“Empowering Chinatown: The Indispensable Impact of Supportive Organizations”
校对Proofreader：Cory Clark, Keano Tsao
In April 2023, to celebrate the 153rd anniversary of the founding of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, a massive mural with the theme of “The Past Supporting the Future” was unveiled at Crane Chinatown. The mural broke the record for being the highest mural in Philadelphia and has become a new symbol of Chinatown. It is listed as a landmark of Philadelphia tourism by the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Photo Credit to Artist Chenlin Cai
The mural consists of three parts representing the past, present, and future. Several important moments in the history of Philadelphia’s Chinatown are depicted on one scroll within the mural. The scene of Chinatown residents protesting the construction of the expressway on Vine Street in the 1960s is one of them.
Fight For Survival
1966年，宾州交通部公布了万安街高速公路（Vine Street Expressway）的新计划，该计划准备拆除费城华埠天主教教堂和培德学校（the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School）。与此同时，费城市启动了大都会医院（Metropolitan Hospital）和东市场街（Market Street East）的计划，从四面围堵华埠，唐人街岌岌可危。
In 1966, PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) unveiled a new plan for the Vine Street Expressway to be extended, effectively splitting Chinatown into two halves. The plan included the demolition of the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School to make way for the highway. Simultaneously, the city initiated plans for Metropolitan Hospital and Market Street East, effectively enclosing Chinatown on all sides and preventing expansion.
Schematic diagram of the original construction plan for the Vine Street Expressway
不过，费城华埠并不是那么容易被击垮。唐人街的居民们团结起来，为自己的家园和社区而战。1966年3月27日，社团、企业主、教会领袖和居民们聚集在安良工商会（On Leong Merchants’ Association），讨论如何应对政府机构提出的这项严重影响社区的计划。在此次会议上，成立了促进和保护唐人街社区委员会（the Committee for the Advancement and Preservation of the Chinatown Community）。1969年，费城华埠发展会（PCDC）成立。
However, Chinatown did not yield easily. Its residents united to defend their homes and community. On March 27th, 1966, various groups, including associations, business owners, church leaders, allies, and residents gathered at the On Leong Merchants’ Association to strategize on ways to counter government’s plans, which would significantly impact their community. It was from this meeting that the Committee for the Advancement and Preservation of the Chinatown Community was born. In 1969, this committee was later incorporated into the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC).
费城华埠发展会的创始人之一，今年已经93岁高龄的Cecilia Moy Yep女士，回忆起当时的情景，好像就在昨天。“我有点不知所措，那时候我只有32岁，丈夫刚刚去世，拉扯着三个年幼的孩子。加上我对于城市规划之类的事情也不了解，所以当时我不知道自己能做多少。但是我知道，我们必须采取行动。我们向唐人街的居民们通报情况，把愿意帮忙和出力的人组织起来。有人负责了解和更新信息，有人负责和市政府沟通交涉。要知道，当时有很多不同的政府部门被牵扯进来，非常复杂。”
Ms. Cecilia Moy Yep is one of the founders of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. Now 93 years old, Ms. Yep recalled the scene as if it happened just yesterday. ‘I was overwhelmed; I was only 32 years old, my husband had just passed away, and I had three young kids. Plus, I didn’t know much about urban planning and such, so I wasn’t sure how much I could do at the time. But I knew we had to take action. We briefed the residents of Chinatown, organized people willing to help and contribute; many different government departments were involved; it was very complicated.
Young Yep，Profile Photo
Cecilia Moy Yep的父亲来自中国，母亲是德国人。在8岁的时候，她跟随父母搬到费城唐人街居住，算起来已经在费城唐人街住了快86年。
Cecilia Moy Yep’s father is from China, and her mother is German. From the age of 8, she followed her parents to live in Chinatown, where she has now for almost 86 years. “I think a big reason my father moved to Chinatown was to familiarize us with Chinese culture. We are also the first Catholic family in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. All my brothers and sisters and I have graduated from Catholic School. My neighbors and I have been classmates since 7th grade, and now we’re all in our 90s and still good friends. That’s why I think we have to work hard to protect the Catholic Church in Philadelphia and protect our Chinatown because it’s so important to a lot of people.”
