When I read that Wal-Mart was opening in Chinatown, I felt personally provoked.
Growing up behind freeways and beneath mountains in the San Gabriel Valley, I often felt a world apart from the rest of Los Angeles. But I trace my roots seven miles west from here to Chinatown. Like other San Gabriel Valley grandparents, my 84-year-old mah-mah — with an umbrella in one hand and a plastic bag in another — visits Chinatown weekly to shop and socialize. At the Southern California Teo Chew Association, she sips tea with friends and revisits memories of pre-war Vietnam. For me, Chinatown is a living heritage embodied in the sights and smells of burning incense, freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, and live chicken.
Wal-Mart is a threat to that heritage. Chinatown would be the corporate giant's first site in the Downtown, Los Angeles. The company says that it will bring jobs, economic development and new shopping opportunities. But I am concerned how the proposed neighborhood grocery market at Grand and Cesar Chavez avenues will alter the local culture of independent stores and community centers which matters so much to my grandmother—and to me.
While some may argue that the rise of communities like the San Gabriel Valley make Chinatowns obsolete as support centers for recent immigrants, I would propose the continued existence of Chinatowns is vital to maintaining the Chinese American identity. The neighborhood was the first community and refuge for my family upon their arrival in America. My father played basketball on the Alpine courts, and my mother worked as a nurse in a medical office across the street. The Buddhist temples scattered throughout Chinatown and its adjacent neighborhoods provided comfort and morale to immigrants like my parents, aunts, and uncles who needed more than just an individual work ethic to survive. Chinatown represented a familiar place in a foreign land, and perhaps even more so, an implicit understanding of shared aspirations and struggles that would one day amount to the American Dream.
We, amongst so many of our Chinese American neighbors, have achieved that and moved east to the San Gabriel Valley. But even as we have left Chinatown, we continue to maintain ties to the historic neighborhood. These should not be sacrificed to corporate development without a good fight. Los Angeles' Chinatown — like others throughout the country — is highly vulnerable to our lawmaker's choices. For example, an article, “The End of Chinatown,” in The Atlantic magazine explains that Chinatowns “almost died once before, in the first half of the 20th century, when various acts limited immigration.” Now, our Chinatown faces a similar demise as building and zoning regulations are failing to protect it.
Wal-Mart maintains that "the site has always been zoned for a grocery store, has been empty for most of the last two decades and our plans clearly comply with all City requirements." They say the grocery store will be one fifth the size of the regular big box stores, that local businesses welcome it, and that special interest groups are blocking new jobs and financial growth. I recognize the economic struggles that Los Angeles’s Chinatown faces. I, too, am sympathetic to the lack of high-quality, healthy foods in low-income areas. However, Wal-Mart’s neighborhood store model to engage local suppliers and provide products for people to “save money” and therefore “live better” is persuasive only to the extent that it will in fact integrate smoothly into the Chinatown community. Nor does its existence at the peripheral of Chinatown negate its relevance to the impending unmatched business competition that it will wage. Wal-Mart at its proposed location will signal the sterilization of culture in an entire area that has been a place of collective memory for many Chinese Americans.
Perhaps my defense comes too late, just as Los Angeles City Council’s motion last month to ban the building of retail chain stores in Chinatown was a day too late. One day before, Wal-Mart had filed for the requisite city permits to build. from coming to the downtown and Chinatown communities. Now we wait as advocates appeal Wal-Mart's application. Even as some of us may never live directly in Chinatown, I encourage people to take a stand against Wal-Mart before it is too late. Petitions have been circulating and community meetings are being organized. Because memories of the past shape the collective identities that give us a sense of community, it is important to have a symbolic physical space to share these experiences across generations, and ultimately to not forget that the positions of privilege we hold now are rooted in past stories of struggle.
*Corrected: An earlier version of this story misstated that a Chinatown Wal-Mart would be the first in Los Angeles County. That was incorrect. It would be the first neighborhood market, a smaller grocery market than the usual big box store. The updated version also includes more details on the type of market Wal-Mart is proposing. We work hard to be accurate with a very small staff. If you catch something, please let us know. – DG, [email protected]
成長于高速公路的背後和聖蓋博谷山脚下，我常常覺得与部分的洛杉磯遥如隔世。但從這裡到唐人街以西七英里，我追溯我的根。像其他的聖蓋博谷的祖父母们，我84歲的嘛嘛(祖母)—一手拿着雨傘，另一手拿着塑料袋 — 每週都造访唐人街以購物和社交。在南加州潮州公會，她與朋友们喝幾口茶和回憶戰前的越南。對於我來說，唐人街是香火围绕的一個活生生的遺迹，还带着鮮榨甘蔗汁，活雞的景象和氣味。
也許我的维护來得太遲了，正如上個月洛杉磯市議會的議案禁止的唐人街的零售連鎖店的建設，是為時已晚一天。 前一天，沃爾瑪已取得城市必須的建設許可證。 從未來的市中心和唐人街社區，現在，我們等待着作為倡導者上诉沃爾瑪的申請。即使我們中的一些人可能永遠不會直接住在唐人街，我鼓勵大家對沃爾瑪表明立場，望不会是為時已晚。請願書已經傳出，社區會議也正在舉辦。因為回憶過去的形狀，給我們一個共同的社會意識，而有一個象徵性的场地空間是非常重要的。让几代人分享這些經驗，並最終不能忘記我们的的立場權力，我們認為現在应该紮根在過去抗争的经历基础上。
*修正：這個故事的早期版本有误。唐人街沃爾瑪將在洛杉磯郡的第一店。這是不正確的。這將是第一個社区市場，一個比一般的大型商店較小的雜貨市場。更新後的版本還包括各類型的市場，沃爾瑪建議的更多細節。我們只有一個非常少的工作人員但努力争取準確。如果你发现有问题，請讓我們知道。 – DG，[email protected]