Chinatowns served as a focal point for Chinese immigrants, a place to shop for familiar foods and services and to worship in traditional temples. Moreover, they were an economic hub where the community could organize collective economic initiatives.
The Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan’s Chinatown has documented the Chinese American experience since 1980. We mapped community resources in 3 contiguous neighborhoods in Center City that had the highest concentrations of ethnic Chinese residents.
Throughout most of the nineteenth century, daily life was difficult for Oregon’s Chinese. They faced anti-Chinese hostility and a range of economic challenges that affected their personal security and material wellbeing.
The heyday of Cantonese-Chinese settlement in the Pacific Northwest took place between 1860 and 1885, when changing material conditions created opportunities that attracted growing numbers of migrants from California and directly from Gwongdung. These migrants consolidated their community in Portland and established social organizations that exercised leadership over the community’s civic and social life.
These organizations often bifurcated into a leadership minority of merchant elites and a demographically larger but sociopolitically subordinate mass of laborers. The community’s social and economic institutions included lineage or clan associations; wooi-kun, district associations modeled on county government; and chong-kao tongs, smaller fraternal lodges and fighting tongs. These groups alternately helped and harmed members and engaged in conflicts that echoed local tensions as well as those spilling over from San Francisco.
The several thousand Chinese who live in Oregon are diverse ethnically (Cantonese, Mandarin, Wu, Hokchiu, and Teochiu), socioeconomically (lower middle class to upper middle class), and culturally. Some are limited English speakers and some are affluent business leaders and professionals.
Prior to the 1990s most of the Chinese immigrants were from California and New York, and settled in large cities. However, after the 1990s most of the migrants were from elsewhere in the country.
The Chinese community is highly concentrated in Portland and its suburbs, and also in Salem. It is a significant component of the local economy, and there are Chinese professional, business, and social organizations and media. Most Chinese are able to speak some English, and many are well-integrated into mainstream society. But some are less affluent and less culturally assimilated. They are often referred to as the “foreign born.”
After World War II, Cantonese sojourners became known as “model minorities.” They exhibited smooth cultural assimilation in schools and work places. Many became physicians, lawyers, engineers, teachers, social workers, and scientists. They enriched community life through their leadership of organizations and flow of social services and philanthropy.
However, the integration process of Chinese in a non-Chinese society has its limits and challenges. In Italy, for example, there is a strong need to improve relations between Chinese pupils and Italian students and parents.
In Canada, Chinese people are concentrated in Ontario and British Columbia, with more than a million Chinese Canadians in both provinces in 2001. They are also found in Quebec and Alberta. In both cases, the number of Chinese residents is small compared to those of other nationalities. However, the number of immigrants from China is expected to rise. In consequence, there is a growing need to integrate the Chinese community. The process is complicated by three external factors.
The Chinese community in New York is made up of a number of organizations. Some of these are business and cultural organizations that provide services to the community. Others are nonprofits that work to empower disadvantaged communities. For example, Manny Cantor Center helps students and adults learn digital technology and advocates for disadvantaged Asian immigrants in the city. It also works with community-based organizations like Homecrest Community Services to offer social services and programs.
The organization provides educational, recreational, cultural and career-building opportunities for youth and adults to nurture and sustain their social, spiritual and physical well-being. It also aims to promote the rich heritage and culture of Chinese people through events and activities. Its programs help at-risk Chinese American, immigrant and low-income families gain access to critical social and community service support. It connects them with resources, such as food stamps, medical coverage and social workers. It also helps with legal questions, immigration and housing issues.