Yep’s first campaign to protect Philadelphia’s Chinatown began in 1960. At the time, the City of Philadelphia asked Yep to give up her Chinatown home to make room for a new subway tunnel but did not offer her a new home. “I was served an eviction notice, but I decided to stay there,” she said, “and they built the subway tunnels and piled the dirt high up to the third floor of my house.”
Yep remained firmly rooted in her residence within Philadelphia’s Chinatown until the city of Philadelphia inaugurated its housing development in the neighborhood’s history. After this development was completed, Yep relocated to a new residence, which is where she continues to reside today.With the joint efforts of all PCDC members and Chinatown residents, Philadelphia Chinatown survived the second “Battle of Survival.” Transportation officials finally agreed to reduce the plans for the Vine Expressway to save the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School, which stands to this day.
Photo Credit to Yep
In 1974, Yep was named executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. In the following 25 years, as the core leader of the organization, she has been at the forefront of the fight for Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Over the past few decades, PCDC has not only lobbied and protested against a series of projects that attempted to occupy Chinatown but has also developed residential projects to allow Chinese groups, especially low-income groups, to live and work in Chinatown.
“The federal government has funded major cities for urban renovation and cleanup. Because for historical reasons, all the Chinatowns in the United States are located in poor areas of the city. The government doesn’t want to make these areas better, just clean them up. To a certain extent, this is also a kind of discrimination against the Chinese. We can only become stronger ourselves and work hard to fight the government. This is the only solution.”
As PCDC director, Yep had not only rescued Chinatown from outside threats during her lifetime, but also saved the neighborhood for future generations by initiating the passage of a bill in 1999 that established Chinatown as a Special Zoning District. This law rezoned 44 acres of underutilized land north of Vine Street and across from Chinatown, allowing for the community’s expansion.
Photo Credit to Yep
今年已经93岁的Yep，因其保护唐人街社区的工作而获得1999年费城奖（the 1999 Philadelphia Award）。虽然已经在2000年从PCDC退休，但是Yep一直是PCDC和费城华埠的精神领袖，被尊称为“费城唐人街教母”。“唐人街是我的家，我仍然是董事会成员，会参与一些活动。只要我能帮忙，我都会愿意去做。虽然我现在已经九十多岁，没有太多的力气和精力，但是当我必须发声时，我会发声的。”
Yep, who is 93 years old this year, received the 1999 Philadelphia Award for her work representing and protecting the Chinatown community. Although she retired from PCDC in 2000, Yep has always been the spiritual leader of PCDC and Philadelphia Chinatown and is honored as “the godmother of Chinatown in Philadelphia.” “Chinatown is my home. I’m still on the board, and I’m involved in some activities. If I can help, I’m willing to do it. But I’m in my nineties now, and I don’t have a lot of strength and energy, but when I have to, I will speak.”
Fight For Development
In the Chinese community in Greater Philadelphia, there is another big brother who is always rosy and smiling. He is Steven Zhu, secretary-general of Pennsylvania United Chinese Coalition and president of the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association. After many years, he still has a fresh memory of his entry into the Chinese community circle. “In 2003, The Philadelphia Chinese Community Organization United (PCCOU) planned to elect a secretary-general. Someone nominated me. In the second week, they held a meeting and called me to go too. It turns out I was late, and there was a standing ovation as soon as I walked in. I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘We just voted, and you’re now our Secretary-General’. I officially started working for the Chinese community.”
Photo Credit to Steven Zhu
Although it was a bit unexpected when Steven Zhu first entered the circle, he quickly realized that doing things for the community was a highly complex project because oftentimes “Chinese people focus on the individual and lack the awareness of unity, so it is difficult to unite.” Steven said, “I once wrote an article about why there is a Chinatown. Chinese people succeed through hard work, but it also attracts the envy of others. So Chinese people gather back to back to gain a sense of security. But only back to back, instead of holding hands, it is difficult to share common interests.”
