Chinatown in Manhattan NY


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What is Chinatown

New York City's Chinatown, the largest Chinatown in the United States and the site of the largest concentration of Chinese in the western hemisphere is located on the lower east side of Manhattan. Its two square miles are loosely bounded by Kenmore and Delancey streets on the north, East and Worth streets on the south, Allen street on the east, and Broadway on the west. With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000, Chinatown is the favored destination point for Chinese immigrants, though in recent years the neighborhood has also become home to Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos among others.

Chinatown's History

Chinese traders and sailors began trickling into the United States in the mid eighteenth century; while this population was largely transient, small numbers stayed in New York and married. Beginning in the mid nineteenth century, Chinese arrived in significant numbers, lured to the Pacific coast of the United States by the stories of Gold Mountain, California during the gold rush of the 1840s and 1850s and brought by labor brokers to build the Central Pacific Railroad. Most arrived expecting to spend a few years working, thus earning enough money to return to China, build a house and marry.

As the gold mines began yielding less and the railroad neared completion, the broad availability of cheap and willing Chinese labor in such industries as cigar-rolling and textiles became a source of tension for white laborers, who thought that the Chinese were coming to take their jobs and threaten their livelihoods. Mob violence and rampant discrimination in the west drove the Chinese east into larger cities, where job opportunities were more open and they could more easily blend into the already diverse population. By 1880, the burgeoning enclave in the Five Points slums on the south east side of New York was home to between 200 and 1,100 Chinese. A few members of a group of Chinese illegally smuggled into New Jersey in the late 1870s to work in a hand laundry soon made the move to New York, sparking an explosion of Chinese hand laundries.

Housing in Chinatown

The housing stock of Chinatown is still mostly composed of cramped tenement buildings, some of which are over 100 years old. It is still common in such buildings to have bathrooms in the hallways, to be shared among multiple apartments.

A gigantic federally subsidized housing project, named Confucius Plaza was completed on the corner of Bowery and Division streets in 1976. This 44-story residential tower block gave much needed new housing stock to thousands of residents. The building also housed a new public grade school, P.S. 124 (or Yung Wing Elementary). Since new housing is normally non-existent in Chinatown, many apartments in the building were acquired by wealthy individuals through under-the-table dealings, even though the building was built as affordable housing.

Chinatown Landmarks

For much of Chinatown's history, there were few unique architectural features to announce to visitors that they had arrived in the neighborhood (other than the language of the shop signs). In 1962, at Chatham Square the Lt. Benjamin Ralph Kimlau Memorial archway was erected in memorial of the Chinese-Americans who died in World War II. This memorial, which bears calligraphy by the great Yu Youren (1879—1964), is mostly ignored by the residents due to its poor location on a busy car thoroughfare with little pedestrian traffic. A statue of Lin Zexu, a Fuzhou-based Chinese official who opposed the opium trade, is also located at the square; it faces uptown along East Broadway, now home to the bustling Fuzhou neighborhood and known locally as Fuzhou Street .In the 1970s, New York Telephone, then the local phone company started capping the street phone booths with pagoda-like decorations. In 1976, the statue of Confucius in front of Confucius Plaza became a common meeting place. In the 1980s, banks which opened new branches and others which were renovating started to use Chinese traditional styles for their building facades.

Expantion of Chinatown

When the Exclusion Act was finally lifted in 1943, China was given a small immigration quota, and the community continued to grow, expanding slowly throughout the '40s and '50s. The garment industry, the hand-laundry business, and restaurants continued to employ Chinese internally, paying less than minimum wage under the table to thousands. Despite the view of the Chinese as members of a model minority, Chinatown's Chinese came largely from the mainland, and were viewed as the downtown Chinese, as opposed the Taiwan-educated uptown Chinese, members of the Chinese elite.

When the quota was raised in 1968, Chinese flooded into the country from the mainland, and Chinatown's population exploded, expanding into Little Italy, often buying buildings with cash and turning them into garment factories or office buildings. Although many of the buildings in Chinatown are tenements from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the rents in Chinatown are some of the highest in the city, competing with the Upper West Side and midtown. Foreign investment from Hong Kong has poured capital into Chinatown, and the little space there is a precious commodity.

Modern Chinatown

Today's Chinatown is a tightly-packed yet sprawling neighborhood which continues to grow rapidly despite the satellite Chinese communities flourishing in Queens. Both a tourist attraction and the home of the majority of Chinese New Yorkers, Chinatown offers visitor and resident alike hundreds of restaurants, booming fruit and fish markets and shops of knickknacks and sweets on torturously winding and overcrowded streets.

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