America's Chinatowns Google Arts & Culture
May 9, 2024

Welcome to America's Chinatown

Explore a New Storytelling Collection with Google Arts & Culture

From their community gathering places and family-run businesses, to their homes and centers of inspiration, Chinatowns are an essential part of the American story. Today, across the United States there are people and organizations working to sustain these communities.

To draw attention to their history, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to launch a storytelling hub as part of its America’s Chinatowns initiative. “Welcome to America’s Chinatowns" was developed in collaboration with over 14 organizations, and eight individual artists and creators. Together, they have created a portal of 70 stories that center and elevate the work of communities, grassroots advocates, and institutions supporting Chinatowns across the country.

“You don't have to live in Chinatown in order for Chinatown to be important to you…. Chinatown is not just for the people who are actually living there or working there. Chinatown is for everybody.”

Ava Chin, author of "Mott Street"

Chinatowns are for everyone, and we hope you will explore more from those who advocate and care about the future of these communities. Learn more about the National Trust collection below, and then head over to Google Arts & Culture to explore the breath of stories that “Welcome to America’s Chinatown” has to offer.

The History

There is no single story for Chinatowns across the United States. Some were established in the 1860s, while others formed in the 1970s and even later, and today their histories are found in rural towns to large cities. This set of stories provide context around the development of Chinatowns across the country, outlines the laws of exclusion directed towards Chinese immigrants, and an overview of the threats facing Chinatowns today.

These pieces were adapted from the 2022 project by Karen Yee and a 2023 story by Nathalie Alonso.

The Advocates

When we think of Chinatown, we think of the commercial quarter as one of the legs of the stool for Chinatown. The second is a strong Asian ethnic residential component. And the third is this being a cultural hub for all of the region of Philadelphia. I think in order for our Chinatown to survive, all three of these legs have to be strong. And for the last four years, we've seen some weakening of all three of these legs. — John Chin, executive director Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

The community members and organizations advocating for Chinatowns are woven throughout "Welcome to America's Chinatown." The communities featured are not exhaustive, however they represent the range of Chinatowns in the United States, and the stories reveal how community development corporations, media and arts collectives, and individuals are on the ground working for these important neighborhoods. In the example below, John Chin from the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation shares the history and story of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, why it is so important to him, and the current threats it faces. Philadelphia’s Chinatown was listed on the 2023 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places.

Explore the threats and hear from advocates in Philadelphia, Riverside (California), Hanford (California), Boston, San Francisco, and New York.

The Storytellers

The first scene of the play, hopefully primes an audience to watch the rest of that play, that my father's understanding of the San Francisco Chinatown community is so rich and layered and in a way just based on oral history, knowledge that exists nowhere else that I wanted to give the audience a sense of that richness and complexity and trying to set up what Chinatown is for many different people...." — Lauren Yee, playwright

Amidst the stories produced for this hub are a series of pieces on writers—individuals who through plays, non-fiction memoir, and fictional narratives share the ways America’s Chinatowns are also homes to families and neighbors, individuals and organizations, all of whom called these neighborhoods home.

One example is King of the Yees by Lauren Yee. This play is about a father and daughter, but also about connection to place alongside an intergenerational conversation about community change. In the embedded story below, playwright Yee shares her personal story of connection and identity in San Francisco’s Chinatown and why it is important to preserve Chinatowns.

Explore stories from Lisa See, Lauren Yee, Jamie Ford, and Ava Chin.

The Artists

"I really got fascinated both with the fact that the neighborhood that I live in today, which doesn't sort of show any sign of it, was this vibrant center for Chinese American and Asian American life, but also that it was so invisible. And as an artist, my work really developed from that starting point into a project about these hidden spaces and what they mean to Asian Americans today." — Jeffrey Yoo Warren, Artist and Library of Congress Innovator in Residence.

Within this collection of stories are the voices of artists—individuals who used their chosen medium to not only build connection to Chinatowns, but also draw attention to the challenges these critical cultural spaces are facing.For Yoo Warren, that took the form of 3D models of Chinatowns and other ethnic enclaves that have, over time, disappeared. During his first year as the Library of Congress’ Innovator in Residence, Yoo Warren focused on using the artifacts: photographs, sounds, video at the Library of Congress to research and design digital visualizations of Providence, Rhode Island's Chinatown. The result was an immerse look at a neighborhood that has been lost to time.

Other artists leveraged other talents such as drawing and photography to draw attention to these communities.

Explore the work of Sammy Yuen, Morris Lum, and Jeffrey Yoo Warren.

Explore the full storytelling hub on Google Arts & Culture which highlights over 15 Chinatowns across the United States (and one in Canada).

While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.

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