In early 2005, Philadelphia introduced a curfew law. According to the law, the takeout restaurants in the residential areas must close at 11pm. The purpose of this bill was to curb criminal activities in residential areas and “promote a sense of safety,” but when the police enforced the law, they targeted Chinese restaurants and disregarded the illegal behavior of restaurants run by non-Chinese owners. Some Chinese restaurants that are not within the law enforcement area also received fines.
During that time, Chinese restaurant owners lacked an organization to unite them, leading to the establishment of the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association. Surprisingly, Steven Zhu, who had never owned a Chinese restaurant, became one of the founders of the association. He and the other leaders of the association led dozens of affected Chinese takeout restaurants to rally against the ‘curfew bill’ and took their concerns to Philadelphia City Hall. They organized a large protest, seeking to challenge the unfair law and enforcement through legal means.
Steven Zhu and David Oh during the curfew bill demonstration outside City Hall
Photo Credit to Steven Zhu
“I just do a little bit for the community, think a little more for others, and do things that others can’t do because I can speak some English, and many restaurant owners don’t speak English, so I help you communicate with the city government. That’s it. I couldn’t say ‘NO’ before; as long as someone came to ask for help, I would say yes. As a result, the more things I did, the more things came to me.”
It took 15 years for Chinese restaurant owners in Philadelphia to fight against the curfew bill. In 2018, driven by Steven Zhu’s call, the owners compiled 142 pages of evidence proving that they had been violated by vile laws over the years and asked the Philadelphia court to rule that the curfew law is invalid or to at least end the unfair law enforcement by the city police. It is gratifying that the U.S. federal court eventually ruled that the Philadelphia curfew law was unconstitutional, and the city government withdrew the curfew law and compensated the Chinese restaurant owners with $265,000 in total.
In opposing the curfew bill, Steven Zhu discovered that if the Chinese want to live in peace and contentment, in addition to being united and constantly fighting for their rights, they also need to be more understood by non-Chinese society. At that time, many Chinese associations organized their activities and played by themselves, but the outside world didn’t know what they were doing. Including now, many people complained on WeChat daily, but the mainstream society couldn’t hear a word. What’s the use?”
To the curfew bill, the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association wanted to change it, not to overturn it. “But when we went to the government, they said that the owners of Chinese restaurants hide behind bulletproof glass every day to make money, and they seldom return the money to the community; many people do not contact and communicate with others because of language barriers.” As a result, the Greater Philadelphia Restaurant Association began to plan various activities and events, inviting non-Chinese associations, Senators, and members of the House of Representatives. Slowly, through mutual understanding, the association began to change the outside world’s perception of the Chinese community.
Steven Zhu (first from right) and Yingzhang Lin (first from left) donated money to the Philadelphia Police Station on behalf of the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association
Photo Credit to Southeast News Network
Every year, the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association, which has 300 members, cooperates with the Philadelphia Police Department to send turkeys to low-income families on Thanksgiving, send out Christmas gifts to children on Christmas, and donate to the community. Later, more and more Chinese associations joined in, repaying and serving the community with the restaurant association. “Simply put, it is to build a good relationship with our neighbors. Do good deeds and leave an impression that ‘Chinese people will also give back to the community’ and let the outside world know that we are part of the greater community in Philadelphia.”
“Everyone will sympathize with you and come to help you. We initially wanted to amend the bill, but everyone advised us to go to the federal government, including David Oh.” Steven Zhu said with emotion, “The Chinese community wants to gain a foothold and focus on integration, not only the integration within the Chinese community but also the blend with other races and mainstream society.”
Benefit the Next Generation
在费城华埠，几乎没有人不知道费城华埠华人天主教教堂、天主教培德学校（the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School）和汤姆·贝茨神父（Father Tom Betz），很多人亲切地叫他Father Tom。位于费城华埠的天主教培德学校为大约150名学生提供从学前班到八年级的教育。这些学生中，有大约140名来自亚太裔家庭，其余为拉丁裔。虽然只有部分学生来自天主教家庭，但是这些学生大多来自低收入移民群体。
In Chinatown, Philadelphia, almost no one does not know the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School and Thomas Betz, affectionately known as Father Tom. The Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School serves approximately 150 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Of the 150 students, 140 are from Asian Pacific American families, and the rest are Latino. Although some of the students are from Catholic families, most of these students are from low-income immigrant groups.
