You are currently viewing Event Recap: Talk Story! Public Policy and Cultural Centers: Stories from DC and Philadelphia Chinatowns

On April 17th, 2023, we convened for a panel conversation to explore the impact of public policy on Chinatowns, drawing specifically on the Washington DC and Philadelphia Chinatowns. This conversation opportunely comes in the recent news of a plan to build a new sports arena in Philly’s Chinatown, mirroring a similar decision made in the 1990s in DC that devastated the ethnic community that called it home.

1882 Foundation Executive Director Ted Gong and Jennifer Li of the Harrison Institute for Public Law gave a brief welcome and opening remarks. Councilmember Mark Squilla (PA), who represents the district that Chinatown belongs to, gave remarks on challenges to Chinatowns across the nation and a message of support for those doing work in and around cultural centers.

Claris Park (L’23), Justin Chuang (L’24), and Eli Lee (L’24) of the Harrison Institute for Public Law presented DC and Philadelphia Chinatowns: Shared challenges, lessons learned, and opportunities. They recapped their research that spanned Chinatowns and ethnic enclaves across the nation, gave an overview of their methodology and findings, and made suggestions for future action and possibilities for Chinatowns, focusing on public space and business support as crucial areas of intervention. Their findings concluded with a call to action for everyone, not just Chinatown residents, to rally around these spaces.

Jack Lee and Harry Leong, community leaders from DC and Philadelphia’s Chinatowns respectively, gave remarks on the state of their home neighborhoods. “When they built the first convention center, it was like a bomb hit the residential area. The 9th Street side of Chinatown, where most of the residents lived, then the bomb hit with Capital One. That was the south side of Chinatown. […] They were chipping away at where people lived. Then, the newest convention center hit Massachusetts Avenue side, which devastated all of the residents. Now, when people talk about Chinatown, all you hear about is the Wah Luck House,” said Jack Lee, commenting on the multiple projects that have and continue to impact DC’s Chinatown.

“We faced similar situations in the past 40-plus years of me being involved and serving within the community, we’ve battled different projects,” reflected Harry Leong, Philadelphia Chinatown native and community organizer. “Right now, my visit to Washington DC was the point where it sealed in my heart that this arena that they’re going to build in Chinatown is not going to be beneficial to our community. There’s promises of a community benefit agreement, there’s promises of working in the community, but currently at this point I’m still listening even though I don’t see anything that would change my mind otherwise. This 76ers arena is probably going to do what the Capital One arena did to DC.”

Lastly, Yilin Zhang moderated a discussion based on Q&A from our Zoom audience and in-person attendees. Audience members asked about the research methodology for Georgetown students, who and how they chose to represent Chinatown(s), and how they might support the cause of continuing to advocate for Chinatowns across the country. The event wrapped with closing statements from Jack and Harry.

This event was cosponsored by the 1882 Foundation and the Harrison Institute for Public Law at Georgetown Law School. A recording of the entirety of the event is available below and on the 1882 Foundation’s YouTube page.

Special thanks to the Gewirz Student Center, A/V and security support staff at Georgetown Law, and China Boy for helping this event come together. Thank you to Harry Chow and Penny Lee for videography and photography support.