Look Forward and Carry on the Past Transcript

Look Forward and Carry on the Past Transcript

- You know, not enough people pay attention to Chinatown. I don't know that people will see Chinatown as a place where people live. I think they see it as a tourist destination. But I don't know that they see it as a sort of spiritual, cultural center for a whole bunch of people who just go down there to breathe the air, to just be who they are. When I was growin' up, Chinatown was like skid row. It was red light district, bars, and Chinese businesses. Very few restaurants. There were not that large a population, but that was because no one was allowed to come here. There were racist immigration laws in place that were not changed until 1965. And because of those laws, these Chinese weren't allowed to enter the United States in equal numbers to the rest of the population.

So Chinatown, well, it's always served as this, well started out as a ghetto because Chinese came to Philadelphia and they weren't allowed to go anywhere else. They had to live in this district. So after '65 when the laws finally changed, that's when Chinese families could come over, and that's when the community started really to need housing. And precisely at that time, the federal government started these plans for urban renewal, to throw money into the downtown core and make it attractive for yuppies, and suburbanites, and tourists to go, and big business. You start to see what ultimately is gonna become this tragedy for our community start to take shape in these large developments.

The Vine Street Expressway, which took a bunch of housing, so it would be easier for suburbanites to commute in. Like The Gallery, this downtown mall, so that people had a place to shop. And then you had the convention center, where 200 people lost their homes in Chinatown. The thing that I think is really painful about all this development is that it was all government money used to displace Chinese residents in a community that was already small and inhibited from growth because of the immigration laws, precisely at a time when there's so much pressure to find homes for families that needed them. So when the city announced plans to put a stadium in Chinatown, nobody could believe it. I mean, people were just outraged.

- [Crowd] Help save Chinatown! Help save Chinatown! Help save Chinatown! Help save Chinatown! Help save Chinatown! Come on, stop the man complaining.

- [Person] quiet everybody.

- Hey, stop the man, he's not welcome here, okay?

- I don't know about you, but when I grew up, people said Asian people were quiet, they said we were passive, they said we couldn't do anything, they said we couldn't be people in this society, and right here, right now, you guys wrong are proving it all wrong! When I first heard about it, I think I was in total disbelief. It was something that I was like, "they're not doing it, they're not doing it." And then when I would hear more, the media would talk more about it, it really sank in that it was really happening. And because of that, you know, just the response was like, from a lot of community members were like, "no, this can't happen, this is wrong." How as a community, historically it's been blocked in by so many different development projects.

The convention center, the highway, all these things made it even more kind of like another, like, stab in the back to have another large project like a stadium put right next to Chinatown or near a huge part of it, which could have been turned into housing. And housing was a big issue for me because I'm living in South Philadelphia. My grandmother lives in Chinatown. Like, the reason why our family moved was 'cause of housing issues. Otherwise, I think we would've stayed together. And so here they wanna put another thing to keep families away, to spread out people, like, to break apart families. And I let you know right now, Chinatown is our home, and we are not leaving! Okay!

- My mother worked in a sewing factory, and my father works in a restaurant as a cook. I just remember my parents not really getting home till later in the evening, or just remember a lot of just nights of like, just with my grandmother being my main person that helped to take care of us. That's what I remember the most. And she would take care of us. Or at night, she would just tell me things that would happen to her.

- And I grew up watching her and seeing her do this work, and I knew deep down inside I was like, I don't think I could do it. And I give her a lot of respect for doing it.

- Shifu is a kung fu teacher in Chinatown. He runs the lions in Chinatown, the lion dancing and the dragon. Studied kung fu from a very young age in a very well-known school in Hong Kong. Studied under Ho Lap Tin, who's, you know, very well-known Shifu in Hong Kong. And came here specifically with the charge from his master to teach Kung fu and to spread it. All right, ready? All right, get ready.

- Some people might just consider him to be the hired help, the entertainment. So he can come, he can do lion dance for our feast, and then he can sit in the back with his students. But there is a large group of people that recognize Shifu for what he does and respects him for it.

- Oftentimes, it's hard to, even within the community, like people assume, oh, Chinese people are tight, or Asian people are tight, or they're really together, they're very like secretive and they hold. And I don't see that going on at all. I feel like our families are isolated. I feel like generationally, we don't understand each other. Those that are American born, those that are born in Asia. There's a lot of things separating our community. And Mid-Autumn is one of those few places where people are coming together for different reasons, but coming together just to be together, and it's family-oriented, and there's just so much interest from people that wanna learn about Asian Americans or Chinese Americans. All that mingling of people together, the energy during the festival is just amazing.

- But then Andy said, you know, Mid-Autumn Festival would be hard for his grandfather because one of the traditions of Mid-Autumn Festival is family reunion, and him recognizing that they could not have a family reunion because he's in America and his grandfather was in China, and then he thought about all the elderly in Chinatown. So as we were talking, we said, "well, let's have a Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown. What do you guys think?" And they got really excited, and we started talking about it, and they said, "yeah, let's make a festival."

- No kids come in here right now.

- Part of being Chinese in this country has to do with the things that our parents were special to them. And the things that they let go, we now have, we now have, kind of the ability, but we also have the right to take back. So we really consciously created a festival. We created a space and a time for people in the community to come together and to stop and to say, wait a minute, this is an important day for us. For the millennium, it's been an important day. It's been what our ancestors have always taken time out to celebrate. It's when this big old moon is up in the sky. And, you know, we're gonna do that. So creating Mid-Autumn Festival became for a lot of us a real political statement about claiming a right to be Chinese in Philadelphia.

- That's it for the fifth annual Mid-Autumn Festival. Thank you all for coming. Thank you for coming.

- [Announcer] Help us clean up a little bit. Thank you all for coming. See you next year!

- He's the Monkey King.

- [Person] Oh, okay. He's very good.

- The future of Chinatown's gonna be a huge battle. Even though we won the fight against the stadium, it's gonna be a continual battle for the right for the community to exist, to exist with dignity, to exist having the things that a community should have, and we're gonna fight it, and then my children are probably gonna have to fight it as well. Chinatown shouldn't be a museum piece for tourists, it's a community. It's clearly a community.

♪ Something inside so strong, so strong ♪

♪ I know that I can make it ♪

♪ Though you're doing me wrong, so wrong ♪

♪ You thought that my pride was gone, oh no ♪

♪ There's something inside so strong ♪

♪ Oh, something inside so strong ♪

♪ Hey, brothers and sisters ♪

♪ When they insist we're just not good enough ♪

♪ Whoa, whoa ♪

♪ Well, we know better ♪

♪ Just look 'em in his eyes and say ♪

♪ We're gonna do it anyway ♪

♪ We're gonna do it anyway ♪