Earlier Chinese immigrants moved to America to escape famine, peasant uprisings and rebellions. They, like most immigrants, came to this country for opportunity and privilege. However, unlike other immigrants, the Chinese came as sojourners. They did not intend to stay in America for the remainder of their lives; rather, they planned to take advantage of the economic opportunities and then return home to China.
The first Chinese immigrants faced numerous hardships. As the influx of Chinese grew, anti-Chinese sentiment increased also. This led to the passage of disabling laws, as the Chinese were specifically denied entry into America. Laws that restricted them from employment, ownership of property, and even marriage outside of their ethnic group were also enacted.
Racial discrimination and the radical implementation of oppressive legislation forced Chinese immigrants to abide in one area. This area is what is now known as Chinatown.
Chinatown is, as the name
suggests, a Chinese colony. It can also be viewed as a type of self-induced segregation
from mainstream America. An area populated by Chinese immigrants, Chinatown is a business
district and a residential area in one. It is composed of
Chinese owned and inhabited housing, Chinese educational facilities, and
everything else that makes a self-contained community. In Chinatown, one can find almost
anything: exotic Chinese and Japanese dishes and delicacies, which you can purchase cooked
or uncooked, unusual pets such as cobras, exotic birds, siamese fish and snapping turtles,
oriental herbs that are said to cure any and all illnesses, and clothing -- all kinds and
styles of desiner imposter wear, fragrances, watches, bags and shoes. Of course, there are
elements of American culture in Chinatown such as Burger King and McDonald's. The names of
these and most other businesses are written in both English and Chinese.
About to go eat.
It was quite interesting to experience the clash of cultures which Chinatown encompasses. For example, in the preceeding pictures, two apparently Buddhist monks, dressed in full monk garb, are stopping to browse one of the many sidewalk stalls in Chinatown, before making their way to the Burger King in the background.
The Chinese have created a community of their own. They need not leave this district to survive. They can eat, sleep, socialize, find employment and be educated in their immediate community.
Religion and family permeates everything in Chinatown. The attachments to religion and kindred probably stem from earlier repression. With almost everyone against them, and with laws passed to oppress them, the Chinese had no one to turn to but each other and faith. Religion was their cornerstone. Family was their foundation. Chinese in Chinatown appear deeply religious and strongly devoted to their families. The retail stores and the businesses are owned and operated by family members. Also every business, every store, every open-front stall, has a religious shrine, emblem, statue, picture or writings.
|Religious shrine in stall in Chinatown|
The prevalent religion is Buddhism. This is
ironic considering that Buddhism is not indigenous to China. The Chinese adopted Buddhism
from India. Nevertheless, Buddhist figurines, shrines and gods can be seen everywhere.
Chinese jewelry, architecture, pottery, sculptures, painting, art and tapestries all
depict Maitreya, the Buddha to come. Some show a triad, with a Bodhisattva; others display
Buddha and two disciples, one older and one younger. These Buddhas are seen or sold in
probably every location in Chinatown.
The color red or red-orange is also a major peculiarity in Chinatown. There is red everywhere, from the plastic pagoda-like structures on some of the telephone booths to the color of the buildings, the clothing and even the toppings on the pastries had hues of red. Coincidentally, the very train I took to canal street, the number six, was red. One is left to wonder if this color signifies something important to the Chinese, and if so what is it? There is also much green and gold.
The Chinese, in directing their attention to the wants of western culture, also sell pornographic material. This surprised me to a degree, considering that one is always given the impression from television and most other information sources that the Chinese as a people are an easily offended and very private people. And, in the following picture of a few pornographic magazines that I saw for sale in Chinatown, one is left to wonder whether the impact that American society has had on its Chinese citizens has given them any benefit, or has it just damned them to the same hell that we as Americans already made for ourselves. Pornography invades Chinatown.
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