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When people mentioned about Chinese food and culture, Chinatown is the place they will mention as well. There are so many kinds of stores and restaurants which they can explore and find some interesting things. Nowadays, there are three main areas which also called enclaves now in New York City for Chinese to settle down. But they are totally different with the stereotype for the old Chinatown which was isolated, homogeneous, and hierarchically organized community. Flushing is the biggest one which in Queens, Eighth Avenue is another one in Brooklyn and the most famous Chinatown in Downtown Manhattan. They became settlements for Chinese people for different reasons at different time. Also, among these three areas, even though they are similar, they still have a lot of differences. Such as languages, people’s hometowns and so on. Among them, the one in Manhattan is the oldest one and has a longer history than another two. As the chapter Chinese: Divergent Destinies in Immigrant New York described, The traveler was getting off the train in Flushing with fellow passengers who were mostly Asian. Flushing is now known as the Chinatown of Queens. A traveler who takes the N train to Brooklyn and gets off at Eighth Avenue comes out of the subway station to find what seems to be a street in China. It is the Chinatown of Brooklyn. But now the population of Chinese in Queens and Brooklyn has gone over the population in Manhattan. In this research paper, I would like to discuss the process of how these three neighborhood grows and some information about these legendary areas.
First of all, we should find out the reason why Chinatown was established. There were three main waves of Chinese Immigrants. Chinese traders and sailors began trickling into the United States in the mid-eighteenth century; while this population was largely transient, small numbers stayed in New York and married. The first wave was from the 1840s to 1943, at that time the California Gold Rush and other work opportunities were the most reasons for Chinese people to choose to come to America. Because the Chinese immigrant workers provided cheap labor and did not use any of the government infrastructure since the Chinese migrant population was predominantly made up of healthy male adults, Opposition to exclusion occurred in California in the early 1850s because Chinese immigrants were important taxpayers when both the state and localities were experiencing major fiscal difficulties. State attempts to legislate exclusion were successful only after financial conditions improved in the late 1850s. Then, the government decided to ban immigration from China. That was the background of the Chinese Exclusion Act which was the first and the only one to proscribe a certain group of people only based on their race. The second wave was from 1943 to 1980. There was a big thing happened for Chinese Immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act which only allowed a national quota of 105 Chinese immigrants per year was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act, during a time when China had become an ally of the U.S. against Japan in World War II as the US needed to embody an image of fairness and justice. That was the main reason for a huge new immigration wave at that time. The last wave was from 1980 to the present. The reasons became different than 100 years ago. New immigrants in this stage are more coming for education or investment, not just for money. Chinatown was established during the first wave of Chinese Immigrants and then it kept growing and growing until today.
Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese arrived in significant numbers, lured to the Pacific coast of the United States by the stories of ‘Gold Mountain’ California during the gold rush of the 1840s and 1850s and brought by some agents called labor brokers to build the Central Pacific Railroad. Most arrived expecting to spend a few years working, thus earning enough money to return to China, build a house and marry. Usually, the labor broker would find and organize the people who wanted to make a lot of money in an easy way. Then, the agents would send them via ship. Most of them who left for America usually boarded ships at Canton. They must often arrived in San Francisco, California. It would take more than two months from China to America. At that time, the conditions on the ship were terrible and many people died on the way to American. But the Gold Rush did not last long. After that, Chinese people found another way to survive and make money which was to be the constructors of the Central Pacific Railroad. At that time, a lot of white people could not find a job and then they choose to blame their unfortunate to Chinese “take the jobs”. In fact, the employes of labor on a large scale welcomed the Chinese worker as cheaper, more dependable, and sometimes even more productive than his white competitors Then, the Chinese Exclusion Act signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. After the act was put in to practice, as the gold mines began yielding less and the railroad neared completion, the broad availability of cheap and willing Chinese labor in such industries as cigar-rolling and textiles became a source of tension for white laborers, who thought that the Chinese were coming to take their jobs and threaten their livelihoods. Mob violence and rampant discrimination in the west drove the Chinese east into larger cities, where job opportunities were more open and they could more easily blend into the already diverse population. The Chinese Exclusion Act brought rigidity not only to the Chinese alone but to Caucasians and other races as well which lasted for about thirty years. The American economy suffered a great loss as a result of this Act. Some sources cite the Act as a sign of injustice and unfair treatment to the Chinese workers because the jobs they engaged in were mostly menial jobs. As a Chinese immigration gathering area, Chinatown was the safest and most convenient area for Chinese at that time. That was how the Chinatown started to establish.
