“The Ghost of Chinatown”

As a must-see stop for New York City tourism, Chinatown attracts countless tourists from all over the world. Nowadays, the west of Bowery is called the Old Chinatown-It has the longest history, most of the early immigrants came from Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking areas; The residents east of the Bowery are more likely to be Chinese immigrants from Fujian province, mainland China who mostly began arriving in the 1980s and speaking a dialect called Hokkien. During that time, the arrival of new immigrants who could not speak Cantonese was not welcomed by old immigrants and those people were even discriminated against and could not find a job in a Cantonese-Chinatown. In addition, this area of minorities as well as immigrant Taiwan and other countries and regions in east Asia; In these several years among Chinese Chamber of Commerce of different cities and other agencies have a debate about the flag replacement-Five-starred Red Flag or Blue Sky, White Sun, and a Wholly Red Earth Flag, which one are more representative of people who live in Chinatown are. Or what does it mean to be “China” in the word “Chinatown”; Delicious and affordable foods are also a major feature of Chinatown, but because of the immigrant population mainly source in several provinces in southern China, the mainstream taste of Chinatown cannot represent taste of the country. For example, I come from northern China, and it is quite difficult to find the hometown taste I familiar with.

The older generation of immigrants not fluent in English, coupled with its generally low education, Chinatown has become a harbor but at the same time they are also trapped inside like caged birds. People are living here according to their former life patterns – Hong Kong-style advertisement signs, New Year dragon and lion parade, cheap goods, open-air fish markets etc. All these makes them find a sense of home in a foreign world. However, for young generation like me, everything in Chinatown looks old, like a reemerge of childhood life memories. I was born in 1993 and Chinatown actually arouses lots of my vague memories of years around the late 90th. What Chinatown presents is a scene of China in last century. Old immigrants continue to shape it according to their own memories, resisting to change, fight against to gentrification etc., so time freezes on the land.

My friend came for a visit a while ago, and I took him to Chinatown to find some familiar taste. He told me the first impression about Chinatown, he does not like it, depressing, people look upset, and some feels even angry at any time. Indeed, the older generations are used to difficult life and hard times, depressed all day long and seem to have nothing to celebrate. The old rolling shutters and light box signs in old Hong Kong movies, flag of the Republic of China fluttering in the sky, the “never going to be found” northern or middle of China’s roadside snacks we were familiar with. People here live in the way they were familiar with when they immigrated. It seems that they have nothing to do with the outside world and others, but they are shaping every corner of Chinatown invisibly. All this occurred in the region, not only in shaping “Chinatown” of this concept, but also shaping people's impression of the meaning "China”. Although in the eyes of the younger generation this is even activities serving the deep-rooted stereotype of the Asian community. For travelers who are unfamiliar with China and visit Chinatown, they are witnessing an obsolete “Chinese” image-a Chinese's image which they expected as portrayed in the western movies. This impression was then repeatedly confirmed and spread to farther places.

Dose Chinatown represent China? Dose it can only represent a part of China or represents a part of the past day China? Or it can only represent its own? Then what is the concept of “China” in the word “Chinatown”? I think Chinatown should be called Guangdong Town, or the other name “the little Hong Kong” which is actually more appropriate (But this name does not fully represent the current Chinatown). People are protesting here that Hong Kong is not China and Taiwan is not China, many fled here because of the Communist revolution. So what does Chinatown represent? Is Chinatown a " China " town? When the perspective is different, what exactly is China can be interpreted differently.

 

Chinatown is like a branch spread out with Chinese immigrants who arrived the United States, independent but cannot be cut off with its root, but meanwhile lag behind the growth of its trunk. It is like a shadow, flatly and vaguely mapping the current “China”. Haunted, different but so much alike. This is the reason I call this relation “The Ghost of Chinatown”.

 

Based on this deviation of reality and concept, I used “Chinatown is not Chinatown”, a puzzling negative sentence to express my doubts and perplexities.

2021/09/05