Documentation and Post-Project Reflection

December 13th, 2010

This semester, I decided to focus on raising awareness about the effects of gentrification in Chinatown. I was attracted to this issue mainly because I personally have felt that the neighborhood itself has dramatically changed over the past two decades. After the September 11th attacks, I noticed a significant change in the demographic makeup of the neighborhood. As such, I started to become curious as to why this occurred. My interest in this gentrification later deepened when I took an urban studies seminar taught by Professor Tarry Hum, who discussed the problem of housing affordability in Chinatown. I, however, did not seriously consider involving myself in raising awareness about this issue until last summer, when I interned for an independent film production team. My supervisors encouraged me to work on a project of my own, so I decided to examine the effects of gentrification in Harlem, Chinatown, and Washington Heights. By the end of the summer, I was engrossed in the topic, but I did not expect myself to carry on with the idea of raising awareness. Fortunately enough, this class project gave me the opportunity to do so.

I think a lot of what I learned in class really helped me realize my project. Many of the works we read this semester, such as Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and Noenoe Silva’s Aloha Betrayed, centered on the theme of preserving the culture of one’s community. From time to time, I saw the connection between the theme of these works and my own project. Like these authors, I wanted to preserve something that was very dear to me. More specifically, I found myself relating to Haunani-Kay Trask’s Act of War and Light in the Crevice Never Seen. Like Trask, I am not exactly an indigenous resident of Chinatown, yet I do feel a certain bond to the neighborhood because of cultural ties. As such, I saw many similarities between her portrayal of Hawaii and the current condition of Chinatown. For instance, Chinatown, like Hawaii, has become shaped into a tourist attraction. People often come to the neighborhood with misguided notions about its residents, and they seem to believe that it accurately embodies the Orient. At the same time, these visitors frequently see the neighborhood as a prime hotspot for residency, and they make little effort to appreciate the heritage that has pervaded the area for decades. As such, I felt that it was my duty, as a Chinese American, to at least spread the word about the damaging effects of gentrification on Chinatown. Reading Trask’s narratives definitely encouraged me even further to pursue this particular topic.

Meeting together in groups also helped me develop my project. I got some great advices from Todd and Sarah. Professor Lee’s comments on my topic proposal were of great assistance as well. They all loved my idea of raising awareness and encouraged me to take it a step further by talking to more sources. Initially, I planned on speaking to Andy Yu, the executive director of the Greater Chinatown Community Association. I had communicated with him earlier during the summer, and he had provided me with some sources for reference. Unfortunately, I could not reach him this semester. This was a major obstacle in continuing my project, because I had hoped that he would give me insight into the issue. As a result, I was forced to look for alternative sources to consult. Professor Lee suggested that I speak to Carol Huang, the secretary of the Asian American/ Asian Research Institute. By the time I contacted her, the semester was already halfway done, and I was a bit nervous about whether I could complete the project on time. After corresponding with Carol for a couple of days, she regrettably admitted that she could not help me at all. By then, I started to panic, hoping that I could find someone to interview before the deadline. I emailed Professor Lee, asking if he could suggest any more sources. He recommended that I speak to Professor Hum, whom I had never once thought about interviewing. Thankfully, Professor Hum agreed to an interview two weeks before the semester ended. She was incredibly accommodating and informative. If it had not been for her, I would not have been able to complete my project on time.

Despite these obstacles, I can proudly say that I learned a lot from working on my project. Researching the issue of gentrification produced some startling statistics. Though I had learned about this topic earlier, I did not realize the tragic magnitude of gentrification on the neighborhood until I started to look through scholarly articles. I also learned more about the organizations and initiatives that have taken a part in combating the lack of housing affordability in the area. For example, I was unaware that the government had put forth an initiative that would keep housing affordable in the Lower East Side; I had always thought it did not care much for low-income residents in the area. In addition to the knowledge that I gained from these types of research, my interview with Professor Hum was very insightful and encouraging. She was able to put the entire issue in a more understandable context and expressed her support for my project.