At the beginning, even though Chinatown was the best place for Chinese to live at that time, there were also problems and issues existing. The most significant one was the ‘The Bachelor’s Society’. The already imbalanced male-female ratio in Chinatown was radically worsened by the Exclusion Act and in 1900 there were only 40-150 women for the upwards of 7,000 Chinese living in Manhattan. This altered and unnatural social landscape in Chinatown led to its role as the Bachelor’s Society with rumors of opium dens, prostitution and slave girls deepening the white antagonism toward the Chinese. In keeping with Chinese tradition and in the face of sanctioned U.S. government and individual hostility the Chinese of Chinatown formed their own associations and societies to protect their own interests. An underground economy allowed undocumented laborers to work illegally without leaving the few blocks they called home.
When the Exclusion Act was finally lifted in 1943, China was given a small immigration quota, and the community continued to grow, expanding slowly throughout the ’40s and ’50s. One of the reasons that why Chinatown would grow continuously was the garment industry, the hand-laundry business, and restaurants continued to employ Chinese internally, paying less than minimum wage under the table to thousands. At that time, China had just ended the civil war which the Chinese Nationalist Party lost and then they moved to Taiwan. Because of the civil war, a lot of people chose to go to America for better life. Despite the view of the Chinese as members of a model minority, Chinatown’s Chinese came largely from the mainland, and were viewed as the downtown Chinese because most of them were uneducated and did not speak English at all, ‘as opposed the Taiwan-educated uptown Chinese, members of the Chinese elite.’ The size of Chinatown grew rapidly at this period.
When the quota was raised in 1968, Chinese flooded into the country from the mainland, and Chinatown’s population exploded, expanding into Little Italy, often buying buildings with cash and turning them into garment factories or office buildings. Although many of the buildings in Chinatown are tenements from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the rents in Chinatown are some of the highest in the city, competing with the Upper West Side and midtown. Foreign investment from Hong Kong has poured capital into Chinatown, and the little space there is a precious commodity. Nowadays, the rents in Chinatown are still very high compared with other areas.
As the Chinese population increase continuously, Chinatown was far from to accept all the Chinese Immigrants. Some of them chose to move from Chinatown based on the high rent and small living space. They mainly moved to two area which were Flushing at Queens and Eighth Ave at Brooklyn. Because most Chinese people have very strong connections with their relatives or close friends, after the first wave of Chinese Immigrants lived in these two places, more and more Chinese came to live. The size and the population were explosive growth in just four decades. Downtown Flushing, centered on the northern end of Main Street in Queens, is a large commercial and retail area and is the fourth largest central business district in New York City now. The development process of Eighth Ave is similar to Flushing. They are now called Chinatown as well and even more visitor will visit or look for delicious Chinese food.
Nowadays, Chinatown is a tightly-packed yet sprawling neighborhood which continues to grow rapidly despite the satellite Chinese communities flourishing in Queens and Brooklyn. Both a tourist attraction and the home of the majority of Chinese New Yorkers, Chinatown offers visitor and resident alike hundreds of restaurants, booming fruit and fish markets and shops of knickknacks and sweets on torturously winding and overcrowded streets. There is also a lot of museums and temples around Chinatown for people to know more about Chinese history and culture.
In a word, after more than two hundreds years, Chinatown has become an important landscape for all Chinese immigrants. When I went over the history of Chinatown, I learned so much and understood more about my culture. It was a great experience for me to do research online and also visit the Chinatown in person such as the Museum of Chinese in America. It was also a good opportunity for me to practice the knowledge I learned in class. I believe Chinatown will better and better in the future!
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