Community Marches to Remain, Reclaim, and Rebuild Boston Chinatown

BOSTON, July 17, 2013 – About 200 Chinatown residents and their supporters marched, drummed, and sang their way through Chinatown today in a protest action called “Tour R Chinatown.” Sponsored by the Chinese Progressive Association and the Right to the City Alliance, participants called for “public land for the public good” and support for community land trusts to stabilize affordable housing in working class neighborhoods.

Led by three superhero characters named Remain, Reclaim, and Rebuild, the marchers drummed and chanted their way through the streets. At the site of the proposed Ink Block development just over the Turnpike in the South End, former state representative Mel King spoke to marchers about his childhood on that same block of the New York Streets neighborhood.

“They called it a slum; we called it home,” said King, comparing the urban renewal that displaced hundreds of families from their homes with the gentrification impact of the current luxury housing boom. Marchers carried signs reading “Ink Block or Ink Blot?” and called for the hiring of community members with an aggressive goal of 51 percent people of color.

At their next stop, marchers celebrated the reclaiming of Parcel 24, site of a new mixed-income housing project on land that was taken from families by eminent domain during urban renewal. They installed a book share shelf to represent a community effort to plan for a community-run library and cultural center to replace the Chinatown library lost in the 1950s, and called for public land lease fees to support community land trusts in order to stabilize working class neighborhoods.

Near the Chinatown Gate, Chinese-speaking immigrant tenants at 21 Edinboro Street spoke of their fears of becoming displaced when the affordability contract for their 12-unit building expires. Many tenants are being displaced as more privately owned buildings go on the market. According to census data, only 41 percent of Chinatown residents today are Asian, as compared to 70 percent in 1990. The median household income for Asian residents was $13,057, but $84,255 for White residents.

The rally ended at 25 Harrison Avenue, a building where more than 40 tenants were evacuated by the fire department last winter due to the landlord’s severe violation of safety and health codes. There were plans to sell the building for $5,000,000. The new developer proposed to develop seventy-one luxury micro-units and rent them out for $1,400 a month.

“Before, nobody wanted to live here,” exclaimed Karen Chen, Organizing Director at the Chinese Progressive Association. “But Chinatown residents and community groups organized to clean up the streets, get rid of the prostitution, design the Chinatown Park, and develop cultural events. Now that our community has improved the value of our neighborhood, and downtown living has become fashionable, immigrant working class families are being pushed out.”

Marchers closed their tour in song, with Chinese and English lyrics adapted from a classic Chinese love song.

You ask me how much do I love Chinatown?
I love it one hundred percent.
You think about it, go and take a look–
How long will Chinatown be like this?

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