During the first week, we were given a tour of Chinatown by Gordin Chin, an activist, starting from Portmouth Square, which is the starting center for San Francisco and is called "The Heart of Chinatown". From what I remember from the tour, I learned some interesting facts about Chinatown, such as the red bricks from one of the alleyways were preserved from the 1906 earthquake as a symbol from old Chinatown and how there were a few theatres throughout the community that aren't in use anymore. We also visited I-Hotel, which is an important building as it housed many low-income residents, majority of them Asian Americans. I-Hotel is mostly SROs, and was demolished. Many supporters from the community protested in attempts to save the hotel, but was futile. Eventually, I-Hotel was relocated and rebuilt. I also learned about the factors of what made affordable housing and why it is so difficult to build affordable housing. Developers have to meet the needs of the community, whether they can fund a project, potential sites, and whether it can be zoned. Chinatown is also a touristy area due to economic and financial reasons to support the community. We also did a scavenger hunt which was a good way to explore Chinatown by ourselves.
The next week we watched a documentary and explored the many alleyways of Chinatown. One of the alleyways that caught my eye was Waverly and also Spofford. Waverly was a bright colored alleyway and in contrast, Spofford, was plain and its space was much wider than the other alleyways we have visited. It also looked out of place and more modern, while Waverly seemed to match the theme of Chinatown. From what I already knew from the documentary, many people came here because of the Gold Rush and to work in the gold mines, in hopes of sending money back home, due to their sojourner mentality. A few reasons that people stay in Chinatown are because of their language and it has a sense of family and security. The government didn't want the people to stay, so they taxed them and didn't allow them to work because they are "indesirable". As a result, organizations and associations began to appear to help support the community by providing them services and resources. The governent had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first law to target a specific group, which barred entry and had a quota of how many people were able to enter the city. It wasn't until years later it was lifted.
Soon after, we had a discussion with Mrs. Lee, who was also an activist and advocate for Chinatown housing. She had thought that coming here would give her more freedom, but in reality it was very difficult and not what she had expected. She liked doing her job and didn't fall back when people were demanding. She enjoyed being able to help the community in any way she can despite her age. Chinatown had been different back then, but some similarities remain. Following that, we toured an SRO building. It's sad to see the living conditions of people living in SROs, but it can't be helped seeing as it can be more affordable than different places.
Overall, it had been a good learning experience these past few weeks. At first Chinatown may seem as if it is doing well on the surface, but you don't see what it's like on the inside.
- Michelle Mei