Final Research Paper
New York City Manhattan’s Chinatown
Building for its future and commemorating its past
Dr. Eric S. Ross
The City of New York is known for the vitality of its ethnic neighborhoods and communities. While many communities have their neighborhood of predilection in Manhattan, New York’s Chinatown is probably the best known, outnumbering residents of other ethnic neighborhoods. Most estimates of its population range from 150 000 to 350 000 but it is difficult to know the numbers accurately since people are difficult to identify because of language difficulties and a large illegal immigration. Of all, Chinatown is the most dynamic, most exotic and most extensive especially since it continues to expand, from its heart south Canal Street and East Center Street, gradually encroaching on neighborhoods on the Lower East Side and Little Italy that do not have the same dynamism. Entering Chinatown is like crossing a border to find yourself in another world; an enclave of China in New York adding to that the fact that it is both a residential and commercial area, which distinguishes it from some other Chinatowns. When walking through chinatown’s street, you can enjoy the different perfumes and smells of spicy Chinese food, shopping to Chinese shops providing typically Chinese goods unlike the ones selling copies of designers’ handbags, watches and perfumes. It is actually a very rich neighborhood that concentrates the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. Victims of racial segregation, the Chinese retreated into themselves and Chinatown has become quickly a quasi-autonomous neighborhood with a structured society which provided employment for newcomers.
As a minority group, the Chinese living in Chinatown have been subject to persecution throughout time. The purpose of this research paper is to go through the history and life of this community in New York City and explore the factors that enabled this society to safeguard its authenticity to some extent. In order to answer this question, it is necessary to look at the different cultural facets of the society such as religion, media presence, and institutions which would enable having a more concrete idea about life in this neighborhood.
Chinatown represents an important neighborhood in New York because of its economic activity and the huge number of tourists it attracts every year since it embodies the heritage of the community. Given that most Chinese in the city live within the borders of Chinatown, they are subject to persecution and segregation as a minority group. For generations, the neighborhood has served as a conventional assembly place for community’s various activities and events which appear to be one of the reasons they have been exposed to such a treatment.
First of all, the history of Chinatowns started with the Chinese dreaming about gold in the new world and the vision of getting rich and going back home wealthier. Chinese laborers began coming to the United States in the 19th century, drawn by the rumors of gold and the promise of high wages at a time of civil war and economic stagnation in China. The primary objectives of these early Chinese immigrants, most of whom were male, were to dig gold, and to return home to join their families and enjoy the rest of their lives in relative dignity and wealth. Most Chinese immigrants never realized these dreams, and many spent their lives in poverty and loneliness because of intense anti-Chinese feelings in America. As noted by Thelen M.,“Discriminatory laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented most of them from establishing families in the United States”(1998). Dreams deferred, the immigrant sojourners gradually dispersed across the country, gathering in “Chinatowns,” poor neighborhoods in major cities where most of the residents were single men. Moreover, opportunities for these Chinese were limited to the most...