“I have a responsibility to speak up for the Chinese community, and I’m glad I’ve accomplished it!”
–Voices from Philadelphia’s Chinatown
Reporter: Bei Li
Intern Reporter: Ianthe Ince
Proofreading: Cory Clark
This is the first in a series of “Community Voices” articles developed by New Mainstream Press in partnership with the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, with support from the Independence Public Media Foundation.
——–以下为正文The following is the main text——–
唐人街，这座夹缝在高楼大厦中间 , 满满人间烟火气的街区, 是费城一个神奇的存在。
Chinatown, nestled between tall buildings, is a bustling neighborhood in Philadelphia, a magical place that exudes the essence of human life. With a history of 150 years, this Chinese community in the heart of Philadelphia is not only a geographical “Chinatown” but also a place filled with memories, emotions, and nostalgia for many.
Photo credits to the Inquirer 图片来源：the Inquirer
Chinatown is an integral part of the diverse ethnic communities and multicultural development in Philadelphia. In a sense, it serves as a spiritual home and emotional bond for the Chinese community in Greater Philadelphia.
After three years of the pandemic, how is Philadelphia’s Chinatown doing? What are the concerns of the people in the Chinese community? Are they worried about the future of Chinatown? How can Chinatown be improved? We interviewed five individuals who live or work in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, hoping to present their perspectives and insights on Chinatown as they see and feel it.
Lin Lihang: Chinatown is my home.
图片由受访者本人提供 Image Credits to the Interviewee
Q: Do you live in Chinatown?
A: Yes, my home is in the heart of Chinatown, near 10th Street and 11th Street. My parents are from Fuzhou, China, and I was born in Manhattan, New York. However, at the time, my parents were running a restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia and were too busy to take care of me. They sent me back to China to be raised by my grandparents, and I returned when I was five years old and had been living in Philadelphia’s Chinatown ever since.
Q: Do you remember the scene when you first arrived in Chinatown? What does it feel like to grow up in Chinatown?
A: Soon after I arrived, 9/11 happened. Everything was in chaos. Schools were closed, and there were no people on the streets. I was wondering what had happened. Later, things returned to normal. I started attending elementary school near Chinatown. There was some culture shock at that time, but later I adapted and made friends with people from various backgrounds.
There are many shops around my home. Because some store owners don’t speak English well, I often help them as a translator. I assist them with filling out forms, doing taxes, sometimes making phone calls to utility companies, and discussing any issues they have in their stores. Over time, I have gotten to know many store owners. When we meet, they greet me warmly and ask about my well-being.
Throughout my upbringing, I have been involved in various community activities and organized different events. For example, I played lion dance in the Sun Lion Dance Team and participated in different organizations like PCDC. I believe the existence of these organizations is important for the next generation of Chinatown because if we only focus on the present, our next generation may be lost. We won’t have the same unity as we do now.
Participating in these activities is equally important for me. Through helping the elderly and children, I feel that I am needed.
Q: Do you also work in Chinatown?
A: I work as a teacher at Chinatown Learning Center. In the morning, I teach a preschool class with 20 children ranging from 3 to 5 years old. In the afternoon, I work as a teacher in the after-school care program for children aged 5 to 13, from 3:00 to 5:30 pm.
A: The first group of students I taught are now in 6th and 7th grade. Some of them have even entered high school. They return to visit me and jokingly say, “Hey, Mr. Li, you’re still here. You look so old…” I feel proud because it means the kids still remember me, and I have left a deep impression on them.
Q: Why did you choose this job?
A: I love this job because it allows me to serve our community, including the children in our community, which is very meaningful to me. Growing up in Chinatown, I have become accustomed to the ebb and flow of the neighborhood, but I know that beyond casual greetings and small talk, there is a deeper connection in Chinatown. The Chinese community in Chinatown has always been helping and supporting each other. When I talk about my home, it’s not just about my small family, but it includes every person in the Chinese community. Like many of the children, I have seen them grow up from birth and now they are in middle school. Being in Chinatown and within the Chinese community gives me a sense of belonging, which is important to me.
Many Chinese people in Chinatown run restaurants, and their parents are often busy and don’t have time to care for their children. As a result, many children spend a lot of time online or playing games, unaware and unconcerned about what’s happening in the community. I feel that it would be too late for them to understand these things once they reach high school. Building a relationship with the community needs to start early.
