‘ChinaTown’ is a term used to describe communities of ethnically Chinese people in dense urban cores throughout North America. The East Asian skyscrapers and concrete architecture are influenced by the culture and aesthetics within these communities.
The origin of ChinaTown as we know it today dates back to 1906 in San Francisco. It began as a region on the waterfront where Chinese immigrants settled. They found comfort in the community and were able to build a thriving local economy that supported new immigrants as they arrived in the United States. San Francisco became a large hub for international trade from Asian countries that sold many of their goods in this growing region.
Discrimination then Destruction
In the early 20th century, San Francisco was a rapidly developing city. As the financial district expanded, it began to encroach on the outskirts of Chinatown. City officials started to lobby for the destruction of the municipality. This campaign included racist rhetoric such as distorted images and comic strips to alienate Asian Americans.
During this period, the plague had begun circulating through the United States. An outbreak in San Francisco was used to further discriminate against Asian Americans. Although the infection traced back to Australia, an infection in ChinaTown led to the entire region being cordoned off. Hate crimes against Asian people rose by 150% during this period.
Piggybacking on the anti-asian sentiment, policymakers decided to relocate the residents of ChinaTown to areas further away from the downtown core. This action would have destroyed the sense of community that the region had created if it was seen through. Before this could happen, the region came face to face with another threat; mother nature.
In early 1906, a devastating earthquake rattled the streets of San Francisco. This tragedy levelled the streets of ChinaTown. News h Headlines callously described the destruction of ChinaTown as the ‘silver lining in this tragic event’.
A community that had lost everything in a city that lobbied against them was on the verge of collapse. A glimmer of hope emerged when neighbouring cities such as Sacramento and San Diego offered to house this community of immigrants with the hope of gaining access to the trade that they brought to San Francisco.
Determined to rebuild their community, the ChinaTown residents used this as a bargaining chip to protect the region that they had come to call home. On July 8th 1906, city officials gave in, and the residents were granted permission to continue living in this region.
As they rebuilt the town, the locals feared that the same persecution would reemerge a few years down the line. To prevent this they came up with a strategy that has influenced the landscape of every major city in North America. East Asian architecture was combined with western architecture to create the unique cultural blend, hallmarked by beautiful towering gates.
The region that was once viewed as an eyesore by city officials had suddenly become a booming tourism district. The immense success of this strategy resulted in similar communities popping up in major cities across North America as a mechanism to protect the cultural heritage of Asian immigrants.
The Lasting Impact
This July, take the time to reflect on the impact the policies made on July 8th, 1906 had on the fabric of North American society and the East Asian community. Consider the rich history of modern day ChinaTown and the role it serves to protect the culture of people who continue to face discrimination today.
Alarming trends of anti-asian hate have resurfaced in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus, which emerged from Wuhan, China has been labelled as ‘The China virus’ by some inflammatory leaders. Troubling signs, that are all too similar to the events a century ago in San Francisco, have emerged such as a 717% increase in anti-asian hate crimes in Vancouver, Canada.
CNBC indicates that 35.4% of hate crimes reported were at business and in the workplace. At a time like this, it is important for businesses and citizens alike to ask themselves: What can we do in the modern era to prevent age-old discrimination that continues to prevail in society?
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