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History and Cultural Features of Chinatown in New York

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Chinatown in New York was first established in about 1870s which is a “Home” for large numbers of Chinese immigrants to gather and live together in the United States. Thus, Chinatown can be seen as the historic product of Chinese immigration. With the development of Chinatown, more and more new immigrants from China are coming to gather around here. As new immigrants come from different provinces in China, people with the same hometown are willing to live with each other, which causes several zones, such as, little Fuzhou and little Hong Kong. After several decades, new Chinese immigrants are gradually forming their cultural features and ethnic communities in the area. Therefore, Manhattan’s Chinatown has become one of the landmarks in New York City.

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Manhattan’s Chinatown is one of the biggest and oldest Chinese ethnic enclaves in the United States. Now, there are over 600,000 Chinese Americans who live and work here. The location of Manhattan’s Chinatown is excellent because it is bordering the Broadway, Little Italy, Civic Center, and Tribeca to the surrounding areas. Thus, there are many very convenient transportations to come here, such as subways, self-drives, and public buses.

For the demographic information of residents, it is found that they all totally are Chinese Americans, and hardly find the White, the Black or other ethnic groups here. Also, many mid-aged people or elders like to come here to shop in the morning because the local supermarkets sell fresh vegetables, fruits, and traditional Chinese foods. They perhaps live in other districts rather than live here, but they would like to shop in Chinatown in the morning. At noon and night, more young people came here for lunches or dinners or shopping. Except for local Chinese Americans of all ages, there were more international students and visitors from other nations who came here for vocations. Thus, the streets became busier at this time.

As one can observe, ommercial areas and residential areas are intersecting with each other. For example, the first floor of each building is mainly for commercial use because there are different stores, such as retail stores, restaurants, food markets. Due to the small interior space of many stores, the owners also put their commodities on the outside tables. Thus, the narrow sidewalks became more crowded and it feels like we are packed like sardines. And the upstairs are mainly for offices, service businesses, and condominiums. Besides, the shop signs in Chinatown are also written in Chinese which we can easily distinguish what type of store is. According to the research, a special definition for this commercial type, which is the Shopkeeper Model. This model is the most common commercial type in China. Shopkeepers often manage their independent stores and responsible for many affairs. For example, serving clients, taking customer payments, and giving advice about products to customers directly. 

The residential types of Manhattan’s Chinatown are mainly apartments. However, more than half of the apartments in Chinatown have at least 100 years of history. These apartments are antiquated and shabby with age. For example, there is no elevator in the building, no fancy outlooks, and no large yards and garages. However, many people still chose to live here because it has a really good location and convenient lives. Also, people have a really good and closed relationship with their neighbors because they perhaps live here for several generations.

In Chinatown, because new immigrants came from different parts of China, thus many of them spoke their dialects, which consist of the bridge of their communication. Language helps them more conveniently to adapt to the brand-new life in a foreign country. The language in Chinatown could be divided into two categories, Cantonese group, and none-Cantonese group. The first generation of immigrants was most from Guangdong province, southern China where people speak Cantonese. People in the area were mainly speaking Cantonese, and they also taught their descents to learn the traditional dialects. Thus, Cantonese becomes the main tool of communication. For example, a famous restaurant’s name, Wu’s Wonton King in 165 East Broadway uses Wonton as their store’s name. Wonton’s pronunciation origin from Cantonese which means traditional food in Guangdong. For another example, Wah Fung restaurant’s name should be written as Hua Feng in Mandarin. However, it writes as Wah Fung for its Cantonese pronunciation. What’s more, except Cantonese, many people also speak other local dialects, such as Hokkien, Fuzhounese. Although some don’t know how to speak Cantonese or other dialects, many people can also speak Mandarin now. More and more people start to learn mainstream language because many visitors from other provinces of China who come to Chinatown only speak Mandarin. 

Due to the discrimination of Asian people in the 19th century, Chinese in the US were hard to integrate into mainstream society. They had to squeeze in the Chinatown to help each other. As time goes by, more and more second or third Chinese generations began to left Chinatown and they assimilate into American society and speak English. However, Chinatown’s residents still keep their traditional cultures and celebrate their festivals. For example, during Chinatown’s annual Lunar New Year celebration one can enjoy stunning visuals, tantalizing foods, and impressive performances. Many residents and visitors for all ages come here and welcome the New Year. Moreover, during the Spring Festival, there are many traditional Chinese activities such as dragon and lion dance. 

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The history of Chinatown is the epitome of all Chinese immigrants overseas. Although Chinese immigrants have experienced many struggles and difficulties, they use their wisdom to create amazing achievements; although Chinatown is crowded and compact, they still keep their cultural and language features. Chinese American respect and preserve their traditional culture because they never forget their roots. Thus, Chinatown is the harbor for every Chinese people overseas. 

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