By Ed Diokno
Like other Chinatowns in other cities, the existence of Oakland Chinatown is threatened.
The cultural, spiritual and symbolic home of Chinese Americans in San Francisco’s East Bay is several square blocks south of Broadway, sandwiched between downtown, Jack London Square and the Lake Merritt neighborhoods.
A confluence of factors has hobbled its existence:
- Rising rents threaten to displace longtime residents and businesses
- Asian communities and businesses have sprouted in the suburbs and increased competition
- Shop owners have struggled to adjust to changing tastes
- Minimum wage increases has changed the business climate
- Younger generations of Chinatown residents are leaving family retail businesses in favor of other professions
An article in the East Bay Times outlined some of the problems facing Chinatown. Some business people believe that Chinatown is being neglected as other neighborhoods in the city get more attention from City Hall.
Some advocate more housing be brought to the neighborhood, but in doing so might invite the gentrification that is plaguing other Chinatowns in Washington D.C, New York City, Boston and even the edges of San Francisco’s Chinatown–still home for thousands of Chinese immigrants and elderly despite becoming a major tourist attraction for the city.
But as the resident Chinese disperse to the outlying neighborhoods and suburbs, questions arise whether or not there is still a need for Chinatowns. The older Chinatowns grew out of racist policies instituted by realtors, financial institutions and city officials. The quest for affordable housing is no longer relegated to the normally crowded conditions those policies create. Except for the higher-income neighborhoods, almost all other urban neighborhoods are also seeking affordable housing.
However, the Chinatowns allowed services to be delivered to a lot of clients in a small densely packed area. Social services, financial institutions, medical needs could focus on one area.
So I have two philosophical questions I pose to all of you:
1. If those racist policies were in play today, would we allow the Chinatowns to form? Wouldn’t there be boycotts and demonstrations protesting those policies in order to prevent the “ghettoization” of the Chinese community?
2. Or, would there be a movement afoot to form a “heritage district,” in the same way that Filipinos were able to do in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood to preserve the neighborhood’s Filipino American character and institutions?
(Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)
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