IDSEM 1934: Chinatown: Politics, Praxis, and Possibilities

Sep 10, 2018 · 14 min read

Instructor: Diane Wong

What can Chinatowns reveal about the American imagination? What is the continued significance of Chinatown in the U.S.? In this course, we will examine historical representations of Chinatown beginning with the early Chinese in the New York harbor and ending with contemporary struggles around dispossession. Topics include but are not limited to the construction of Chinatowns through public policies, gender dynamics in urban immigrant space, and the ways that artists have sought to intervene in the problems of displacement, immigration, and community-building. To study these issues, we will make use of various primary materials — including oral histories, films, poems, newspaper articles, music, and multimedia works — and intersectional and comparative approaches to the study of race, culture, politics, and place in urban America. Critical texts include Jack Tchen’s New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture and Jan Lin’s Reconstructing Chinatown. This seminar will place emphasis on New York’s Chinatown and students will have the opportunity to meet with and learn from community members while at the same time produce research that contributes to the fast changing neighborhood.

The course has four main objectives: 1) to create space for students to think critically about how neighborhoods like New York’s Chinatown are constructed, negotiated, and articulated over time 2) to introduce students to intersectional, comparative, and emergent approaches to the study of race, gender, place, culture, and politics in American cities 3) to familiarize students with concepts and terminologies in urban studies from multiple disciplines including but not limited to political science, ethnic studies, history, anthropology, geography, and literature 4) to have students develop an original research project that engages some of the most critical issues facing cities and that extends beyond the campus audience.

Required Texts

  1. Jack Tchen. 2001. New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776–1882.

Course Requirements

Attendance: This seminar is designed to be participatory and collaborative, attendance is necessary for you to understand the course material. I ask for regular attendance and will keep track of absences. You are allowed one unexcused absence from class. Each additional unexcused absence will reduce your participation grade by one third of a letter. If you are unable to attend due to illness or emergency you should notify me before section begins.

Reading: The weekly readings for this seminar will range from between 100 to 150 pages. It is expected that you will complete all assigned reading before class on the day for which it is assigned. Bring the texts with you to class so that we can refer to them when you or your classmates discuss the respective readings.

Participation: I foster a relaxed classroom environment and hope that students will come to class prepared to share, listen, and challenge each other in a respectful manner. You should be ready to discuss the readings assigned for each week, actively engaging the material will help make this course more interesting and relevant for everyone. I understand that students have different comfort levels in terms of speaking up in the classroom. If you find yourself feeling this way at any point, I encourage you to come to office hours so that we can discuss strategies for increasing your class participation.

Assignment Overview

Weekly Memos: Each week, students will be required to write a short reflection memo about the readings that will be uploaded to a class blog. Your reflections should cover the major arguments and respond with initial thoughts or questions that will provoke a substantive discussion. The purpose of these reflections is to help students keep up with readings and to generate thoughtful discussion in class. Due every Thursday before noon.

Neighborhood History Essay: We will plan a visit to the Asian/Pacific/American Institute archives on campus to learn about various approaches to research urban neighborhood change from a historical perspective. After our visit, you will have the chance to draw from the archives to tell a story about a person, place, moment, or movement in New York’s Chinatown history. The collections most closely related to the topics covered in class include the Tomie Arai Papers, May Chen Papers, Epoxy Art Group Archive, Godzilla Asian American Art Network Archive, among others. You will write a short essay that draws from your research in the archives to address these questions: What can archives tell us about displaced memories and histories? What can we uncover about Chinatown history and politics through the archives? Whose voices are preserved? What can we learn about contemporary Chinatown through the zines, letters, visual art, interviews, and photographs in the archives? Due October 19. I will ask each of you to put together a short presentation to share your research and be in conversation with each other. The slide slam presentations should be five minutes long and feature five slides at most.

