By Jennifer 8. Lee | July 15, 2007
Carol Huang writes about the Chinatown landsqueeze across the country in The Christian Science Monitor (yes, I’m a bit late, but I was finishing my last chapter so I missed this piece and stay with me, I’m getting the Hooters point). The piece basically points out that Chinatowns have stopped being gateways for new immigrants and that lots of people have competing views of what should be done with the valuable real estate. She focuses on Boston — which is also kind of a Little Saigon.
Here are my observations/thoughts as I have seen a lot of Chinatowns at this point (six continents!)
Chinatowns tend to have some of the most valuable, conveniently located downtown real estate (notably, often next to the financial district) of the pre-World War II growth cities in the United States. Why? Because Chinese people are often among the earliest settlers in any given city so they tend to be at the “heart” of it. American Chinatowns have been beacons since waves of anti-Chinese violence in the late 19th century drove Chinese workers out of California and into self-protective pockets across the country. So you will find centrally located Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York (the “original” Chinatowns in both), Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago. We now know many of these Chinatowns as the place where we catch the Chinatown Bus.
Where is it not true? The cities that grew after Americans discovered their love of cars and highways — Atlanta (the first city I had ever been in which didn’t have a Chinatown), Houston, Dallas, and sort of Los Angeles (while Chinese were early settlers, the downtown area is not really valuable). There, the Chinese markets tend to be in stripmalls in the ‘burbs.
Second point, this phenomenon of urban ethnic ghettos fading has been observed as a;; immigrants bypass urban centers and head straight to the burbs. The glaring exception? New York City, where 40 percent of the population was born in another country, throw in another 20 percent of the population as their children. Chinatown still is a gateway for the Fujianese immigrants from China and Flushing still is a gateway for Taiwan and northern Chinese immigrants. In 2006, I wrote a piece for The New York Times that was essentially, an ode to New York City Chinatowns. Plus New York also hasÂ the Russians in parts of Brooklyn, the West Africans in parts of the Bronx, Domincans in Washington Heights, and the South Asians which sprawl out of Jackson Heights, Queens.
Lastly, there are some interesting things that happen when the government tries to “redevelop” a Chinatown while trying to “respect” its cultural heritage. The most amusing place is in Washington DC, where there was some rule that said that all the stores (chains such as Starbucks, Subway, etc.) had to have their names translated into Chinese on their signs. The most amusing one? Hooters — è²“é é·¹é¤é¤¨. In English: “Owl Restaurant.”
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