Chinatown in New York

Monday, 12 February 2018 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Bon appétit, New York City, Shopping
Reading Time:  12 minutes

© chensiyuan/cc-by-sa-4.0

© chensiyuan/cc-by-sa-4.0

Manhattan‘s Chinatown is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, bordering the Lower East Side to its east, Little Italy to its north, Civic Center to its south, and Tribeca to its west. Chinatown is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the West. With an estimated population of 90,000 to 100,000 people, Manhattan’s Chinatown is also one of the oldest Chinese ethnic enclaves. The Manhattan Chinatown is one of nine Chinatown neighborhoods in New York City, as well as one of twelve in the New York metropolitan area, which contains the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, comprising an estimated 820,000 uniracial individuals.

Historically, Chinatown was primarily populated by Cantonese speakers. However, in the 1980s-90s, large numbers of Fuzhounese-speaking immigrants also arrived and formed a sub-neighborhood annexed to the eastern portion of Chinatown, which has become known as Little Fuzhou. As many Fuzhounese and Cantonese speakers now speak Mandarin—the official language in China and Taiwan—in addition to their native languages, this made it more important for Chinatown residents to learn and speak Mandarin. Although now overtaken in size by the rapidly growing Flushing Chinatown, located in the nearby borough of Queens – also within New York City – the Manhattan Chinatown remains a dominant cultural force for the Chinese diaspora, as home to the Museum of Chinese in America and as the headquarters of numerous publications based both in the U.S. and China that are geared to overseas Chinese.

Ah Ken is claimed to have arrived in the area during the 1840s; he is the first Chinese person credited as having permanently immigrated to Chinatown. As a Cantonese businessman, Ah Ken eventually founded a successful cigar store on Park Row. He first arrived around 1858 in New York City, where he was “probably one of those Chinese mentioned in gossip of the sixties (1860s) as peddling ‘awful’ cigars at three cents apiece from little stands along the City Hall park fence – offering a paper spill and a tiny oil lamp as a lighter”, according to author Alvin Harlow in Old Bowery Days: The Chronicles of a Famous Street (1931). Later immigrants would similarly find work as “cigar men” or carrying billboards, and Ah Ken’s particular success encouraged cigar makers William Longford, John Occoo, and John Ava to also ply their trade in Chinatown, eventually forming a monopoly on the cigar trade. It has been speculated that it may have been Ah Ken who kept a small boarding house on lower Mott Street and rented out bunks to the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in Chinatown. It was with the profits he earned as a landlord, earning an average of $100 per month, that he was able to open his Park Row smoke shop around which modern-day Chinatown would grow.

© chensiyuan/cc-by-sa-4.0 Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District © Dorff/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Martin Dürrschnabel/cc-by-sa-2.5 © Martin Dürrschnabel/cc-by-sa-2.5 © Martin Dürrschnabel/cc-by-sa-2.5 © Derek Jensen
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Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District © Dorff/cc-by-sa-3.0
Faced with increasing racial discrimination and new laws that prevented participation in many occupations on the U.S. West Coast, some Chinese immigrants moved to the East Coast cities in search of employment. Early businesses in these cities included hand laundries and restaurants. Chinatown started on Mott, Park (now Mosco), Pell, and Doyers Streets, east of the notorious Five Points district. By 1870, there was a Chinese population of 200. By the time the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed, the population was up to 2,000 residents. In 1900, the US Census reported 7,028 Chinese males in residence, but only 142 Chinese women. This significant gender inequality remained present until the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943. Wenfei Wang, Shangyi Zhou, and C. Cindy Fan, authors of “Growth and Decline of Muslim Hui Enclaves in Beijing”, wrote that because of immigration restrictions, Chinatown continued to be “virtually a bachelor society” until 1965. The early days of Chinatown were dominated by Chinese “tongs” (now sometimes rendered neutrally as “associations“), which were a mixture of clan associations, landsman’s associations, political alliances (Kuomintang (Nationalists) vs Communist Party of China), and more secretly, crime syndicates. The associations started to give protection from harassment due to anti-Chinese sentiment. Each of these associations was aligned with a street gang. The associations were a source of assistance to new immigrants, giving out loans, aiding in starting businesses, and so forth. The associations formed a governing body named the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. Though this body was meant to foster relations between the Tongs, open warfare periodically flared between the On Leong and Hip Sing tongs. Much of the Chinese gang warfare took place on Doyers street. Gangs like the Ghost Shadows and Flying Dragons were prevalent until the 1990s. The Chinese gangs controlled certain territories of Manhattan’s Chinatown. The On Leong and its affiliate Ghost Shadows were of Cantonese and Taishan descent, and controlled Mott, Bayard, Canal, and Mulberry Streets. The Flying Dragons and its affiliate Hip Sing also of Cantonese and Toishan descent controlled Doyers, Pell, Bowery, Grand, and Hester Streets. Other Chinese gangs also existed, like the Hung Ching and Chih Kung gangs of Cantonese and Toishan descent, which were affiliated with each other and also gained control of Mott Street. Born to Kill, also known as the Canal Boys, a gang composed almost entirely of Vietnamese immigrants from the Vietnam War under the leadership of David Thai had control over Broadway, Canal, Baxter, Centre, and Lafayette Streets. Fujianese gangs also existed, such as the Tung On gang, which affiliated with Tsung Tsin, and had control over East Broadway, Catherine and Division Streets and the Fuk Ching gang affiliated with Fukien American controlled East Broadway, Chrystie, Forsyth, Eldridge, and Allen Streets. At one point, a gang named the Freemasons gang, which was of Cantonese descent, had attempted to claim East Broadway as its territory. Columbus Park, the only park in Chinatown, was built on what was once the center of the infamous Five Points neighborhood. During the 19th century, this was the most dangerous ghetto area of immigrant New York, as portrayed in the book and film Gangs of New York.

