Arts Today in Chinatown
By Julia Sarocco
Boston’s Chinatown is located in downtown Boston just around the corner from the Boston Commons and Emerson College. Chinatown is rich in both Chinese and Vietnamese culture, delicious and unique cuisine as well as a strong sense community. It is the only vestige of Chinese American history left in New England. Chinatown has an incredible sense of community for that very reason and the people that live there are very invested in the maintenance of their cultures’ traditions and values. However, in recent years gentrification has caused a significant rise in property values and has begun to push out lower income families and long time residents.
Due to the recent rise in the cost of living, the population of Chinese Americans living in Chinatown has decreased significantly in the past years. Along with it, Chinatown’s working class is suffering. Another effect of this gentrification is an influx of wealthy business entrepreneurs from China coming in to live and work. This issue of gentrification is visibly effecting the sense of community in Chinatown among the Chinese Americans and new middle class immigrants.
Chinatown’s community has become aware of this issue and you can see efforts being made every day among the people to preserve this remnant of Boston’s history.
Artists like Wen-ti Tsen have started using art and photography to draw attention to the negative effects of this gentrification problem on Chinatown’s culture. As an effort to humanize this issue Tsen’s project “Home Town” features historical pictures of past residents of Chinatown. He posted these images around Chinatown as a way to remind the current residents of the importance of preserving this very special and treasured aspect of New England’s history.
But wherever struggle lies we often see a rise from within the community to band together and make a change. Chinatown residents are working every day to strengthen the sense of community and culture and ensure the success and well being of its future residents. Organizations like The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) have this exact goal in mind. BCNC’s goal is to provide families and residents of Chinatown with resources in three major departments; Child care and Enrichment programs, Education and Workforce Initiatives as well as Family and Community Engagement. The issue of gentrification has begun to present itself to these kinds of organizations and they have begun to take a stronger initiative to build community and establish resources for families and children.
Alongside the BCNC, there is also another well known grassroots organization, Chinese Progressive Association, though it was founded in 1977, its goals remain prevalent to the needs of Chinatown today. Like the BCNC, CPA’s goal is to offer its citizens opportunities for success but they go beyond just offering community support. CPA was founded initially to campaign against issues like desegregation of Boston schools. Today their goals are to bring the community members of Chinatown together to inform and encourage them to strive for equality and fight to improve the lives of their community members as well as for themselves.
Chinatown is located in the Theatre district of Boston and many of its key attractions are its unique and ornate bakeries and eateries. You will find a plethora of authentic Asian cuisine between Beach Street and Kneeland Street. This area of Chinatown is some of the best food you’ll find in the Theatre District in general, wether it’s seafood, pho, bahn mi, dim sum, sushi or Malaysian hot pot. Chinatown has a healthy mix of Asian-American Cuisine and not to mention most often at a reasonable price for city food.
Restaurants like China Pearl, most popular for its dim sum lunches have been open since the early 1960’s are still thriving today. Bubble Teas and Chinese bakeries are on almost every corner and offer traditional Chinese desserts, sweet breads, rice cakes, pastries and much much more for your pallet to experience. If you’re on the search for a new sweet treat check out Ho Yuen Bakery, and Eldo Cake House. These two longstanding bakeries have their own delicious take on traditional Asian pastries and cakes. You will be sure to find something new that you haven’t tried before!
Outside on the streets on a warm sunny day you’ll find many pop-up markets and stands selling dry goods, dragon fruit, lychees, fresh seafood and other exotic produce that you’re not likely to find in your average super market. These open markets are a great way to get cheap and fresh produce on your way home and to try something new.
Other vendors like to sell trinkets and toys to tourists and collectors. Little beads of jade,buddhas, scarves and other clothing filling the streets with color and life. These commodities have found a home for themselves in stores like Chinatown Hit Boston. These types of variety stores sell all kinds of small gifts, Chinese apparel and decor making it a wonderful place to go for family gifts or simple items to spruce up your apartment and give it some color and authenticity.
Right near the Chinatown Gate, a local family took the initiative to renovate the space and create a more comfortable and pleasant space conducive to conversation and relaxation. This area by the gate’s entrance is the most populated and lively section of Chinatown. But for years the space was dampened by the large highway vent and in such a condensed part of the city, finding some nice open space is hard to come by. But in 2011, The Soo Hoo family teamed up with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts,The City of Boston and Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy to redesign the space. They renamed the space, Mary Soo Hoo Park, after the Soo Hoo’s family member.
The space was designed with the residents in mind. Their goals were to commemorate aspects of Chinese culture and create a space for people that would encourage conversation, play games and let their children expend some energy in a safe and clean space. The Mary Soo Hoo park is a successful example of the collaboration of the Chinatown community and the City of Boston. On a nice day, the space is almost almost always filled with residents playing chess, talking and enjoying the nice weather.
Although Chinatown has seen many struggles, it is evident that its community is stronger than most areas of Boston and unusually so for a city of such dense population. This issue of gentrification is currently being combatted by a passionate community with the intention of preserving its culture and values for its generations to come.