Thursday, November 26, 2015

A house divided

A lot of stuff in the newspapers shows hand ringing about Chinatown being a victim to outside greed, outside developers, and "Market Forces." But I'm beginning to see that many problems come from within.
It's hard to talk about others, especially when names are named, so let me start with myself. This is a garden in the Castle Square area. My mother was on the Castle Square Tenants organization when they worked to put this thing together, and my mother helped a lot with the design. There was a lot of racism in anything that went on in these projects. My mother said that while trying to  get some of the plans for the garden through, one of the management guys (white) commented, "A Jap garden is the came as a Chink garden anyway.. who cares." It just gives an idea of what kind of environment these types of initiatives to make your own community better, take place. 
Some people reading this will say, "These projects are in the South End, not Chinatown." But Amy Guan (That's Uncle Frank's sister) said to me when I made a similar comment , that no, this was Chinatown. Why? These projects were built for the displaced Chinese and Syrian families when the Highway cut through Chinatown, knowking down one of the On Leong Buildings. There were two before. Now there is one, that says "Welcome to Chinatown."
This one.


Here is the Berkeley Community Garden also in the South End, technically. You used to be able to walk through here all the time. Now it is a community Garden, but I think you have to know someone to get in.  In anycase, we could have more of these (smaller versions) all around Chinatown. This is across from the projects I grew up in, which may not even be projects anymore, but market rent, high end condos. 

Here is my old address. I here it's pretty fancy inside. 

When I went away to Groton, Debbie White (African American) went to my mother (who was white) and said to her, "We need to stick together or all these Chinese people are going to push us all out." Chinese being said like a curse upon the tongue. My mother found it strange that people could forget so easily that her own son was Chinese. But in the end, it is not the Chinese who will be pushing out. Again, these projects were built for Chinese and Syrian Families who needed affordable housing and couldn't move to Brookline and Newton (which is where a lot of Chinese moved after the Highway displaced them. And more continued to follow because of schools and the trend for Chinese to move into the same areas. Castle Court was very racially divided. There were two girl scout troops, one for Blacks and Latinos and one for Chinese. This segregation didn't come top down. It came from within. And before you start blaming racist Chinese, the Blacks and Latinos were just as much part of it. Why? I don't know the details. But I've see in it in other projects where I taught Kung Fu. Of course, I end up being immune to anything from both sides, personally because I speak Chinese and do Chinese stuff, but I am adequately American and even WHITE and even though  "the white man" as an idea is a good target for frustration, an actual white person in front of you rarely is (in my recent experience anyway.)


I actually got pushed out of these projects. My mother had just died, and the  management wanted the apartment, for market rent of course. The woman in Charge was African American. "Now I know your mother and she is with God and with us and we all have to love and pray and know that her spirit with us." Then pushing a paper that would have me sign away the Section 8 apartment towards me. "Now sign." She explained that since my mother hadn't been working (because she was busy dying of cancer) that for those months I owed market rent. $1,400 a month as opposed to the $300 my mother had been paying.  (Interestingly $1,400 is the amount that is now considered to be affordable housing at One Greenway and the proposed St. Francis house. I think Market rent is $2,400)

"Don't sign that paper." said a woman who worked there in Cantonese. "Don't ever sign that paper. Go back and talk to people and make sure, but don't sign that paper." Because she spoke in Chinese the African American non Chinese speaker assumed the Chinese woman spoke with her and not against her. "We can ruin your credit. You don't understand. But in a few years when you try to buy a house you will. You need to sign this paper right now."

What went through my mind? I cursed that I hadn't been more involved in street gangs in my teens because now that I wanted to purchase firearms I didn't no where to go. That's what went through my mind. But I was quiet and polite. In the end, after talking to people. I did sign. Stonehill sent Katisha Brown with me (yes she is Afro-Carribean-American.) She agreed that it was shady, what was done. But I was young and a college student and had a lot more potential than to fight for a section 8 apartment that, even if I was rich, was not mine. Most people of color, including Chinese people who aren't ABC, think I should have fought the apartment even at the expense of college. 