Still, if I had to do my project differently, I would have been more aggressive in looking for people to interview. My major flaw was my inability to consult a reliable source until the last minute. Had I found one earlier during the semester, I would have had much more time to create a video presentation rather than a PowerPoint one. I would have also interviewed families in Chinatown about their experience with housing affordability. Although I did ask a couple of my sources whether they knew any families I could speak to, none of them could refer me to one. If I had worked on this project earlier during the semester, I might have been able to get in touch with one. Moreover, I would have drawn up a petition and a letter addressing city councilmember Margaret Chin and Mayor Michael Bloomberg as well. After watching C.J.’s presentation, I realized that I could have taken the same exact action to raise more awareness about my topic. By directly addressing the politicians in charge of urban planning, I could have effected a more substantial change in Chinatown.

Regardless, I would definitely suggest, to those interested in this issue of gentrification, going out and experiencing the community firsthand. Researching articles and reading textbooks on the topic can only do so much to give one a full understanding of the neighborhood. Those who are intent on raising awareness about the effects of gentrification on Chinatown should actively participate in the various organizations in the community. As a member of my church, for instance, I have spent the past several years working with Chinatown’s youth. Many of them are recent immigrants who have little to no knowledge about American culture; they believe that Chinatown is the only neighborhood in which they can thrive. As such, it hurts to see the demographics of the community change so rapidly. As more and more middle-income and high-income families move into the neighborhood, these immigrants will no longer see it as a source of hope. As someone who has seen this gentrification negatively transform the makeup of Chinatown, I urge everybody, especially those who have seen this type of change occur in low-income neighborhoods, to take action against this issue.

Works Consulted
“Chinatown: One Year After September 11th.” Asian American Federation. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2010.

Chow, Lisa. “Chinatown Resists Gentrification.” Home – WNYC. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2010. .
Huang, Carol. Email interview. 24 Nov. 2010
Hum, Tarry. Personal interview. 29 Nov. 2010
Kuo, Chia-Lung. Social and Political Change in New York’s Chinatown (Praeger special studies in U.S. economic, social, and political issues). New York: Praeger Publishers Inc, 1977. Print.
Mintz, Jessica. “Poverty, poor language skills plague Chinatown, says report.” The Weekly Newspaper of Lower Manhattan. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

The New York Times. “Ask About the Gentrification of Chinatown – NYTimes.com.”
Metro – City Room Blog – NYTimes.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2010.
Zhou, Min, and John R. Logan. “In and Out of Chinatown: Residential Mobility and Segregation of New York City’s Chinese.” Social Forces 70.2: 387-407. Print.

“Unincorporated Territory” Poetry

December 12th, 2010

Imports and Exports

Unincorporated Territory

(See attachment)

Personification of the Korean Conflict (Dollar Man Blog)

December 12th, 2010

The Southern man had done all he could to ease tensions between him and his Northern counterpart. There had been a long history of friction between them, but he never imagined that he would once again see the day he would have to resort to violence. He had always tried to negotiate, but he was never skillful at it. In times of high stress, he often turned to his friend, the Western man, for help. However, this situation was different. The damage had already been done. It was now up to him to decide whether he should respond in the same aggressive way the Northern man had done.

The decision was hard to make. On the one hand, he feared backlash from the people around him. He had always tried to maintain his reputation and composure, knowing full well that one mistake could easily draw fire from his critics. On the other hand, he was tired of pleading with the Northern man. Though he lacked the muscle of the Western man, the Southern man was sufficiently built to handle his own. He knew he had an advantage over the Northern man, but he always thought of himself as a pacifist. Despite the constant taunts from the Northern man, the Southern man always restrained himself.

The seconds were ticking. He knew that if he did not take action quickly, the Northern man would continue to beat him until he died. He paced around frantically, thinking of alternatives to solve the situation. His patience was running out. Sweat dripped along the side of his forehead. Sooner or later, he would have to confront the Northern man. It was only a matter of time…

Goals for the Semester

November 22nd, 2010

Within the next three weeks, I hope to get much of my project done. I am a little concerned as to what the final product will be because I have been having problems getting concrete information from some of my sources. I have already found alternative sources to contact, so I hope things will turn out for the better. Still, I’m determined to make the most out of what I already have. I think I have enough credible information to present the issue of gentrification in Chinatown, but I’m still trying to organize everything so that my presentation is clear and succinct. I don’t have any major questions left regarding what I have to do. I’m just praying that my sources will give me enough information that I can use within the next couple of weeks. Because the deadline is approaching soon, I want to get as much as I can out of my sources so that I can present something credible and reliable.