Oral History and Walking Tour Project: We will spend the first several weeks of the seminar learning about the history of various Chinatowns in the Americas and around the world while at the same time covering social sites in New York’s Chinatown. In a series of collaborative brainstorming sessions, each student will be asked to identify a social site of interest in the neighborhood for an oral history mapping project and walking tour. As part of this project, each student will be required to visit the site several times over the course of the semester and conduct one oral history interview with a community member of your choice. Part of this project involves drawing from your oral history interviews to collaboratively design an on and off-line walking tour of the neighborhood. Throughout this process, we will consider these questions: What are ethical ways to conduct oral histories? What are your responsibilities to community residents? What are the ways in which oral histories can build community power? Transcript of the oral history interview is due November 16. Towards the end of the semester, I will ask each of you reach out to those you conducted your oral histories with to attend the collaborative walking tour on our last day of class.

Research Paper: I will assign a final research paper at the end of the semester. The paper will allow students to select a topic of interest that critically engages issues related to contemporary Chinatowns. Students are expected to draw from academic sources and discuss relevant themes from the assigned readings or other course materials. The paper is broken down into two smaller parts: 1) 1–2 page research proposal and annotated bibliography and 2) an in class peer review session three weeks before the final version is due. I will schedule individual conferences with you to work on the research proposals. To become more effective writers, I will also make time during our seminar to provide you with the opportunity to workshop ideas collaboratively. Due December 14.

Grading Policy

Weekly Memos…………………………………………….15%
Neighborhood History Essay and Slide Slam………..….20%
Oral History and Walking Tour Project………………….20%
Final Paper……………………………………………...…20%

Other Course Information

Email Policy: Feel free to email me with questions or to set up an appointment outside of office hours. Longer discussions and all conversations about grades must take place in person. I will check my email more frequently during the school week and before assignments are due. Please do not wait until the last minute. There is no guarantee that I will receive, read and be able to respond to last minute requests or questions.

Electronic Devices: The success of our seminar rests largely on active participation. Laptops and tablets will be allowed for tasks relevant to the class. If laptops are misused, students will lose points from their participation grade and be prohibited from bringing laptops to future class meetings. I expect that you will abstain from texting, sending emails, and doing other work during class.

Campus Resources

Students with Disabilities: Academic accommodations are available for students with disabilities. Please contact the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities (212–998–4980) or email for more information. Students who require academic accommodations are advised to reach out to the Moses Center as early as possible in the semester for assistance.

Statement of Nondiscrimination: New York University is committed to maintaining an environment that encourages and fosters appropriate conduct among all persons and respect for individual values. The University enforces non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy and complaint procedures at all levels in order to create an environment free from discrimination, harassment, retaliation and sexual assault. Discrimination or harassment based on race, gender and/or gender identity or expression, color, creed, religion, age, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, citizenship status, or on any other legally prohibited basis is unlawful and will not be tolerated.

Academic Integrity

As a Gallatin student you belong to an interdisciplinary community of artists and scholars who value honest and open intellectual inquiry. This relationship depends on mutual respect, responsibility, and integrity. Failure to uphold these values will be subject to severe sanction, which may include dismissal from the University. Examples of behaviors that compromise the academic integrity of the Gallatin School include plagiarism, illicit collaboration, doubling or recycling coursework, and cheating. Plagiarism constitutes knowingly misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. This includes offenses like buying a paper off the Internet, as well as appropriating another author’s words or ideas without citation. If uncertain, you can consult the Gallatin website.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Introduction

Friday, September 7

Week 2: What is a Chinatown?

Friday, September 14
* Nellie Wong. 1983. “When I Was Growing Up” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, pp. 7–8.
* Kay Anderson. 1987. “The Idea of Chinatown: The Power of Place and Institutional Practice in the Making of a Racial Category.” Annals of the Association of the American Geographers, 77(4): 580–598.
* Jack Tchen. 1999. “Introduction” “The Port’s Rise” and “A Pioneer Settlement” in New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, pp. 41–62, 63–96.
* Rose Hum Lee. 1949. “The Decline of Chinatowns in the United States,” in American Journal of Sociology 54(5): 422–432.
* Meet at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) for a walking tour

