By Neel Saxena, Executive Director
Photo courtesy of Taquiena Boston
On Thursday, October 18, 2019, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) connected with the Consumer Health Foundation (CHF) to help celebrate their 20th Anniversary with a tour of DC’s Chinatown and share #ThisFireBurnin inside youth whose history has been erased and ignored. CHF advocates for racial equity and racial justice through programs and investments that advance the health and well-being of low-income communities and communities of color and we at AALEAD are honored to have been a part of their celebration.
#ThisFireBurinin within us as Asian American staff #IGNITED as we navigated Eurocentric history classes that ignored our stories in the history books. To us this exclusion was as if our stories had no value. AALEAD youth often ask us about their histories and not finding it in their school day curriculum and textbooks. It is important to our youth and us to see our histories. We seek to shine a light on on our communities have been not only physically displaced but erased from DC’s history due to systems that marginalized an entire community because they were different and to the majority population, unimportant.
AALEAD worked with CHF to put an experience for their attendees which took 30+ attendees on the same path the first Chinese immigrants took when they arrived in DC in the late 1800s. There were 3 stops on the tour representing the various displacements the Chinese community faced over the past 100 years, at each of the three stops AALEAD staff provided information and context to the displacement of the community and shared informational postcards:
After the walking tour, attendees had an opportunity to listen to AALEAD youth via video on their perspective of Chinatown:
Members from the Chinese Youth Club also provided their perspectives. For them, Chinatown represents the good old days when the community was thriving in the 1950s and they would play in the streets. Their families would walk down the street for groceries and the friendships they forged have latest decades.
“The kid who beat me up is now my brother-in-law, we were a community back then and those bonds remain with us despite us being pushed out of Chinatown physically …. Chinatown can never be the same because it won’t have the people – Gary Goon, CYC
Finally, Mandarin speaking residents from Museum Square highlighted the impact of gentrification at a micro level in their housing complex sharing stories of disrepair by the landlord, threatening messages, and incorrect information. Residents feel intimidated and organized with the support of groups like Housing Counseling Services.
AALEAD continues our efforts and work to #changethenarrative for Chinatown. A narrative that often points to the community abandoning Chinatown. The reality is just as they were forced to form Chinatown for protection from racism, they were forced to abandon Chinatown. The youth feel this impact and share their stories and vision for Chinatown with AALEAD staff and we in turn seek to share a platform with them so that all may engage in their narratives.