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As the social status of the people of Chinese ethnicity rises, revitalization of Chinatowns becomes a common mission
By China Review News Translator Sheng-Wei Wang
August 1, 2013

Source: http://www.chinareviewnews.com 2013-06-05 09:41:14


In recent years, the rise of overseas New Chinatowns signifies that the people of Chinese ethnicity are no longer like the populations of over 100 years ago who lived on kitchen knives, razors and sewing knives. Instead, they are gradually becoming mainly white-collar workers like doctors, lawyers and accountants. But as the social status of the people of Chinese ethnicity rises, we should not forget our roots nor let the "ancestral home” crumble. How to protect the historical sites of Chinatowns and give them a new life is becoming, together with the simultaneous ascendancy of the Chinese image, an inescapable mission for all the people of Chinese ethnicity.


The US China Press (www.uschinapress.com/www.usqiaobao.com) reports that the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May in the US and Canada came to an end. While the immigration policies of these two countries are in the process of making significant changes, both of their censuses and the Asian population surveys have come out successively. Strikingly, in Canada, immigrants account for 20% of the population, with China being the largest source of immigrants; in the US, Asians, including the people of Chinese ethnicity, have become the group of the highest average academic achievement, the highest income, the fastest population growth and the highest intermarriage acceptance.


But with the rise of the economic and political status of the people of Chinese ethnicity, Chinatown, the symbol of Chinese communities, is facing the difficulties of population exodus and economic plight. As a result, some people say that the American Chinatowns have become homes for 750,000 undocumented immigrants. However, both the Chinese and the English media have a kind of view that Chinatowns’ decline actually reflects the improved status of the people of Chinese ethnicity.


From a historical perspective, Chinatowns at different places are living witnesses of the arduous and bloody struggles of the Chinese ancestors in the US and Canada. Particularly, in the US West and Canada, the development of Chinatowns almost occurred in step with the historical development of California in the US and British Columbia in Canada. Regardless of the Gold Rush or the construction of the Pacific Railway, the people of Chinese ethnicity have made enormous contributions that are part of the mainstream history.


However, contrary to the history of contributions made by the people of Chinese ethnicity, both the US and Canada had efforts of exclusion against them for a long time. Consequently, Chinatowns have become the footholds for the people of Chinese ethnicity to avoid discrimination and isolation, to support each other for survival against adversity, and to provide the backbone of a spiritual fortress.


After World War II, the status of the people of Chinese ethnicity in the US and Canada changed enormously. After obtaining citizenship and voting rights, many of them joined the middle class and the white-collar workers. They started to move out of Chinatowns into the so-called "mainstream community" and suburbs for development. This resulted in a gradual depopulation, a decline of economic and cultural status and a state of prolonged slump of the Chinatowns in the US and Canada.  In some metropolitan areas, Chinatowns have even become symbols contributing to the dilapidation of the city.


In the US, the problem of population aging in Chinatowns is getting serious and a mixed habitation with the Hispanics is increasing; in Canada, in addition to suffering population decline, Chinatowns as the fringes of the city centers often become the hang-outs for drug addicts and the homeless. Fewer and fewer new immigrants of Chinese ethnicity would visit Chinatowns.  Instead, they now inhabit the suburbs or the "good areas", which form the New Chinatowns.  For example, the Flushing in New York, the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles, and the Sugar Land in Houston, are all new areas where Chinese gather. Even residents in the traditional overseas Chinese communities are relocating there.


How to revitalize Chinatowns has now become a daunting challenge for the Chinese communities in both the US and Canada. First, Chinatowns are still attractive to the mainstream society and we should have full confidence in Chinatowns. From the "big Chinatown" concept of North America, Chinatowns have not really faded; instead, a new development model has appeared. After 1970, with the huge influx of highly qualified immigrants from three areas (Taiwan, Hong Kong and the mainland) on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, New Chinatowns have appeared in the Chinese communities in the major cities of the US and Canada. They are located in the prestigious residential areas near where the people of Chinese ethnicity and other ethnic groups live. These areas, though not necessarily as large as the Old Chinatowns which span several blocks, comprise large supermarkets, shopping malls, fancy restaurants, other types of stores and Chinese-funded banks; they are all in one location, modern, stylish, and with thriving businesses. The Chinese business district located in Richmond near the Vancouver International Airport in Canada is typical of the New Chinatowns. The concept of New Chinatown is deeply embedded in the communities, which helps to expand the influence and penetration of the people of Chinese ethnicity and Chinese culture. From the viewpoint of Chinese overall strength and the radiated power of Chinese traditional culture, “Chinatowns" have spread out and appeared to have bloomed all round.


Outsiders are accustomed to identify old immigrants and new immigrants to distinguish between the New Chinatown and the Old Chinatown. There has been a public opinion from the English-speaking communities, which spoke of a sensational "New and Old Chinatown power struggle" to describe the conflicts between the two. Admittedly, in the modernization, fashion, and services, etc., of hardware and software used in the architecture and commerce, the New Chinatowns are often far ahead of the Old Chinatowns and have become attractive places to draw popularity. But in terms of historical value, cultural heritage and symbolism, the traditional Chinatowns are still the representations of Chinese communities accepted by the mainstream society. How can we let them decline?


From this perspective, the new Chinese migrants in the US and Canada, especially the elites in the business and academic communities, who possess particular economic strength and international views, should fully realize that the Old Chinatowns, which have been through the hardships of life, are the precious common heritage of our communities.  They are the living fossils of history as well as the monuments to Chinese ancestors’ struggles with tears and blood over a hundred years ago. The Chinese communities should work together with gratitude on the revitalization of the Chinatowns to keep the collective historical memory of our ancestors.


The Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is over. We call upon the people of Chinese ethnicity to pay attention to Chinatowns, regardless of new and old, and regardless of their backgrounds and ideologies. We should work together to make Chinatowns receive due care and status. This is also a way of enhancing the image of the people of Chinese ethnicity.


Thailand and Southeast Asia are also regions with concentrated Chinese populations. The changes in Chinese societies there have also been great, but not as good as the situations in the US and Canada. From the perspective of promoting a Chinese image, the overall strength of the people of Chinese ethnicity in the US and Canada can proliferate everywhere to the extent of producing a mentoring role for the Chinese people in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

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