Week 3: The Construction of Chinatowns

Friday, September 21
* Jack Tchen. 1999. “The Alarm” and “Visualizing Ah Sin” in New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, pp. 167–195, 196–224.
* Nyan Shaw. 2001. “Public Health and the Mapping of Chinatown” “Regulating Bodies and Space” and “Perversity, Contamination, and the Dangers of Queer Domesticity” in Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown, pp. 17–44, 45–76, 77–104.
* Mary Ting Yu Lui. 2007. “Find Miss Sigel Dead in Trunk” and “Terra Incognita Mapping Chinatowns Racial and Gender Boundaries in Lower Manhattan” in Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City, pp. 1–16, 17–51.
* Scott K. Wong. “From Pariah to Paragon: Shifting Images of Chinese Americans During World War II” in Chinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture, edited by Sucheng Chan and Madeline Hsu, pp. 153–172.
* Braden Goyette. 2017. “​How Racism Created America’s Chinatowns​,” in ​Huffington Post.​
* Visit the Asian/Pacific/American Institute Archives and Collections

Week 4: Manhattan’s Chinatown

Friday, September 28
* Jack Tchen. 1999. “Building Community” and “Epilogue” in New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, pp. 225–259, 292–296.
* Peter Kwong. 1996. “Economic Boom in New York’s Chinatown” “Chinatown’s Informal Political Structure” and “Unwelcome New Comers: Chinatown in the 1900s” in The New Chinatown, pp. 25–42, 81–106, 174–201.
* Jan Lin. 1998. “Labor Struggles: Sweatshop Workers and Street Traders,” in Reconstructing Chinatown: Ethnic Enclaves and Global Change, pp. 57–78.
* Xiaolan Bao. 2006. “The Vicissitudes of New York City’s Garment Industry: A Brief History” “Women in the Chinatown Garment Industry” “Chinese Women Workers and the ILGWU,” in Holding Up More Than Half the Sky: Chinese Women Garment Workers in New York City, 1948–1992, pp. 15–26, 110–142, 143–172.
* Renqiu Yu. 1994. “Chinese Laundrymen in New York City” and “The Emergence of the CHLA,” in To Save China, To Save Ourselves: The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance of New York, pp. 8–30, 31–49. E-book Central.
* Rocky, Chin. 1971. “New York Chinatown Today.” Amerasia Journal, 1(1): 1–24.
* Guest lecturer May Chen (she/her) and Rocky Chin (he/him)

Week 5: Chinatown in the United States

Friday, October 5
* Gordon Chin. 2015. “Prologue” “Ten Years that Woke Up Chinatown” and “Fighting for San Francisco Neighborhoods” in Building Community, Chinatown Style, pp. 12–31, 33–48, 49–52.
* Habal, Estella. 2016. “Manilatown, Manongs, and the Student Radicals” and “The Fall of the I-Hotel: Evictions and Demolition 1977–79” in San Francisco’s International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement, pp. 9–32, 146–170 E-book Central.
* Karen Yamashita. 2010. “I-Hotel: 1977”in I-Hotel: A Novel, pp. 576–605.
* Haiming Liu and Lianlian Lin. 2009. “Food, Culinary Identity, and Transnational Culture: Chinese Restaurant Business in Southern California.” Journal of Asian American Studies, 12(2): 135–162.
* Huping Ling. 2005. “Reconceptualizing Chinese American Community in St. Louis: From Chinatown to Cultural Community.” Journal of American Ethnic History, 24(2): 65–101.
* Bonnie Tsui. 2009. “Las Vegas Chinatown, Next Exit” and “The New Tenants” in American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Chinese Neighborhoods, pp. 197–216, 230–244.
* Alessandro Portelli. 1998. “What Makes Oral History Different.” In The Oral History Reader, edited by Alistair Thomson and Robert Perks, pp. 63–74. E-book Central.