Photo Credit to Father Tom
从1991年开始，Father Tom开始担任费城华埠天主教教堂的主教，同时负责培德学校的事务。虽然中间有中断，但是任期结束之后，他自愿继续留在唐人街为教堂和学校服务。Father Tom自豪地说，“几年前，有一项针对费城所有天主教、公立和特许学校的调查，在315所左右的小学中，我们排名第七。在所有天主教学校中，我们排名第四。”
Since 1991, Father Tom has served as the bishop of the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School in Philadelphia. After his term ended, he voluntarily continued to serve churches and schools in Chinatown despite interruptions. Father Tom proudly said, “A few years ago, there was a survey of all Catholic, public, and charter schools in Philadelphia, and out of 315 or so elementary schools, we ranked seventh. Among all Catholic schools, we ranked fourth.”
Generous donors use their donations to supplement the tuition fees parents need to pay so that the School can provide children from low-income families, even undocumented immigrants, with an equal, high-quality, and safe education.
Photo Credit to Father Tom
In addition to schooling, the school provides recreation, tutoring, and service to hundreds of children from the school and the community. At the same time, the school also provides English, computer, and literacy courses for adults. The school also provides the Asian community with a free clinic every Wednesday night, provided by volunteer medical staff from Jefferson University Hospital. Many people have regarded the school as their home.
Having served in churches and schools for decades, Father Tom, who loves schools like home, was amazed by the family values and ties of the Chinese community. “The Chinese community has wonderful values. There is a strong sense of family. People in the community have strong bonds. The kids who went to school here 8 or 10 years ago are still best friends. Once in a lifetime. That sense of community is great.”
Photo Credit to Father Tom
The Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School survived the disaster of the Vine Expressway. In the following decades, this church and school become an intimate part of the Chinese community and an inseparable component of the Philadelphia Chinatown family.
Father Tom Betz在采访中说：“我想，从1941年教堂和学校建立开始，在很长一段时间里这里都是费城华人社群主要的活动场所之一。这就是为什么唐人街‘第一次战斗’就是为了保护它，所以我们一直保持着我们的使命，不管是PCDC，费城太阳队，还是其他青年团体、青年机构、特许学校，包括亚洲艺术倡议、亚裔联合会都很重要。因为孩子们是我们的未来。”
Father Tom Betz said in an interview: “I think, from the establishment of the church and school in 1941, for a long time, this is the main activity place for the Chinese in Philadelphia. That’s why Chinatown’s “first battle” was to preserve it, so we’ve kept our mission, whether it’s the PCDC, the Philadelphia Suns, or other youth groups, youth agencies, charter schools, including Asian Arts Initiative, AAU. All the organizations are important because children are our future.”
Work Hard For Tomorrow
During the annual Chinese New Year celebrations in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, the youthful, smiling faces of the Philadelphia Suns Lion Dance Team members also left a deep impression on everyone. Amidst the loud sound of gongs and drums and the deafening sound of firecrackers, groups of colorful lions imitate the various movements of lions, flying up and down and walking around the streets. The lions also stepped into the crowd from time to time and asked the children to touch its head to bring everyone good luck in the new year.
图片来源：the Philadelphia Suns官网
Photo Credit to the Philadelphia Suns
In our interview, Harry Leong, the President of the Philadelphia Suns, recalls the excitement of the Chinese New Year. “Our lion dance team has the largest number of people in Philadelphia, with about 200 people in the team. During the Spring Festival celebration in Chinatown, we will send the most luxurious lineup, with 40 people participating in the lion dance performance, which is very spectacular.”
