On October 29th, the Dear Chinatown, DC project hosted an event in Humanities DC’s Humanitini programming series, which brings people together monthly to hear from guest speakers about topics relevant to DC’s history and culture. Traditionally hosted at a local restaurant or venue for happy hour, our team took to Zoom instead to present on contemporary issues, a rich history, and challenges for the future in regards to DC’s Chinatown neighborhood. The panelists included Jack Lee (Chinese Youth Club), Shirley Woo (Chinatown Service Center) and Ted Gong,(1882 Foundation). These community leaders spoke about a series of their organizing and past working in DC’s Chinatown as stewards, residents, and spacemakers, continuing on to discuss how cultural erasure and gentrification have affected their work.
The event began with the broad prompt of “What are the things about your neighborhood that you love?” This prompted reflection on our spaces and what we hold the most precious about them. As our panelists began, I was personally moved by a lot of the personal stories that Jack and Shirley told about their lifestyles as residents of Chinatown. As we observe it today and in the current world situation, it’s easy to see this place as a quiet section of a bustling city, but stories and oral histories like those of our panelists bring life and history back to this historical space. Jack described the liveliness of a nine-man volleyball tournament that drew local teams from other Chinatowns for big competitions that closed entire streets. These histories are key to our understanding how to shape and reclaim community-building for the future of the neighborhood.
Special thanks to our panelists, Sara Yukimoto-Saltman for graphic recording, giving us this fantastic piece that tracked the course of the dialogue, as well as Jelani Byrd for session recording and post-editing.