所以，我们的学习中心为大家提供了很多的资源，比如组织孩子们一起打排球，或者复活节捡蛋的活动，就是让孩子们不只是独自呆在家里，而是走在社区中去。而且，现在在托儿所的孩子，他们的成长正好赶上疫情，我们叫他们“COVID kid”，因为在过去三年他们更多呆在家里， 或是保持社交距离，他们不知道社群的概念是什么，更需要帮助。
That’s why our learning center provides many resources, such as organizing volleyball games for the children or Easter egg hunts, to get them out of their homes and into the community. Moreover, the children in our daycare are “COVID kids” because they have experienced the pandemic during their formative years. They have spent more time at home or maintaining social distance in the past three years and don’t understand the concept of community as much. They need more help and support.
Q: Do you plan to stay in Chinatown in the future?
A: As a teacher, I would like to teach in more places. I will stay at this Chinatown learning center for another year and then see which school districts are hiring teachers. I may apply to other places, other states. But I want to say that my parents will always live in Chinatown. I will come back here often wherever I go because Chinatown will always be my home.
A-zheng: With Chinatown,
Chinese people can unite as one.
Photo credits to standard.com 图片来源：standard.com
Q: Can you introduce yourself?
A: I am from Fuzhou, China, and have worked in a restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown for 32 years. Currently, I work as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant. I work in Chinatown because it is close to my home, which is located in the center of Philadelphia. I am not very willing to be interviewed because I feel like nobody cares about what a waiter in a Chinese restaurant has to say. But I would like to share my feelings if someone is willing to listen.
Q: The pandemic has dramatically impacted many restaurants over the past three years. You must have been greatly affected as someone who works in a restaurant, right?
A: Absolutely. The restaurant I worked at temporarily closed then, and I was unemployed for several months. It was pretty challenging to find work, as good opportunities were scarce. On the one hand, people couldn’t find decent jobs, and on the other hand, restaurant owners struggled to find suitable employees. It was challenging.
There was also the issue of racial discrimination, which deeply affected me. Some “foreigners” believed that Chinese people brought the virus. During the pandemic, I walked from Chinatown to the riverfront in Old City Philly, and a cyclist intentionally bumped into my foot on the sidewalk. At that time, three of us walked side by side, and the other two were white. I don’t know if it was deliberate or not.
I haven’t experienced discrimination while working in Chinatown, but there was an incident when I was leaving a bar, and a non-Chinese troublemaker asked me if I wanted to buy drugs. I said no, and he followed me. He punched me in the head, causing me to fall and get injured. I couldn’t work for a month and had no income.
Q: Now that the pandemic is over, do you feel that the popularity of Chinatown has recovered?
A: I feel that business has picked up, and my job has become more stable.
Q: Are you familiar with the new 76ers stadium?
A: My attitude is certainly against it. The stadium will squeeze out the Chinese people, and once everyone is scattered, it will be difficult to “twist into a rope” when negotiating with the government. I find it strange why they don’t go elsewhere and insist on coming to our Chinatown. Why not go to other ethnic neighborhoods in Philadelphia?
Q: Did you vote in the primary election for the next mayor?
A: I did not go because I had heard too many stories about Philadelphia’s political arena. What’s the use of my vote? Can a poor person become mayor? It’s impossible. I think Philadelphia may be the city with the worst public safety in the United States. The news every day is heartbreaking. Democracy means equality for everyone, opposing racial discrimination, and not letting people of color suffer again. Only then can the economy develop. If I were mayor, I would not allow any form of discrimination in Philadelphia.
Q: How do you think Chinatown can become better?
A: I think Philadelphia’s Chinatown is much cleaner than New York’s Chinatown. Of course, security needs to be strengthened, and the potholes on the roads should be fixed to attract more tourists.
How can Chinatown become better? That’s a difficult question to answer. I’m not the mayor, so I can’t make decisions. We don’t need a good gentleman; we need a mayor with an iron fist, someone who dares to take action and properly manage the security of Philadelphia and accelerate economic development.
Ayo Ince： 我很惊讶，费城竟然有这样一块儿宝地
Ayo Ince： I’m amazed that Chinatown is such a treasure in Philadelphia.
印小兰和朋友在费城唐人街 Ayo and friend in Philadelphia Chinatown 图片由受访者本人提供 Image Credits to the Interviewee
Ayo Ince is an eighteen year-old African American Brown University student currently working and living in Philadelphia for the summer. Having lived in China for just shy of 10 years, her fluent Mandarin skills enabled her to get a job working in Philadelphia’s Chinatown’s very own Emei Sichuan restaurant as a hostess where she not only greets and seats customers in both English and Mandarin, but where she also takes and processes food orders.
Q: Do you often go to Chinatown?
A: Yes, I frequently visit Chinatown. It’s only about a 10-minute walk from where I live in Philadelphia. I’m a regular visitor to Philadelphia’s Chinatown because I work at a restaurant there, specifically at the Emei Restaurant. Additionally, I enjoy coming with my family to dine in Chinatown. There are still many places in Philadelphia’s Chinatown that I haven’t explored yet, and I’m eager to do so.