In the years after the United States enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, allowing many more immigrants from Asia into the country, the population of Chinatown increased dramatically. Geographically, much of the growth occurred in neighborhoods to the north. The Chinatown grew and became more oriented toward families due to the lifting of restrictions. In the earliest years of the existence of Manhattan’s Chinatown, it had been primarily populated by Taishanese-speaking Chinese immigrants and the borderlines of the enclave was originally Canal Street to the north, Bowery to the east, Worth Street to the south, and Mulberry Street to the west. However, after 1965, there came a wave of Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong and Guangdong province in Mainland China, and Standard Cantonese became the dominant tongue. With the influx of Hong Kong immigrants, it was developing and growing into a Hong Kongese neighborhood, however the growth slowed down later on during the 1980s-90s. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the influx of Guangdong and Hong Kong immigrants began to develop newer portions of Manhattan’s Chinatown going north of Canal Street and then later the east of the Bowery. However until the 1980s, the western section was the most primarily fully Chinese developed and populated part of Chinatown and the most quickly flourishing busy central Chinese business district with still a little bit of remaining Italians in the very north west portion around Grand Street and Broome Street, which eventually all moved away and became all Chinese by the 1990s. However, until the 1980s, the portion of Chinatown that is east of the Bowery—which is considered part of the Lower East Side—was developing more slowly as being part of Chinatown, the proportion and concentration of Chinese residents was lower and more scattered than the western section, and there was still a higher proportion of Non-Chinese residents than Chinatown’s western section consisting of Jewish, Puerto Ricans, and a few Italians and African Americans. During the 1970s and 1980s, the eastern portion of Chinatown east of the Bowery was a very quiet section, and like in all of the rest of the Lower East Side, many people and especially many Chinese people were afraid to walk through or even reside on the streets east of the Bowery due to deteriorating building conditions and high crime rates such as gang activities, robberies, building burglaries, and rape as well as fear of racial tensions with other ethnic people that were still residing there. In addition, there were fewer businesses and there were significant amount of vacant properties not occupied. Chinese female garment workers were especially targets of robbery and rape a lot on their way home from work and often left work together as a group to protect each other as they were heading home. In May 1985, a gang-related shooting injured seven people, including a 4-year-old boy, at 30 East Broadway in Chinatown. Two males, who were 15 and 16 years old and were members of a Chinese street gang, were arrested and convicted. Starting in the 1970s and especially throughout the 1980s-90s, Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese immigrants and then later on many other Non-Cantonese Chinese immigrants also were arriving into New York City. However, due to the traditional dominance of Cantonese-speaking residents, which were largely working class in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the neighborhood’s poor housing conditions, they were unable to relate to Manhattan’s Chinatown and mainly settled in Flushing and created a more middle class Mandarin-Speaking Chinatown or Mandarin Town and even smaller one in Elmhurst, since most of the newer upcoming generations of ethnic Chinese were already using Mandarin although still their regional dialects in everyday conversations, whereas Cantonese speaking populations largely don’t speak Mandarin or only speak it with other Non-Cantonese Chinese speakers. As a result, Manhattan’s Chinatown and Brooklyn’s emerging Chinatown were able to continue retaining its traditional almost exclusive Cantonese society and were nearly successful at permanently keeping its Cantonese dominance. However, there was already a small and slow growing Fuzhou immigrant population in Manhattan’s Chinatown since the 1970s-80s in the eastern section of Chinatown east of the Bowery, which was still underdeveloped as being part of Chinatown. In the 1990s, though, Chinese people began to move into some parts of the western Lower East Side, which 50 years earlier was populated by Eastern European Jews and 20 years earlier was occupied by Hispanics.

Read more on nycgo.com – Chinatown, LonelyPlanet.com – SoHo & Chinatown, Wikitravel Chinatown, Wikivoyage Chinatown and Wikipedia Chinatown (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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