Talking to a group of Chinatown locals... people who grew up in Chinatown.. I came across a bunch of ideas that give good insight into how the community has changed, where it's going, and how to look at the situation. But I don;t remember exactly who said what, nor was this exactly a formal interview so I am going to just present a bunch of ideas as my own, but really I am getting them from other sources.
Let's start with one perception about Danger. Crime Violence and that sort of thing.
The Perception you hear from people who moved in now, whether they are white, or Chinese doctors... is that before it was more dangerous and now it's safer.
But what locals will tell you is that it was much safer before and now it is more dangerous.
How can this be?
The 70's and 80's were seen as a time of high crime. The Combat Zone (the red light district with peep shows etc. was up and running in full force. It would take you an hour to get from one end of Chinatown to the other because of all the Johns waiting to pick up prostitutes. A lot of people in Chinatown did cocaine (apparently my father did cocaine in the restaurant, which I didn't know. But according to Anthony Bourdain so did everyone in the restaurant industry back then... for some reason I didn't think Chinese people did drugs... or that the ones that did were sort of a separate category from your everyday working guy.) The Police stayed out of Chinatown fro petty crimes and stuff like that. They did go on regular and massive raids of gambling houses. One time they had to put everyone in a school bus. They would go before the judge and have to pay a fine of $25 or something. You may ask why go to the trouble of such an expensive raid? Well there is a lot of cash laying around so only some of the money would be declared and the rest was a big score for the cops.
So was this dangerous? It sound crazy like the wild west or something.
More than a few white suburban women who I have met through lion dance or Chinese medicine treatment have said that before, they would go to a play and want to eat in Chinatown but their friends would say, " No you will die." That is a perception that most people who are involved in the community or who actually lived there would be really perplexed at.
Now growing up, we were robbed quite often.. but this was in the Castle Square projects and were robbed by (sorry) black people. I read some interviews in books about busing where these guys who robbed people on Tremont street said that they purposely targeted Chinese, because they had a lot of cash.
But in Chinatown's center, it was relatively safe. For instance if you were a 6 year old girl you could roam the streets unharrassed because the second someone did try to do something, they would be surrounded by young kids. Some would call these kids gangsters including themselves.. but I'm no longer so sure about that label.
You watch TV and there are pretty much two types of Chinese. There are the gangsters (who are depicted as particularly sadistic and even comically mystical in the media) and then there are nerdy people.
It's like you are either Michelle Wu.. or Fu Manchu (because there is no famous Crime Boss figure in that you see in the media.) But the truth is we are talking about the same people here.
Let's take my dad as an example. He was involved in organized crime to a far greater degree than I had realized.But he was also a normal guy. He also got robbed regularly (by black men on Tremont Street) He was a restaurant worker. I think he was poor, because according to my Mom he still only made as much as a regular white guy made legally. But maybe he gambled it all away or spent it one Cocaine. I really don't know. But in any case, I am not a Trust Fund baby. The point is everyone doing this crime were normal Americans. My dad had a green card and did not get citizenship, but all these people are very normal and everyday people. I mean if they were white and politically connected, would the organizations they belonged to be called gangs?
Okay part of it is that there was organized crime bit apparently that is pretty much extinct in Chinatown and the Asian organized crime takes place elsewhere.
Times have changed and the police have to pay more attention to Chinatown now. Whether it is because of politics or what have you. So that vigilante stuff of the past won't cut it any longer.
So the result, according to locals, is that you are much more likely to get your purse snatched or your chain stolen off your neck. And who is committing these crimes? A lot are the drug addict type who are in Chinatown because of Pine Street Inn and St. Francis. Not all Homeless are criminals. But some are. And the other criminals.. they seem to have caught on that in Chinatown you can get away with stuff that you used to not be able to. Not because the police won't show up. But because they have to do it by the book so the young men who used to beat people up and kick them out, are afraid of being arrested themselves for stepping in on behalf of an old lady.
So you have all these incidents of old ladies being robbed or punched or pushed to the ground and killed.
For me... I think I prefer it the way it is now when I go in with my kids and stuff. Of course I can't really remember much about how it was. And I think for my mother... well she would be harassed by people, and robbed, because after my father died that connection was somewhat severed. I do remember her having to talk homeless people and pulling me along and having to scold some men giving her the wrong kind of attention or just being annoying. But was that the South End or in Chinatown? Plus I no longer live in Chinatown so I'm not there at night much... and I'm a man and... I don't have a smart phone.
It would be interesting to do a bunch of case studies and surveys.. but what the hell would be the purpose? Well in any case what do you think? What is you perception of safety in Chinatown now... and before?