The first week of Urban Institute had been both informative as well as extremely fun. The first day of the Urban Institute had been really delightful from the introductory ice breakers at the beginning of the class to the Chinatown tour that had been guided by Gordon. Where not only were we able to get a detailed tour of Chinatown but we were also able to learn about the rich history that the CCDC has had throughout Chinatown, from the history of Mrs. Lee at the Pings, to the strikes at the I-hotel. For the second half of the week, we all participated in some friendly competition where we were split into groups for a group scavenger hunt. Fortunately for my group, we had Maggie which really aided my group in securing the win for the activity. But surprisingly I was able to remember certain information (such as the mandarin tower being the tallest building in Chinatown) from the tour with Gordon which helped during the scavenger hunt.
The second week of Urban Institute was a bit more informative, especially on the part that CCDC had for the local community. I found the morning lectures regarding the history of the streets of Chinatown were really interesting. But the lecture about the process from start to finish for the affordable housing project was extremely interesting and eye-opening. It was nice to have that lecture be paired with tours of previous and current CCDC affordable housing projects. The lecture about the process for affordable housing projects as well as the visits to them really changed my perceptions of what I initially thought they were. Previously I have visited non-CCDC SRO housing, and the conditions of those units were extremely depressing. With many of the units housing a full family within extremely tight quarters. But to my surprise when we visited the upcoming SRO project as well as the Ping it was nice to see that there was a drastic difference between the living conditions of a CCDC housing unit compared to the “unregulated” market priced SRO unit. One other perception of mine that had been broken so far during the Urban Institute program was my initial perception of the culture of Chinatown. My previous perception of the culture of Chinatown had been that the whole neighborhood had basically been converted to a tourist attraction and that there is little to no economy/ stores that are marketed to the immigrant/ Chinese community that resides in San Francisco. I thought this way because when I used to come to Chinatown (when I didn’t live in San Francisco) I would not see much housing for people to live in Chinatown as well as not really seeing much economic diversity when it came to the stores that were located within Chinatown, seeing that most of the stores usually catered more to a tourist demographic. But this perception of Chinatown changed when we went on our many tours around the neighborhood, especially when we went on the alleyway tours. During these tours, I was exposed to parts of Chinatown that I have never been to before, and during these tours, I was able to see that in fact the economic diversity of Chinatown was not just limited to the more touristy stores along Grant street but in fact there was a whole other ecosystem of stores and housing for the people of Chinatown. Walking through these “lesser known” parts of Chinatown had also opened my eyes to the way that the people of Chinatown had adapted to the challenges that they faced during their time in Chinatown, from the Chinese exclusion act which basically forced the original inhabitants of Chinatown to figure out a means of survival/ normalcy within the boundaries of Chinatown. Such means of survival had been creating their own school when children with “Mongol blood” weren’t allowed to attend school with white children. To the creations of clubs that allowed the bachelor population/ culture of the early Chinatown inhabitants to have a sense of family. During the tours, I was surprised to find out about the history of the family organizations more specifically the work that previous generations would have to go through in order to immigrate to the US, where most of the time they would have to adopt the last name of another family. This really surprised me because I never knew this to be part of the family history of many of the early Chinese families in the US. One profound thing that I had learned from the Urban Institute so far has got to be the amount of oppression that the people of Chinatown has faced during their time inhabiting the neighborhood. From being “cheap labor” post-slavery to having an immigration cap placed on the number of individuals allowed to immigrate to the US, to then being seen as second class citizens by the city. It has given me a new found respect for the predecessors of Chinatown and the trails and tribulations that they had to go through in order to gain the same freedoms and rights as their neighbors. This respect had been cemented especially when we had those sit-down talks with Mrs. Lee and Norman Fong. During these talks when we were learning their first-hand experiences of their time in Chinatown I was able to see that the Chinatown that they grew up in looks drastically different from the Chinatown nowadays.