The Changing Dynamic of Chinatown

The idea of a China town in Washington D.C has been around since the 1930’s when there was an influx of Chinese and Asian immigrants. They created a community that was based around their shared cultural background. At the time there was not a set precedent for equality for immigrants in America so they had to come together in order to help one another progress in society. The Chinese were often targeted for hostile acts because they were blamed for the labor problems. This community was meant to serve as a homecoming for the immigrants where they could celebrate their heritage along with living in the United States pursuing work opportunities.

Chinatown in D.C became a vibrant culture that offered community to those that felt they couldn’t find it in other areas in America. This sort of communal support began to become popular and began to grow in large numbers.  While offering the amenities that most cities were able to offer, it became an area where these immigrants could slowly learn to assimilate to American culture while feeling like they were in a safe environment. In order to make room for the Nation’s federal government being placed in D.C, Chinatown had to be relocated. Again, a diaspora for the Asians were created spreading them apart like their migration from Asia.

It took until the mid-20th century for Chinatown to regain its popularity and gain any sort of influence in the Asian community. With this new chance at another Chinatown, the community did well to create cultural necessities such as schools and social organizations. These aspects were able to attract more people in coming back from the suburbs because this was a well-run organized community. After the immigration ban was lifted, there was also a population growth in these kinds of communities. You could see these Chinatowns begin created in multiple areas of the United States since there was an influx of immigrants that needed a cultural home.

Although you could say that the dominant government was accepting of the immigrants, with lifting the ban helping establish laws to help immigrants. However, there was a more subtle way that the dominant group was able to increase their power in Chinatown. It was a through the use of slowly working their influence through the use of buying property in Chinatown and using that to create a large flow of white Americans to flow into Chinatown. The Verizon Center was created in order create a reason for non-Asians to come to Chinatown on a regular basis but stay secluded from the culture. It was created on the outskirts of Chinatown where it would create revenue for the area but not allow Chinese culture to be a large influence on these people. Even the metro station that was created in Chinatown was initially just called “Gallery Place” without any mention of Chinatown. Although it might create a dialogue about Asian culture, there was a clear distinction between Chinatown and the developing dominant culture.  With the increase in property values, a lot of Chinese business owners were compelled to sell their authentic shops in order for American chains to come in.


Regardless of any sort of competition there is between the Asian community and the dominant culture, there is a clear relationship. This relationship was based on a sense of partnership based on pro assimilation strategies. As a sign of alliance between the Asian community and the Federal government, the Archway was created in order to symbolize that. Although there might be come conflict, between the lessening authenticity of Chinatown, it is true that this niche community has been creating a dialogue about Asian representation in the United States. The question is what direction Chinatown is heading in, whether losing their authenticity or providing a gateway to understanding Asian culture.  Is it enough to just have restaurant signs translated in Chinese or do we need to do more to preserve the genuine culture of Chinatown?



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