COMMUNITY CULTURE AND RESILIENCE IN CHINESE IMMIGRANT POPULATIONS IN AND AROUND BOSTON'S CHINATOWN
Boston’s Chinatown, nestled between the Boston Common to the north and South Station to the east, has been a refuge for Asian immigrants to the United States for many generations. Remnants of long-gone structures are etched onto today’s buildings and streets, bearing witness to the tides of people moving in and out of its densely packed blocks over decades. From the origins of Chinese settlement in the 1870s through community resistance against displacement in the 1970s, Chinatown tells a story of constant ebb and flow, cultural concentration and dispersal, and community organization that gives the neighborhood its vibrancy today. This cultural resilience can be seen through the neighborhood’s urban changes as well as the stories of activists who lived in and around it throughout the 20th century.To get more china art news, you can visit shine news official website.
After the development of industry and transportation in the area around South Station in the early 1800s, the cost of housing declined, and the neighborhood hosted consecutive waves of Jewish, Syrian, and Italian populations. The first influx of Chinese workers to Boston began in 1873 when a group was hired to break a strike at the Sampson Shoe Factory in North Adams. From then on, Chinatown saw a slow but steady increase in Chinese immigration, mostly from the Guangdong region in southern China. The pace of this migration was tempered by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which limited Chinese immigrant numbers to a small inflow of bachelor men.
Despite this limitation, the Chinese community grew and became an established cultural, commercial, and residential community in the following decades. By the 1890s, restaurants and laundries began to emerge and employed the majority of Chinese workers. Residents found a sense of solidarity in “family organizations” and a Chinese language newspaper. With the increased popularity of Chinese food among non-Chinese Americans in the 1920s, Chinatown experienced a restaurant boom.
Following the 1943 repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigration to the United States increased significantly and Chinatown’s population became more diverse. The families of bachelors made their way to the neighborhood, along with groups from Mandarin-speaking northern China. By the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, new immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Cambodia flooded the area. Chinatown’s culture reflected this new diversity in new businesses, events, and languages, all closely concentrated within its few blocks.
However, this increasingly multinational neighborhood faced myriad challenges. In addition to the ever-present anti-Asian racism residents faced throughout the City, the urban fabric of Chinatown was threatened with a series of municipal urban renewal projects throughout the 1950s through 70s. According to a 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike and I-93 highways displaced approximately 1200 residential units in the area. City government also condoned the construction of the Tufts Medical Center in 1950, taking over one third of Chinatown’s land area. As housing prices increased and more non-Chinese people moved into the neighborhood in a wave of gentrification, Chinatown’s traditional, majority low-income population faced limited options.
In the mid-1970s, former lawyer and South End community organizer Harry Dow was interviewed for the Boston 200 oral history project, a program commissioned by the Mayor’s Office to commemorate both the US Bicentennial and Boston’s local history. A strong advocate for Boston’s Chinese population and a long-time South End resident, his words illuminate the results of this displacement in the mid-20th century.
Dow notes that the South End, which borders Chinatown to the south, became a popular destination for “5, 6, 7 thousand” Asian residents pushed out by urban renewal. The South End was one of many neighborhoods that saw an increase in Asian population; many residents moved further outside of the City to Malden and Quincy.