Most white people said that of course college came first. 

It's not like I could have owned that apartment and then sold it at Market rent. In the end it wasn't mine. It was never mine.

My situation though pales in comparison to the situation a lot of tenants in Chinatown are in. A lot of (Chinese!)  landlords are kind and smiling on the outside., but are the brutal slumlords once you are a tenant. The nature of the relationship reminds me of an abusive marriage. "He yelled and swore at me! Yelled at my parents.. yelled at my wife. Adam I'm telling you somebody yells at my wife and my parents I want to punch them in the face. But I had to just swallow it. Every time we came to them about the rats, the fire alarm, which would go off and drive away customers he would swear and stick his finger in our faces saying 'You people...' Adam, 'YOU PEOPLE are so annoying.' But if we don't go to the landlord who are we supposed to go to?"

Another man, who is himself a landowner in Chinatown, so he knows what the responsibilities are was talking about another building. "Adam just hearing about the conditions in that building would make your skin crawl. I've had employees who lived there and they told me. It's disgusting."


You know, a real journalist, a real white guy, who has no ties to Chinatown, would actually be able to write about these things more openly. But I can tell you that whenever a name comes up of some landlord or something that has sinned egregiously,, chances are I know the name and have some sort of connection to them. The type of connection where I will have to see them again and shake their hand again. So how am I supposed to write this stuff. (Hidden in my own boring story where hardly anyone will read it because they are just skimming that's how.)

Here is another example of an internal problem. I saw on twitter that this store has been accused (and I think is being prosecuted for) allegedly (did I get that right?) selling stolen goods. Goods that were stolen from the area. Now I saw this on twitter so I don't know any details. But does "other stores in the area" mean Chinatown or Downtown? Here's the thing. I can guess how this happens. Because you always see these guys. (white and black guys with the walk and the talk and the baggy pants and twitching movements) who come into your store, or bakery, or Kung Fu school trying to sell you something. Watches, clothes whatever. Shop lifted and cheap. I see it all the time. But how do you catch a store for doing this? What brought about the investigation? Did another store make a complaint? What got them caught? A cop posing as one of these guys went into the store selling stuff that was supposedly stolen, but was not?
Here is another issue. This guys stuff is here
and here... because I, through my cleaning, basically kicked him out of the Playground. Wednesday, when me and some Senior Citizens (my old teachers) finished our cleaning early, we decided to go across the street too. But what do we do about this?  I mean, yeah it's dirty and it's on the street, but it's someone's stuff, potentially. It was weird. We sort of cleaned this guy's room. We threw away the milk and empty applesauce and chicken salad containers (which are definitely food for the kids at an after school program, and yeah I'm glad this guy ate it instead of it getting thrown away.)  But we left the other stuff. But eventually... it's gotta go. And he's gotta go. A) because he'll freeze to death in the winter and B) because you can't have all of Chinatown looking like this. This guy needs housing. There needs to be a program to fix this somehow. Because it makes it so that even if we want to clean the street, we can't.  I mean were trying "clean" like boy scouts. Not "clean" like Nazis. 
And if you think about it, How much money do we spend on prisons? What if, okay this sounds crazy as hell, you only locked people up for 6 hours at time. And then hot bedded those cells. What is prison guards just showered and fed people, and then your back out. Maybe even 4 hours, because let's face it, if you're homeless you can survive on four hours. What if that was the focus of these big buildings that housed people. I bet there would actually be less crime... and no homeless people. Especially if part of the other 20 hours was some sort of paid work (like the street sweeping I am doing for free) or I don't know, a whole host of other things. And this could get you on your feet and there could be an educational component. I mean prisoners have classes now... why can't we just do things a little differently? Is it that hard. (probably.)

Well this is where voting for Neighborhood Council is this Sunday. Apparently other neighborhoods do this thing really differently. There is no elected position. People just show up. After all the council has very little power. It's just a platform for people to talk to actual people in power. And nowadays I think the 311 number and Citizen's direct APP takes the place of this. But I still want to see what it's about.

So go vote for me on Sunday and I'll blog about it and we'll all find out about it together.





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