Chinatown and Beyond

A newspaper article called my attention to Peter Kiang, working in Chinatown to address neighborhood issues there. I walked down to Beach Street, and found Peter in a third floor room where he had begun his work. It was my introduction to racism as it affects our local Chinese population. There began work with Peter, Michael Liu, Chi Chi Wu, Andrew Leong, Janet Gee, and other leaders of the Asian American community. The Asian American Resource Workshop became a kind of “sister- organization” for Community Change, and I still have a close connection there. Those leaders have been central in the unity of the growing diverse Asian population of the city. Resistance to the racist encroachments on the Chinatown community has characterized that work for years.

In Boston, if one wants to see the way institutional racism functions, he/she need only to become acquainted with the history and the present-day reality of Boston’s Chinatown. That area is tiny geographically, so it provides a place where the effect of institutional policies and programs can be easily seen. Walk through the history of Chinatown, the intrusion of highways, high-rise developments, the removal of garment workers, hospital expansion into the community, location of an urban “combat zone”, growth of a theatre district, lack of employment opportunities, and any observer with eyes open will see racism.

Opening eyes is a large part of the struggle against “dis-ease”. The optometrists, the opthamologists, the surgeons of racism are people of color, who continually have both welcomed my requests for vision, and often forced me to look when I have not wanted to see. At the very beginning of Community Change we recognized the importance of what I think some whites today are calling “accountability”. Often I turned to friends of color to ask, “are we, am I, working on the right problem?” There was a purposeful intent to have on the Board of CCI people who came from a variety of life experiences. In the beginning that meant white and black people. As our under-standing of the effects of racism grew, we turned also to other groups for direction. The Board has sought and welcomed direction from African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and sought always for age and gender diversity. Lessons taught by those friends have been immense. Improvement there has been, but the intransigence of racism clouds my vision still, and often I am amazed at how blind I can be. The “blindness” is not just of the eyes, but often of the heart. The “dis-ease” is systemic.

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