Friday, September 6, 2019

Ping Tom Park part of a growing Chinatown

Artist Anna Murphy finishing mural at Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown.

     Nobody calls the near West Side of Chicago “Jew Town” anymore. The great-grandchildren of the merchants who sold ... well, just about everything ... at the sprawling open-air market on Maxwell Street have scattered — to Rogers Park, then Skokie, then everywhere.
     Many of the city’s old ethnic enclaves were shattered by supposed “progress,” whether the Italian community on Taylor Street, bulldozed by the expanding University of Illinois at Chicago, or the heart of Bronzeville, cut out by CHA high-rises.
     Chinatown is an exception. Not only has it preserved its ethnic character — 90% of the neighborhood’s residents are Asian, most speaking Chinese at home — but it’s growing, despite, and in some cases because of, setbacks it suffered.
     “Chicago’s Chinatown is really interesting,” said David Wu, executive director of the Pui Tak Center, a community center in Chinatown. “Philadelphia and New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston — every Chinatown is within blocks of the financial district and City Hall, and every one of these cities would say their Chinatowns are dying.”
     Chicago’s Chinatown was originally jammed into two blocks of Clark Street in the Loop. But in 1912, rising rents and white hostility prodded the Chinese community to move, wholesale, to Wentworth and Cermak.
     Bad then, good now.
     “If we were at Clark and Van Buren and wanted to expand at all, we couldn’t,” said Wu. “A hundred years ago, it wasn’t nice to be pushed out of your community. But now Chicago’s Chinatown is the only one flourishing. It’s more like a normal community, without huge pressures of gentrification.”

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  1. Chinatown got expansion space when the Santa Fe coach yard was turned into housing & shopping.

  2. Fascinating stuff. I never knew Chicago's Chinatown was so vital, and so cohesive, especially compared to the more famous ones in New York and San Francisco.

    I did know about the U of I and other local schools welcoming Chinese students because of the tuition thing. We may not have the attractions of other cities, but that's at least one thing we can offer to rich Chinese. (Of which there are a lot. According to some accounts I've read, China has even more income inequality than the U.S. Mao must be rolling over in his mausoleum.)

  3. As recently as the Eighties, African-Americans in Chicago were still calling the open-air market on Maxwell Street "Jew Town" least until it was wiped away by by the expanding University of Illinois at Chicago.

    When someone was complimented about a particularly stylish outfit, and asked about where it could be obtained, the answer was almost always: "Over in Jew Town."

    At first I would wince when I heard that term...all my grandparents lived there as immigrants. It was completely new to me..but eventually, I shrugged and got used to hearing it--something you learn to do early and often when you're living in Chicago.

    1. I worked with an African-American lawyer in the 90s. She was talking about something she bought at a flea market and said how she was able to Jew him down on the price. She was/is a terrific person, so I was just floored when she said that. Didn't realize it was common.

    2. My mother lived past 90, and spent the first third of her life on the West Side. That term was common in the Thirties and Forties, but to her dying day, she always insisted folks were actually saying "chew him down" instead of "Jew"--when life's so tough that you need to play games in your own head in order to get by, you do whatchoo gotta do.


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