Q: How does it feel when you walk in Chinatown?
A: Chinatown feels very much like China. There are many Chinese signs, traditional Chinese-style shops, and the air is filled with the sounds of Chinese language. The first time I walked on the streets of Chinatown, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a precious place in Philadelphia, where Chinese culture is so well integrated. It’s like a “miniature China.”
Q: Have you heard about the new arena for the 76ers basketball team? Do you care about the future of Chinatown?
A: Initially, I was excited about it because the new arena would be closer to my home, making it more convenient to watch games. However, as I learned about the potential threat it poses to Chinatown, with mainstream American businesses following suit and competing for space with the small shops in Chinatown, resulting in displacement of residents and closure of businesses, I started to have doubts about the project.
Chinatown is already thriving, attracting many people who appreciate its uniqueness and contributing to its prosperity. There are far more people who love Chinatown, like myself, compared to the number of fans of the 76ers basketball team. Therefore, Chinatown doesn’t need a new arena for the 76ers to increase foot traffic. It might be a better idea to consider building the new arena in other areas of Philadelphia that need an economic boost from the team.
I want to move my home closer to Chinatown.
图片由受访者本人提供 Image Credits to the Interviewee
Q: What is your connection with Chinatown?
A: My family immigrated from Taiwan to the United States, and I am a second-generation immigrant. I don’t currently live in Chinatown. My home is more than 30 kilometers away from Chinatown, but I visit Chinatown 2-4 times a week. I work as a pastor at the Chinese Christian Church + Center in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, and on weekdays, I go to the office in Chinatown. On Sundays, my whole family goes there to participate in church activities. We also have meals, buy bread, and visit bubble tea shops in Chinatown on Sundays. Although we live far away, we are familiar with many restaurants in Chinatown.
Q: The Chinese Christian Church is located on Vine Street in Chinatown. Does the church have a large number of Chinese people?
A: This church has a history of over 80 years and offers Sunday activities in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. I have been working at this church for ten years, and although the church is located in Chinatown, as housing prices in Chinatown have increased and space has become limited, most of our church members are not from Chinatown.
I have noticed that more and more Chinese people from Northeast Philly, South Philly, and the suburbs of Philadelphia and New Jersey are attending our church. About 75% of our attendees come from outside of Chinatown. Although these Chinese people do not live in Chinatown, like me, they come to Chinatown 2-3 times a week, or even four times, to buy groceries, eat at restaurants, see doctors, and more.
Q: I heard that recently there was a meeting opposing the construction of a new arena for the 76ers at your Chinese Christian Church, is that correct?
A: Firstly, our church serves our church members who gather here because they believe in God. On another level, in the church, God teaches us to love others and our neighbors. Therefore, serving Chinatown and the community is also our goal. This kind of service transcends religious boundaries; whether you believe in God or not, we are willing to lend a helping hand.
我们的教会也参与着很多华人社区的活动，为活动提供场所，起到了一个社区活动中心的作用。比如说我们提供课后托管班，SAT课程，ESL课程，在暑假还有篮球夏令营。我们还参与到唐人街大扫除（Chinatown Clean Up）的活动中。我们不仅仅为唐人街的华人们服务，我们关注更大的费城华人社区。
Our church is also involved in various activities within the Chinese community, providing a venue for events and serving as a community center. For example, we offer after-school programs, SAT courses, ESL classes, and even basketball summer camps during the summer. We also participate in activities like the Chinatown Clean Up. We serve the Chinese people in Chinatown and care about the larger Philadelphia Chinese community.
Q: Do you consider Chinatown to be something important for you?
A: I grew up in northern New Jersey, so I didn’t have much of a concept of Chinatown when I was young. However, I have become more familiar with it over the years working in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. I think it’s a special and unique place. I particularly enjoy seeing the farmers’ market in Chinatown on weekends, with many people buying vegetables. It creates a lively atmosphere that makes me feel comfortable. There’s a sense of belonging and identification.
While it’s good to see Chinatown thriving, after many Chinese people moved away, Chinatown’s function has become more like a cultural hub. For immigrants who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and other Chinese dialects, Chinatown helps them find their cultural identity and provides a sense of home for the Chinese community. That may be the most important aspect.
Q: What are your views on the new stadium for the 76ers?
A: Our church has taken a stand against the new stadium for the 76ers. I also know that a survey was conducted in Chinatown, and 95% of the respondents were against the new stadium. We want to make it clear to the Philadelphia city government where we stand.