Because of the Chinese New Year, every February to April is the busiest time for the Philadelphia Suns Lion Dance Team. “On average, we perform more than 20 performances a week, and sometimes there are five or six performances daily.” In communities and parks, shopping malls and schools, museums and libraries, Philadelphia Suns appear everywhere. Because of this, the Philadelphia Suns Lion Dance Team has become a shining name card of the Chinese community in Philadelphia.
图片来源：the Philadelphia Inquirer
Photo credit to the Philadelphia Inquirer
“I particularly enjoy our school performances. Sometimes, during the day, we dance from one school to another multiple times. Some schools provide a stage for our performance, while others have us parade through the hallways. As we walk through the hallways, students sitting there would be filled with excitement, and the kids have a blast,” Harry shared.
Harry couldn’t help but reflect on his long-standing connection with the Philadelphia Suns Lion Dance Team. ‘I’ve served as the president of the Philadelphia Suns since 1989,’ he began. ‘But my journey with the Philadelphia Suns began much earlier, around 1976, when I was just 12 or 13 years old. At the time, there were community activities in Philadelphia’s Chinatown that involved teaching lion dance and martial arts. When I first joined the Philadelphia Suns, I played baseball with the older kids, and we even formed a basketball team before eventually establishing the lion dance team.”
Photo credit to leongkids
In addition to the performance, every Sunday afternoon, the students of the lion dance team will gather in Philadelphia’s Chinatown for training. Although 90% of the members of the lion dance team are Chinese, the team has always opened the door to everyone. As long as they appreciate the art, they can come and learn. In Harry’s view, the Philadelphia Suns Lion Dance Team is a good opportunity to introduce traditional Chinese culture to people of other races and colors. “Enabling everyone to experience and learn interactively is very effective in understanding and appreciating Chinese culture.”
The Philadelphia Suns is also a large community. This community not only has a lion dance team, basketball team, volleyball team, and technical team, but also various community volunteer opportunities. “Young people are here to make friends and build self-esteem and confidence while learning leadership skills.”
“For many old members, the Philadelphia Suns is a big family, and the Philadelphia Chinatown is a big family too. This kind of influence is lifelong.” For the Chinese community in Philadelphia, many associations, including the Philadelphia Suns, are paying attention to the younger generation and carrying out various community activities for young people.
Through organizations like the Philadelphia Suns, more and more young people get to know and become a part of the community. They devote themselves to community activities and services to become the backbone and main force of survival and development for the Chinese community.
The future can be expected!
2023年8月21日，宾州州长亚太裔事务委员会（the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs）的28名新成员在哈里斯堡（Harrisburg）举行了宣誓就职仪式。
On August 21, 2023, the 28 new members of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs held an oath of office ceremony in Harrisburg.
Among the 28 new members, Wei Chen from Philadelphia was officially sworn in as the chairman of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Asia-Pacific American Affairs Committee and the core leader of the new committee.
Wei Chen has a strong community background. He is the captain of the Philadelphia Chinatown Dragon Boat Team, the Co-Founder of the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance in Pennsylvania, Co-Chairman of the Pennsylvania United Chinese Coalition, and Civic Engagement Director of the Asian American United.
1871年，作为众多从美西向美东迁移的华人之一，李方（Lee Fong,音译）在费城Race Street 913号开了一家洗衣店。从那以后，费城华埠历经150年风雨，始终都是大费城华人社群的家园。陈威是新一代华人社群年轻领导人的杰出代表。我们也看到了更多活跃在华人社群的年轻人在迅速成长。
In 1871, Lee Fong opened a laundry at 913 Race Street as one of the many Chinese who migrated from the west to the east of the United States to escape racism and violence. Since then, Philadelphia’s Chinatown has weathered storms and has remained home to the Greater Philadelphia Chinese community.Wei Chen is an outstanding representative of the new generation of young Chinese community leaders. We have also seen the rapid growth of more young people becoming active in the Chinese community.
Aggregating the power of the community, the future of Philadelphia’s Chinatown can be expected!
本文是“社区之声”系列文章的第三篇。“社区之声”是由新主流传媒公司与费城华埠发展会(PCDC)合作开发，并得到独立公共媒体基金会的支持。This is the third 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.