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November 8th, 2010

In the Style of Patricia Grace

November 8th, 2010

There is something to be said about foreigners and their misconceptions of Oriental culture. I have slanted eyes, a small nose, and a body that many obese Americans envy. My people are family-oriented, typically conservative and much more, yet the Western world believes that my life consists of nothing but chop suey. My ethnicity has been metaphorically compared to a food that does not exist in the mainland, but that particular food has come to mystify those who live around me. Here in America, chop suey is a reality; there in the mainland, it is nothing but a myth. Though I constantly tell myself that this culinary notion has falsified my people’s culture, I often find myself battling it.

Each day, I stick my pair of chopsticks into my bowl of rice, believing that I am staying true to the mainland. Still, recurrent thoughts of chop suey invade my mind, often demanding that I concede to the popular stereotypes of my time. Day by day, I remind myself that my father is not a chef at your local fast food restaurant and that my mother does not earn her wages by cleaning your shirts. I know this for sure, but I cannot fully grasp the idea that I am better than what people around me say that I am.

Though I am Chinese, I am also American. I am simply a product of the society that I live in. They say that Mexicans are lawn-mowers, that African Americans are prone to violence, and that Asians are sneaky businessmen who often cheat the system. Are these notions true? My heart says no, but my mind says yes. Despite the fact that professors often teach me to analyze issues with an open mind, I find myself running around in circles. In my search to see things from an unbiased perspective, I always come back to confronting that notion of “chop suey.”

Project Update

November 8th, 2010

In regards to my project on the effects of gentrification on Chinatown and housing affordability, I’m currently debating whether I should present all my findings in a video presentation. I was hoping to format it similar to Shelly Silver’s short film “5 Lessons and 9 Questions About Chinatown” (For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, you can watch it at http://vimeo.com/8897554. The password is “chinatown”), but I’m not exactly experienced in filmmaking. My alternative choice would be to present all my findings in a PowerPoint presentation, even though I question whether this option can effectively appeal to a large audience.

I’ve compiled a list of articles that I plan to refer to (which can be found at the bottom of this post), but I’ve yet to interview my major sources. I did, however, contact Andy Yu, director of the Greater Chinatown Community Association, and he provided me with some sources I can use for my project. I still plan to interview him in the coming weeks. I also hope to interview Carol Huang of the Asian American/Asian Research Institute (as Professor Lee has suggested). Hopefully, I will have something more concrete in the next two weeks.

Resources:
“Answers About the Gentrification of Chinatown – NYTimes.com.” Metro – City Room Blog – NYTimes.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. .

Chow, Lisa. “Chinatown Resists Gentrification.” Home – WNYC. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. .
“Converting Chinatown: A snapshot of a neighborhood becoming unaffordable and unlivable.” Chinatown Gentrification Survey 2009. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. .

Kuo, Chia-Lung. Social and Political Change in New York’s Chinatown (Praeger special studies in U.S. economic, social, and political issues). New York: Praeger Publishers Inc, 1977. Print.

Kwong, Peter. THe New Chinatown: Revised Edition. Rev Sub ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 1996. Print.

Lim, Audrea. “Chinatown Resistance: The Struggle Against Rezoning and Gentrification in Lower Manhattan – The Brooklyn Rail.” The Brooklyn Rail – NOV 2010. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. .

Ong, Paul. Jobs and Economic Development in Minority Communities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. Print.

Smith, Neil , and James Defilippis. “The Reassertion of Economics: 1990s Gentrification in the Lower East Side.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 23.4 (1999): 638. Print.

“The Battle for Chinatown | The Real Deal | New York Real Estate News.” The Real Deal | New York Real Estate News. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. .
Tung, Larry. “Chinatown Looks for a Way to Survive and Thrive (Gotham Gazette, Apr 2009).” Gotham Gazette – the Place for New York City Policy and Politics . N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. .

Zhou, Min. “In and Out of Chinatown: Residential Mobility and Segregation of New York City’s Chinese.” Social Forces 70.2 (1991): 387-407. Print.