This opposition to the new stadium by the 76ers has brought the people of Chinatown together and united us. It has also opened my eyes. I feel that the “leaders” and entrepreneurs in Chinatown have realized the importance of unity and strength in numbers. It’s no longer possible to solve problems by ourselves, relying solely on our efforts.
So, while the construction of the new stadium by the 76ers is a negative development, it has also brought the people of Chinatown together, presenting a unified front, which is a positive outcome. Another point I hadn’t considered before is that many of the people I’ve interacted with are not residents of Chinatown. There are also community organizations of various ethnicities in Philadelphia that care about Chinatown and are willing to support us. In turn, I believe that if other communities face issues, we, as the Chinatown community, should also step up and voice our support for them. As Chinese people, we should have a broader perspective encompassing the entire city of Philadelphia for a better future.
Q: Do you have any future plans?
A: I do have plans to move closer to Chinatown. Currently, I live too far away, and organizing activities with church members at home is inconvenient, mainly because our three children are still very young and cannot be left alone. Therefore, I want to be closer to Chinatown and the church community. I may not live directly in Chinatown, but the more intimate, the better.
Auntie Wang：I cannot live without Chinatown, and I am willing to do something for it.
Photo credits to abc.com 图片来源：abc.com
Q: When did you come to the United States? Have you always lived in Philadelphia’s Chinatown?
A: I came to the United States in the 1990s, which happened to be during the wave of Chinese people going abroad. My sister applied for me to come to the United States. I was around 40 years old then and came straight to Philadelphia’s Chinatown with my two-year-old son. I worked in a garment factory. Later, I moved to South Philadelphia and returned to work in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Now I am retired and live in public housing with my son. I do some cleaning work at PCDC (Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation) during my free time.
Q: Do you still remember Chinatown in Philadelphia in the 1990s?
A: At that time, I lived at my sister’s house. I would go to the garment factory early in the morning and come back late at night. There were many garment factories in Chinatown at that time. Initially, I didn’t know how to sew, so I cooked for the workers and distributed fabrics. Later, I learned some sewing skills. I remember earning a few hundred dollars a month. The hourly wage was just over $3, which was tough work.
Although I lived and worked in Chinatown, I didn’t have much time to stroll around the streets. What impressed me the most was that there used to be a place selling duck legs in Chinatown, and they were very cheap. You could buy 15 braised duck legs for one dollar. I loved eating them so much that I would buy 40 or 50 of them for $3, and it was a big pile that I couldn’t finish.
Q: What do you think is the biggest change in Chinatown over the years?
A: Over the years, Chinatown has always had many shops and people. I think everything is still convenient, just like before. But there has been one change: after the police station moved away, Chinatown seems chaotic. There weren’t as many robberies and shootings, but now there are many, even during the daytime. So, I don’t go out at night anymore because I feel unsafe. This feeling is very strong.
There are also some concerns that worry me. I have participated in several meetings opposing the construction of the 76ers basketball arena. I also heard they want to build a juvenile detention center on 11th Street, and I participated in the survey to express my opposition. There’s also the I-95 cap project, and I participated in the survey for that as well.
Q: I feel that you are very concerned about public affairs in Chinatown. What does your involvement mean to you?
A: Because I now work as a cleaner at PCDC, I also know that many people are doing things for the community. For example, PCDC helps people who don’t speak English apply for medical cards, utility bill assistance, and public housing. They even organized COVID-19 vaccine distribution during the pandemic. There’s also free food distribution every Friday.
These convenient services have made life much easier for people like us who don’t understand English. The good things the Chinese community has done for us have influenced me. So now, if I can do something for Chinatown, I will do it. It’s not only good for others but also good for myself.
I have lived in Philadelphia’s Chinatown for over 20 years. Here, I don’t have any language barriers, and I don’t have to rely on my son for translation. I can do anything, and it gives me a sense of security. I feel like this is my home or my second hometown. If Chinatown becomes better, all of us can become better, right?
“Do not touch Chinatown!” ” Don’t sell Chinatown!” “Save Chinatown!” On June 10th, over 3,000 Philadelphia residents held banners and signs, marching in a protest rally to oppose the construction of a new basketball stadium near Chinatown by the Philadelphia 76ers.
At the gathering in front of Philadelphia City Hall, the attention was drawn to 96-year-old Chinatown resident Chen Kia Chan, who had moved to Chinatown 85 years ago. As early as 2000, he had participated in protests to prevent the construction of a baseball stadium in Chinatown.
We want to conclude this article with the words of Chen Kia Chan, as he represents the voice of Chinese Americans in Philadelphia: “I have lived in Chinatown for a long time, and now I am 96 years old. I have a responsibility to continue speaking up for the community, and I am glad that today I have done so.”