Week 6: Chinatowns around the World

Friday, October 12
* Lisa Yun. 2008. “Historical Context of the Coolie Traffic to the Americas” and “The Coolie Testimonies,” in The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African slaves in Cuba, pp. 1–35, 36–71. E-book Central.
* Adrian H. Hearn. “Chinatown Havana: One Hundred and Sixty Years Below the Surface,” in Chinatowns Around the World: Gilded Ghetto, Ethnopolis, and Cultural Diaspora, 2014. E-book Central.
* Lok Siu. 2008. “Chino Latino Restaurants: Converging Communities, Identities, and Cultures,” in Afro-Hispanic Review, 27(1): 161–171.
* Remezcla. 2018. “What Exactly is Chino Latino.” on Vimeo.
Valerie Yow. 1995. “Ethics and Interpersonal Relationships in Oral History Research” in Oral History Review 22(1): 51–66.
* Linda Shopes. 2002. “Oral History and the Study of Communities: Problems, Paradoxes, and Possibilities.” Journal of American History, 89(2): 588–598.
* Huiying B. Chan. “Entering Realities of the Global Chinese Diaspora: My Year Traveling Solo Around the World,” in Culture Push’s Push/Pull online publication.
* Huiying B. Chan. “How to Start Your Family Roots Search.” published online in Asian American Writers Workshop Open City Mag.
* Read four posts on Huiying B. Chan’s blog Chinatowns Around the World.
* Guest lecturer Huiying B. Chan (they/them)

Week 7: Satellite Chinatowns

Friday, October 19
*Cindy I-Fen Cheng. 2006. “Out of Chinatown and into the Suburbs: Chinese Americans and the Politics of Cultural Citizenship in Cold War America.” American Quarterly, 58(4): 1067–1090.
* Jan Lin. 1998. “Growth of Satellite Chinatowns” in Reconstructing Chinatown: Ethnic Enclaves and Global Change, pp. 107–120. E-book Central.
*Wei Li. 2005. “Beyond Chinatown, Beyond Enclave: Reconceptualizing Contemporary Chinese Settlements.” GeoJournal 64(1): 31–40.
* Wendy Cheng. 2013. “The Changs Next Door to the Diazes: Suburban Racial Formation in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley.” Journal of Urban History, 39(1): 15–35.
* Al Jazeera. 2017. “Inside The Chinese Food Mecca of Los Angeles.” Youtube.
* Liz Robbins. 2015. “With An Influx of Newcomers, Little Chinatowns Dot a Changing Brooklyn.” in New York Times.
* Aaron Reiss. 2014. “New York’s Shadow Transit.” in New York Magazine.
* Neighborhood history essay due in class and slide slam

Week 8: Manhattan’s Chinatown after 9/11

Friday, October 26
* Shao-Chee Sim. 2002. “Chinatown One Year After September 11th: An Economic Impact Study,” published by the Asian American Federation of New York.
*Margaret Chin. 2005. “Moving On: Chinese Garment Workers After 9/11,” in Wounded City: The Social Impact of 9/11 on New York City, edited by Nancy Foner, pp. 184–207.
* Mark Bynes. 2016. “How Casinos and 9/11 Led to Unexpected Chinatowns in Montville and Norwich,” published in CityLab.
* Tom Angotti. 2008. “Community Planning for the Few” in New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate, pp. 179–224. E-book Central.
* Joseph Berger. 2011. “Trying to Reverse Post-9/11 Slump in Chinatown, Jostling Hub of Gems and Foot Rubs,” in New York Times.
* Read two interviews from MOCA’s Ground One: Voices from Post-9/11 Chinatown archive.
* Samuel Stein. 2016. “Chinatown: Unprotected and Undone,” in Zoned Out: Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City, pp. 122–141.
* Meet in Chinatown with your small groups