Short Poem

October 14th, 2010

From the Perspective of a Chinese-American

The narrative often focuses on the black and white
Here they say that I am not like you
I am of a different race
I am not American
There they say that I am just like you
I am not of their race
I am American
What am I to you?
Someone who works at a laundromat
What am I to them?
A corrupt individual

Topic Proposal

September 30th, 2010

The topic I will focus on centers on the effects of gentrification in low-income neighborhoods. The prime example I intend to use will be Chinatown, a relatively sizable community that consists of two major groups of Chinese immigrants: the Cantonese and Fujianese populations. During the mid-1900s, Chinatown grew from a reasonably small Chinese neighborhood that consisted of low-income families to an ever-growing region that now encompasses a significant portion of Lower Manhattan. With a strong presence of middle and low-income Chinese residents, a major concern nowadays is the influx of high-income families into the neighborhood. While many old immigrants have resided in the area long enough to receive rent-stabilization benefits, a substantial majority are now seeing an increase in housing prices. In effect, the increasing gentrification of Chinatown is pushing many Chinese immigrants away from the neighborhood, thereby also devaluing the culture that has, for so long, governed the area.

In order to work on this issue, I plan to rely heavily on census statistics and speak to community officials who are familiar with the current gentrification of Chinatown. If possible, I would also like to interview low-income families who are currently being affected by the lack of housing affordability within the neighborhood. The purpose of referring to statistics and interviewing families is to give various perspectives of the situation itself. Doing so will allow me to educate my audience while also connecting to them on a personal level. However, I still think the major obstacle I anticipate on confronting is the language barrier. Because a majority of the residents in Chinatown know limited English, it may be difficult to extract a concrete and reliable story from them. Certain stories might be mistranslated in the process.

The major source and organization that I intend to contact will be the Greater Chinatown Community Association. The GCCA is an institution that provides services for the betterment of the Chinatown community. Over the years, the organization has been actively involved in the neighborhood and has offered programs in adult education, medicine, recreation, and consultation. It also assists immigrants with affordable housing and helps address various issues that plague the area.

In short, my purpose in focusing on the effects of gentrification is to raise awareness about the lack of affordable housing that has come as an inevitable consequence. The project itself will most likely target landlords who have, too often, capitalized on the growing migration of wealthy families into Chinatown. By raising rent of lease prices, these landlords put Chinatown at the risk of losing its very culture. Many residents within the neighborhood depend on affordable housing as a means of survival. Without this benefit, these residents will migrate to other areas and bring their culture with them. By educating the public about the effects of gentrification in low communities such as Chinatown, I hope that more people are conscious about the social change that is gradually taking place in these areas. In effect, going to the public to socially shame these money-hungry landlords will add more pressure to stabilize rent prices and provide a better living for the less fortunate.

Resistance Literature

September 22nd, 2010

The purpose of resistance literature is to express a particular sentiment against a colonizer or an aggressor (either directly or indirectly). It is a defiance of the culture that has been imposed on the colonized and often reflects a certain degree of nostalgia for the past – a past in which the colonized was not bounded by the constraints of the aggressive colonizing power. For the most part, resistance literature is a tool of protest for those who are powerless. It also serves as a means of empowerment by legitimizing the need to return to a culture untainted by outside influences. In other words, resistance literature showcases the repressed spirit. It speaks for those who cannot speak and fights for those who cannot fight. It is a response to the aggressor and a defense of the victim.

Stylistically, there is no specific form that one must adhere to when writing resistance literature. Because resistance literature is ultimately an expression of rebellion, it can be represented in various manners. In works of prose, for example, the characters themselves can be associated with various degrees of sentiment that are expressed by the author. In works of poetry, the overall theme may convey a specific message geared towards the aggressor or colonizer. In essence, resistance literature does not have to explicitly exhibit a sense of political connotation in order to be resistant.

Some of the notable examples of resistance literature can include “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Both display a sense of resistance towards a particular ideal. While Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is a direct response to slavery, Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” is directed against the aristocracy. Though some might believe that including these two works in resistance literature is preposterous, the messages that come out of these two novels are just as resistant to a certain ideal as the one that Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” displays.


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