Growing up, I did not have everything I wanted, but I believe I made the best out of my experiences. My parents were immigrants that came from Guangzhou, China as peasant farmers using an English-Chinese electronic translator to buy tickets to arrive to the US. We were low-income working class family of six. Economic problems were not the only pressures for me, but also societal conflicts.
I was born and raised in Old Colony, South Boston, and South Boston was a community that was prominently white and Irish. As an Asian American youth, it was not easy going to school as the only Asian in the classroom or being racially mocked and ridiculed walking around in Boston. Growing up, I was not quite sure about what this “Asian” side of me really was. To be honest, I tried my best to cover up my “Asianness” and become more American or “white” because of the embarrassment and societal pressures of conforming in order to not bring unwanted attention or be racially mocked. The only time I was met with my “Asian side” was when I returned home and spoke Chinese with my parents, and my weekend trips to Chinatown with my mother. Growing up and trying to become more American was what led me to depression, and I found out through those weekend trips with my mother to Chinatown, that Chinatown was the only place where I could embrace and be myself entirely.
Chinatown was a safe haven for Asian Americans and immigrants. It was a place where you could meet up with friends, have morning dim-sum, run errands, grocery shop, and much more. Anything that our family needed or depended on could be found in Chinatown because all the services and resources catered to us. And it was through my first youth internship in Chinatown through the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) did I realize how important it was to embrace who I was as an Asian American youth.
Through CPA, I was educated on grassroots community organizing and social justice issues that affect us today. CPA helped foster and promote leaders in the Asian American community by educating us on our ancestors’ history and how we came to be who we are. In school I had never been taught these topics or even taught to think this way about issues that affected me. It was through this internship that allowed me to embrace and understand myself as an Asian American. It was through this internship that I got involved in canvassing and campaigning, and become more aware of our city government. It was through that internship that I dedicated my entire high school career to continue working with community organizations like CPA in Chinatown to continue the activism and advocacy for a better Boston.
One issue that has been dear to my heart is the gentrification that is happening in Chinatown. Residents are being priced out and displaced to communities far from where they are used to. Many of these residents’ lives depend on Chinatown for work and resources. As our Chinatown quickly becomes developed, it is in danger of becoming the next typical American downtown. So how do we slow the process of gentrification and stabilize communities? One way that I have been working hard on at CPA is to build community establishments such as community libraries and spaces in order to show that the community is here and is here to stay. For the past decade my organization has been pushing for a library, and it is not recently that we have made great strides in obtaining a Chinatown library. Mayor Walsh promised to bring library services back to Chinatown during his mayoral campaign and City Hall is finally listening to us after we held youth-led focus groups in the community.
With a lower than average education compared to the whole of Boston, Chinatown is in critical need of vital resources and services such as a library. Often times people view the process of gentrification good. Gentrification is never the solution to communities of poverty, violence, or drugs. It simply displaces communities and pushed the problem aside. In order to solve communities of poverty, violence, and drugs, cities must invest in education, resources, and services. It is through these that communities are able to rise up out of their problems; not through the illusive effects of gentrification that “brings” wealth and stability to communities.
I am often asked why I do not hang out with my friend much the past four years of my high school career. And it is because I leave right after school to do this type of work. It may be boring to most teens these days, but I do it because I see the faces of the people I serve in the CPA office. I see the faces of the recently evicted 103 Hudson tenants. I see the faces of those coming into the office for translation or immigrant services. I see the faces of medical resource workers hoping to form a union. I see the faces of low-income immigrant families struggling to get by. I see myself in all those faces, and most importantly I see my mom in all those faces I serve. In hopes of working hard in my community, I hope that I am able to achieve my parent’s American Dream. I hope that I will be able to create positive change in a community that all Chinese American hold true to. I hope that I am able to make it easier for the generations ahead of us. It is through fighting for my community and people that I am able to understand who I am as an Asian American.