Week 9: Causes and Consequences of Gentrification

Friday, November 2
* Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly. 2007. “The Birth of Gentrification.” Gentrification, pp. 3–38. E-book Central.
* Tom Slater. 2006. “The Eviction of Critical Perspectives from Gentrification Research.” Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30(4): 737–757.
* Jeremiah Moss. 2017. “The East Village” “Hyper-Gentrification in the Revanchist City” “Ludlow Street and the Lower East Side” and “The Battle for New York’s Soul,” in Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, pp. 13–32, 33–42, 43–54, 55–80.
* Vida Kuang, “The Chinatown You Think You Know Isn’t Real,” in The Bold Italic, 2014.
* Frances Huynh. 2017. “Gentrification of Los Angeles Chinatown: How Do We Talk About It,” published on Medium.
* Daniel Jose Older. 2014. “Gentrification’s Insidious Violence: The Truth About American Cities,” in Salon.
* Explore Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

Week 10: Regeneration of Chinatowns

Friday, November 9
* Mariana Mogilevich. 2017. “Chinatown Shop Talk,” published in Urban Omnibus.
* Diane Wong. 2018. “Regeneration, Not Gentrification,” unpublished book chapter.
* Mei Lum and Diane Wong. 2016. “Regeneration of New York’s Chinatown,” on Youtube.
* Denise Zhou. 2017. “Wing On Wo & Co Short Documentary,” on Youtube.
* Linda Shopes. 1981. “Oral History and Community Involvement: The Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project,” Radical History Review 25 25(1): 26–44.
* Meet Mei Lum (she/her) at Wing On Wo & Co.

Week 11: Tenant Mobilization

Friday, November 16
*Matthew Desmond. 2012. “Eviction and the Reproduction of Urban Poverty.” American Journal of Sociology, 118(1): 88–133.
* Kim Barker, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Grace Ashford, and Sarah Cohen. 2018. “The Eviction Machine Churning Through New York City,” in New York Times.
* Kim Barker. 2018. “Behind New York’s Housing Crisis: Weakened Laws and Fragmented Regulation,” in New York Times.
* N.R. Klienfield. 2018. “Where Brooklyn Tenants Plead the Case for Keeping Their Homes,” in New York Times.
* Grace Ashford. 2018. “What You Need To Know as a New York Tenant,” in New York Times.
* Esther Wang. 2016. “The Pleasures of Protest: Taking on Gentrification in Chinatown,” in Longreads.
CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. 2008. “Converting Chinatown: A Snapshot of a Neighborhood Becoming Unaffordable and Unlivable.”
* Oral history transcripts due in class

Week 12:

Friday, November 23
*No Classes Thanksgiving Break

Week 13: Artwashing and Cultural Production as Resistance

Friday, November 30
* Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan. 1984. “The Fine Art of Gentrification.” October, 31(2): 91–111.
* Lisa Lowe. 1998. “The Power of Culture.” Journal of Asian American Studies, 1(1): 5–29.
* Ryan Wong. 2017. “A Brief History of the Art Collectives of NYC’s Chinatown,” published in Hyperallergic.
* The W.O.W. Project and Chinatown Art Brigade. 2016. “Chinatown: New York’s Newest Gallery Scene?” video on Youtube.
* Betty Yu. 2018. “Chinatown Art Brigade: Resisting Gentrification Through the Power of Art, Culture, and Stories.” Visual Inquiry 6(2): 173–178.
* Betty Yu. 2016. “Here To Stay: Chinatown Art Brigade” video on Vimeo.
* Hrag Vartanian. 2017. “Chinatown Art Brigade Protests Omer Fast’s Racist Exhibition at James Cohan Gallery,” published in Hyperallergic.
* Research paper proposal and annotated bibliographies due in class
* Guest lecturers Tomie Arai (she/her) and ManSee Kong (she/her) from the Chinatown Art Brigade

Week 14: Collaborative Chinatown Walking Tour

Friday, December 7
* No Readings
* Meet at the location where the collaborative walking tour begins

Week 15: The Future of Chinatowns

Friday, December 14
* Peter Moskowitz. 2017. “An Elegy” New York is Not Meant for People” and “Fight Back,” in How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood.
* Final research papers due in person

Diane Wong

Written by

Educator, multimedia storyteller, and cultural organizer in NYC.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade