I believe, is inevitable. I think what the government does and can do a better job of slowing it down and making it very meaningful for those that remain in the community and assisting those that do move because they feel they're displaced, helping them to find a new location. We still have parts of the community that the density is very low.
[00:59:57] Yeni Wong: CCBA stand for Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. They help Chinese newcomers.
[01:00:06] Art Ping Lee: [Chinese language]
[01:00:30] Yeni: When they do things for the communities, like they build the Wah Luck House. The Wah Luck House will continue improving. We are going to build a senior center, provide the medicals, recreations, food service on the first floor.
[01:00:50] Eddie: Chinese restaurants here are fading. The town is fading. It's fading very vast. It will always be DC Chinatown to me because of the memories.
[01:01:25] Yan Chi Chen: [Chinese language]
[01:02:05] Mei Qun Huang: [Chinese language]
[01:02:39] Karen Chen: A lot of the Chinese families leaving Chinatown not out of desire but really out of necessity for survival.
[01:02:50] Bethany Li: A neighborhood like Chinatown allows both recent immigrants and long-term immigrants to feel some sense of community, some sense of home that otherwise you end up losing when people are dispersed.
One of our long-standing projects is to be working with community groups in Chinatown to fight against the displacement that has occurred in the neighborhood over the years. I think that's come in the form of institutional expansions, so hospitals and education institutions expanding into the neighborhood. It's come in the form of, in the past, urban renewal and highway extensions, expansions, and in recent decades it's come in the form of luxury development.
[01:03:32] Lydia Lowe: The biggest pressure on Chinatown is economic, and it's the development that comes from the so-called downtown revitalization. As a result, these cities, particularly downtown areas, are being reborn and reshaped for the benefit of the global elite. I think that that in turn has driven speculation because of the loosening of financial controls.
[01:04:07] Andrew: There's this aspect of white privilege that's involved. White folks would say, "Why do you need a Chinatown? We can move in here. It should just be reserved for whomever that has the money to buy in this particular space." white folks benefited from that wealth creation via redlining, whereas communities of color did not. We got the shaft. We never got anything.
A lot of Chinatowns, not just the African-American communities, were also redlined. We were not able to also have our space in suburbia. We see a reverse migration coming back now with the empty nesters. They're all coming back in here and white folks would say, "Hey, this is a funky spot. I can now tell people, I live in Chinatown."
[01:05:04] Yan: [Chinese language]
[01:05:53] Karen: The Chinese Progressive Association, our mission is to work for full equality and empowerment of the Chinese American community. Our works revolves around improving the working and living condition of Chinese Americans and that ordinary people can have decision-making power in issues that impact their daily lives.
[01:06:13] Yan: [Chinese language]
[01:06:45] Sheila Dillon: Chinatown is complicated, and it certainly doesn't speak with one voice. There are a lot of low-income renters that are very concerned about being pushed out. They have advocacy groups, and they're very outspoken, and it's always good to hear from them. Then you have business owners that have been there for long periods of time that like the growth.
You have landowners, many of which are Chinese, and building owners, many of which are Chinese. They have very strong opinions too about historic preservation or rent control or what should be developed on property that they're selling. It's a complicated neighborhood to navigate. Boston, like many coastal cities right now, our population is growing at a very, very fast rate in part because there are so many jobs here. As the population grows, there's a lot of pressure on existing housing stock and commercial properties as well.
[01:07:48] Andrew: Housing is a huge issue for us. In the '80s, a lot of the private landlords there were trying to get rid of their tenants so that they could sell to a private developer on a building-by-building basis. Throughout the '80s and then into the '90s and the 2000s, we were seeing less and less of those building-by-building gentrification, condor conversion, and much more of a total whole parcel of land in the community that would now--
One of the older buildings that had existed would be demolished and then a whole new skyscraper high-rise come in. Now Boston, Chinatown is beginning to face and deal with gentrification as we know it, much more in a modern sense.
[01:08:47] Lydia: Today, if you walk down Chinatown, there are these big glass towers where millionaires are living and living side by side with restaurant workers. The amount of luxury housing has started to force more people out of the community here.
[01:09:10] Karen: In the last 15 years there wasn't any policies that was put in place to protect residents from displacement.
[01:09:20] Mei: [Chinese language]
[01:11:24] Karen: How do we ensure that people have a right to remain into the community? There's a housing crisis.
[01:11:37] Sheila: I've monitored Chinatown very closely because I'm always very, very worried about it. There's some land that is owned by the city or public agency state, and so we're very much looking at those properties as being new, dense, affordable housing.
[01:11:57] Lydia: This is not something that's only happening to Chinatown, but Boston as a city is really facing a deep question about its future. Will there be working class neighborhoods in the city of Boston in the future? I think that it's so important for us to organize and really say that housing is a human right.
[01:12:21] ?Speaker: We believe that we will win.
[01:12:23] Speakers: We believe that we will win.
[01:12:26] Lydia: Housing should not just be a commodity to be speculated upon by the ultra rich for no purpose other than to squeeze more money out of buildings. We need to first make sure that our people have homes to live in. We should be able to solve the problem of homelessness. It's not that we don't have the wealth or we don't have the means, we just don't have the political will, and we don't have the level of democratic control that we need.
[01:12:57] Paul Lee: ACDC started in 1987. We advocated for housing in the community, but we are looking for ways to actually do the development, to actually build the buildings and make them available. We also had to know the Chinatown politics. When we were putting the financing together for our first project, that was during the President Reagan years when there was no federal money available, so we had to rely on banks making tax credit investments. As a corporate lawyer, I was able to call a number of bankers that either I knew or my partners knew, and they really wanted to help the community.
[01:13:35] Andrew: I think if development unabated, uncontrolled, probably within 10, 15 years, we will have a totally different Boston, Chinatown that will be devoid of a residential element. The little mom-and-pop bakeries, the little Chinese restaurants will no longer exist. What I would like to see is some attempt at preservation, or at least a reduction of the displacement of the people that occupied this space for the longest time. It is telling, it is informative of how City Hall addresses the housing needs of people.
[01:14:29] Lydia: Boston, Chinatown serves many, many sectors. It serves the tourists, and the people who want to go to the restaurants, the customer base, it serves the broader Chinese and Asian-American community that come here on the weekends for dim sum or come here to shop, but most importantly, it serves the working class immigrant residents who live here day in and day out, and who, I think, still really rely on Chinatown as the stepping stone when people first immigrate to this country really need a place where they can speak the language, where they can learn their way around society. Here they can get introduced to how to find work, how to get certain services. We think that for all of those reasons Chinatown's important and Chinatown is important to fight for.
[01:15:38] Li Xiu Wong: [Chinese language]
[01:16:10] Chris Huang: When I first came to Chicago, I attend Chicago public school in Chinatown. I only went for college for one year. Somehow I just don't feel right to stay in college, so I quit college and then I start working. Our commercial printing company, we print menus, a lot of advertisement for restaurants. For the past 25 years we grow from a 2 man company to a 25 employees company.
After I have my business for around 10 years, I noticed my life missing something, so I starting to join community events and then I starting to join organizations. In order to make a community better, you have to be part of it. When you're being part of it, you are like a family member, and you treat everyone else like a family member. That's how you make a community better.
[01:17:16] Spencer Ng: Chinatown has grown, I would say, probably 40% in my eyes. From the neighborhood, Bridgeport, having all the restaurants down there, expanding to East Pilsen a little bit. We have a lot more manufacturing like porch cookie companies or food distributors are down south, even by the airport, so they can distribute to all the Chinese buffet restaurants. A lot of these workers are coming from the Chinatown area. I'll say, the last five years, people coming from abroad, New York, Michigan, Ohio, they're coming from everywhere.
[01:17:55] Gene Lee: You don't generally start up a business if you don't have a base of people, clients, citizens that are going to eat at your place, get their laundry washed at your place, buy supplies from your place, so that's all good.
[01:18:15] Andrew: We're also seeing a phenomenon where, not Asian immigrants, but 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation Asian-Americans are coming back into Chinatown. I think that has a lot to do with the identity, the socialization that maybe they grew up in the burbs, but this is home to us, and it resonates, again, to that feature of Chinatown being a sanctuary.
[01:18:51] June Moy Coutre': I have lived in Chinatown since 1997. We moved into Chinatown to be close to my parents, but once having my daughter being involved with her school, that exposed us to more of what was needed and happening in the community. At the time when my daughter was in school, we'd go to library, there wouldn't be any seats to sit in. You'd see grandparents sitting on the floor, there was a long line for the computer use.
There really wasn't a playground in the area or a field house, and it's exciting, in a matter of probably 10 years, getting an updated library and then getting an expansion on the park, and getting a field house. I think that's why folks are still moving into the community and realizing that there's resources and things that they can utilize and actually live here and be comfortable and be a part of the community.
[01:19:53] David Wu: We've also worked on a lot of different issues. We've tried to register people to vote, we tried to get people counted during the census. The Coalition for a Better Chinese-American Community has been on working neighborhood high school. Chinatowns are important for our country because it reflects the diversity, introduces people to culture.
[01:20:20] Female Speaker 7: In Chicago, Chinatown, we handle Chinatown Lunar New Year parade. It's a lot of work but on the end, even when we are tired, when we see people from all over, that is the biggest reward to us.
[01:20:40] Male Speaker 4: Oh, yes, yes. [unintelligible 01:20:42] the other way. I'm getting [unintelligible 01:20:45]
[01:20:46] Female Speaker 7: Thank you, ladies.
[01:20:46] Male Speaker 4: You're amazing. [Chinese language]
[01:20:50] Female Speaker 7: Thank you. Happy New Year.
[01:21:05] Sam Ng: I start my school in my garage 30 days when my son was in high school. My son official reformed my school, Ng Family Martial Art, 27 years ago so we had to [unintelligible 01:21:15] I teach mainly three styles. I teach Choy Lee Fut, which is you can see on my background. It's like a sudden style. My son, he's an action actor, as well. He's a choreographer. He portrayed Bruce Lee Birth of The Dragon. The student I have I'm really proud of it. I get them off the street. Either you're Black, white, yellow, doesn't matter.
[01:21:43] Alex Choi: I've been doing Kung Fu since I was six years old. I've been here for almost 20 years now. The bonds that you really build here, doing martial arts, are really strong.
[01:21:58] Andrew: Who has a right to this city? Who has a right to this particular community? Chinatown, not just Boston, Chinatown but all Chinatowns, they have a history, a legacy that we will lose, that we are losing when new people, gentrifiers, come in that don't understand, that don't appreciate the struggle that generations and generations have kept alive this particular geographical space, and the histories, and the struggles that are connected with it. They don't know and they don't want to know.
Chinatown is not just for the landowner. Chinatown is not just for the restaurant owners. Not just for people who make a profit out of here. Chinatown is not just for the immigrants that need it. Chinatown is a space for the Asian-American community, not just the Chinese-American community but the Asian-American community. Here in this space we don't have to explain ourselves, we don't have to explain our food, we don't have to explain our language.
Again, it's not just about being Chinese because I've seen many, many Asian-Americans coming into this space and feeling much more relaxed. They don't have to explain themselves. If they're Filipinos, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese-Americans, they feel a belonging in this particular community and that's what we're trying to preserve. That sense of identity and belonging.
[ 01:23:44] Female Speaker 8: You have a place in this country, and the world, and that you are accepted.
[01:23:55] Male Speaker 5: Chinatown is as state of mind. That's where I want to find the root of Chinese America.
[01:24:03] Female Speaker 8: Chinatown is all about family. It was all about connecting at a cultural and language level and so it's always felt like home to me.
Distributor: GOOD DOCS
Length: 85 minutes
Language: English / English subtitles
Grade: 10-12, College, Adults
Closed Captioning: Not available
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