The last week of April was a whirlwind for San Francisco’s Chinatown.
The famous neighborhood debuted “AAPI Community Heroes Mural”. It’s a nearly black-and-white depiction of twelve rarely sung Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders on the walls of a bank. Three days later, Chinatown’s first contemporary art festival, “Neon Never Brightens,” took over the street all night. Events like block parties featured traditional lion and dragon dances, haute couture fashion shows, and other public “art activations.”
Cultural arts organizations in Chinatowns in the North America have been working for decades to bring greater appreciation and visibility to these communities. But when the pandemic caused a shutdown and racist anti-Asian attacks increased, they faced an unprecedented one-to-two punch — and continued. These events were both painful and indelible to the re-emergence of various Chinatowns as a close hub of vibrancy and culture.
Cynthia Choi, co-founder of the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center, is still “blown away” as one of the heroes in the San Francisco murals. But it was just as touching for her to attend the festival.
“It’s been a while since I saw a lot of people coming to Chinatown, especially at night, so I was really impressed. I heard a lot of friends and family saying,” I don’t want to go to Chinatown. ” there is. “I thought it would be fun and exciting, but I was really impressed.”
From outside these historic Chinatowns, new attention is being drawn to cities, businesses, and young Asian Americans. Wells Fargo has partnered with Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative for “Hero” murals. Jenny Leon, secretary-general of the Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco, which is part of the collaborative, said everyone “wants to take anti-Asia hatred seriously and raise the voice of Asian Americans.” The young people voted on who to put the mural on.
“Often, the exterior of Chinatown is imported as a tourist attraction or fantasy that visitors can see,” says Leung. “It’s not about celebrating the perspective and voice of the community.”
The idea for the “neon” festival was briefly discussed before the pandemic. But the events of the last two years have brought urgency to it.
“We wanted to postpone the deadline a little earlier so that we could accommodate the growing number of 20, 30, and 40 empty storefronts in the community,” said Leung, who characterizes Chinatown as a “wallless museum.” Mr. says. .. “
Josh Chuck, the local filmmaker behind the documentary Chinatown Rising, noticed that the younger generation was eating and attending events in Chinatown. A friend working in the tech industry started receiving orders last year for a friend who wants to support a restaurant in Chinatown. Soon he was creating a spreadsheet to track 400 deliveries.
“Honestly, I couldn’t imagine anything that would enliven these people I know. Even myself, I feel more connected and committed,” Chuck said. Said. “It’s a silver lining.”
In New York, the first of five summer night markets will begin next month in New York’s Chinatown. Think! It will be the biggest event ever for Chinatown. The 5-year-old nonprofit has undertaken numerous projects such as artist-in-residence programs and oral history. But last year, after a series of verbal and physical attacks on Asians, they partnered with the local pandemic rescue initiative Neighborhoods Now at Chinatown Nights.
It was a small gathering of less than 10 artist booths and food trucks at Forsyth Plaza Park. Think! Chinatown co-founder and director Yin Kong had a collective sense that “we need to be together” despite the “crazy” two-month preparation period. And there was a “structural change” due to philanthropic activities focused on fairness.
“We have re-prioritized these other organizations, which previously focused on how to fund other organizations and support the color community in other ways,” said Kong. I am.
Next month’s expansion event will have 20 booths and sponsorships, scheduled for most Chinatown restaurants to close for owners to attend.
“The mechanism that led us there wouldn’t have happened without a pandemic,” Think! Chinatown is considered more “legal” with better funding, full-time staff, and the potential for office space on her behalf. Dining table.
In Vancouver’s Chinatown, pandemics only exacerbated ongoing problems with vandalism, graffiti, and other crimes. But last year, a Canadian city managed to launch a cultural project planned before COVID-19.
Last month, the Chinatown Mural Project unveiled a series of idyllic murals by local artists on six roller shutters in a coffee shop. In November, the interactive Chinatown Storytelling Center opened with relics and recorded oral history.
Carrolly, chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, which oversees the center, said: “But in a sense, it feels more purposeful because it is more necessary.”
Jordan Eng, Chairman of the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association, agreed that collaboration has increased and “much more youth interest is in place than it was five or ten years ago.”
There are less than 50 Chinatowns across the United States, some of which are more active than other Chinatowns.
Many Chinatowns were shaped in the 19th century and arrived for Chinese workers to mine western gold and work on railroads. They lived there for explicit discrimination and self-preservation. Their residence was a single-room occupancy unit (SRO) with a communal kitchen and bathroom, said Harvey Don, a lecturer in ethnic and Asian-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Many older Chinese-Americans and immigrants in Chinatown still live in these units.
Another constant in Chinatown: Development — From selling SROs that are no longer affordable in San Francisco to expanding the light rail in Seattle to proposing a new prison in New York City. Elsewhere in Chinatown, it has shrunk to blocks or disappeared altogether for gentrification. It’s a difficult juxtaposition to promote Chinatown to tourists, but there are few resources available to residents.
“So you have these huge festivals to bring your business. You have these parades and all this. But definitely of the community, especially the working class and the poor. It’s important to address your needs, “Don said.
Meanwhile, excited art and cultural advocates are moving forward to put their own stamps in Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative is designing Edge on the Square, a $ 26.5 million media and arts center that will open in 2025. In New York, Think! Chinatown will lease a space with a kitchen for art exhibitions and cooking classes. It is hoped that they will continue to engage with Asian Americans both inside and outside Chinatown.
“It’s that cultural connection that attracts them to Chinatown,” Kong said. “It’s something you really can’t put your finger on … but it’s really the soul of Chinatown. And we need to keep protecting it and make sure it can grow.”
Tang reports from Phoenix and is a member of the Associated Press’s Racial and Ethnic Team. Follow her on her Twitter https://twitter.com/ttangAP