Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown The History of American Chinatowns

A Chinatown is an area of a non-Chinese city with a high concentration of Chinese businesses and residents. These districts often feature an ornate architectural style. Some of the best-known Chinatowns in the United States are in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Manhattan, Queens, Chicago, Boston, and Honolulu.

The original American Chinatowns were established on the West Coast by Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. in the mid-1800s, drawn by the economic opportunities of the Gold Rush and railroad building. Anti-Chinese attacks and riots became commonplace in the late 1800s as disgruntled white laborers targeted Chinese workers, accusing them of taking jobs and working for low pay. To escape the prejudice, Chinese immigrants either lived safely together in Chinatowns on the West Coast or moved to establish new Chinatowns out east. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese people from attaining citizenship, organizations within American Chinatowns offered services Chinese people would not have otherwise been able to access, creating new informal networks.

In the following decades, discrimination within the housing and labor sectors continued to make it difficult for Chinese Americans to find work or rent or purchase housing outside Chinatown, further consolidating the population. In response, Chinese Americans established their own businesses and built their own housing. While Chinatowns became associated in mainstream imagination with vice and youth delinquency, the popular image of the Chinese-American community began to change in the 1950s when Chinese Americans were portrayed in media as model minorities.

American Chinatowns increasingly became marketed as tourist attractions in the second half of the twentieth century, leading to orientalist decorations such as dragons, paper lanterns, and ornate arches being put up to conform to a stereotyped idea of Chinese culture. At present, Chinatowns are often targeted by developers and non-Chinese property buyers and businesses whose presence gentrifies the areas, pushing residents out as the property becomes more valuable and rents rise.