The Irony in the Chinatown Community

Categories: CommunityIrony

“00 (Be careful)!!”, my parents often said around my brother and me. I spent most of my childhood days around Chinatown and the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church. Right after a Math or English lesson at the church, my parents would take my brother and me around the Chinatown streets to eat food, always passing by this run-down, graffitied building behind the church. Whenever we passed this building, our parents gripped our hands tightly and walked us quickly. Back then, I always wondered my parents were especially cautious towards that building.

Chinatown has always been a developing city with rundown buildings seemingly in every corner. Why was this building more dangerous than others? Thus, I recently sought out to interview my father and mother who are also active contributors to many Chinatown initiatives. Through multiple conversations and research, I was able to understand why my parents mistakenly identified that building as a marker of danger as well as why the Chinatown community underscore the notions of hard work, self reliance, and security.

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While the Boston Chinatown community thrives to this day, the Chinatown people still underscore the notion to be careful around your surroundings and to be independent.

The Chinatown community illustrates irony, priding itself on protecting its children from dangers such as alcohol, drugs, robbery and gambling even though these dangers are still a commonplace in the Chinatown streets. My parents would put window blockers in the backseats and lock the car four times during our drive to church. This extreme caution was because they were scared of the homeless or the gamblers in Chinatown interacting with us, the children.

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After taking lessons at the church, my brother and I would go eat dinner with my parents. While walking from the church, they would often push us aside from the shady building behind the church. My parents never told us why they hurried us past that building back then, but after talking to my father recently, he revealed that my mom and him “mistakenly thought that building hosted those Chinatown Gangster Associations” (Interview with Father, 2017). In the 1990s and early 2000s, there were many drug dealers and gamblers that still plagued the streets with little repercussions (7, Chinatown Then and Now). Thus, my parents worried that my brother and I might by happenchance join the wrong crowd if exposed to these kinds of people.

Their great extents of protecting my brother and me from seeing the dark sides of Chinatown reveals the Chinatown people’s mentality of protecting their children first in front of community issues like inaccessible housing and drugs. Similarly, in Hillbilly Elegy, J.D Vance talks about how his community, the hill people cared and protected their children even with all the dysfunctionality in families. When speaking about his grandmother, Vance reveals that even with all her mistakes, she often protected him from his mother. After his mother got brought to jail after chasing J.D., his grandmother, “Mamaw”, immediately went to the jail and “hugged [him)… and spun [him) around to inspect [him)” (77, Hillbilly Elegy). This love and care from his Mamaw often gave J.D.and his sister comfort and confidence in such a crazy environment.

Similar to how many Chinese families are overly protective for their children, Mamaw and Papaw often kept a steady eye on J.D’s mother and made sure that J.D. grew up safely. Both the hill people’s community and my community in Chinatown brings to light the fervent advocacy from guardians and parents in the community to protect children from the darkness in their communities while nevertheless avoiding these problems in its entirety.

The Chinatown community instills a hard working mindset into children in the advent of economic development and hardships within the community. It turns out that the building my parents were so cautious about was actually the location of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Boston Chapter which hosted many activities and protests to protect Chinese immigrants’ culture and rights. Why would my parents think that that building was dangerous when it was so prominent in the Chinatown community? This false perception about the building stems from my parent’s strong sense of self reliance. When they came to America, as my mother puts it, they “never sought any help from anyone and kept to ourselves just like any other Chinese family” (Interview with Mother, 2017). This private and self reliant attitude led them to stay away from the many resources around the community as well as made them assume certain buildings were drug dens. Moreover, my parents leveraged Chinatown’s vulnerabilities as lessons. For example, they pointed out certain people on the street and bluntly stated that we would turn out like them if we didn’t work hard. Similarly, in Hillbilly Elegy, Mamaw always had a huge sense of hope and pride with J.D., saying things like, “Never be like those fucking losers who thinks the deck is stacked against them… you can do anything you want to” (36, Hillbilly Elegy). His mother was trying to instill a sense of motivation in J.D. at the expense of the “losers” in Middletown and Jackson. Rather than addressing the issues within her community, Mamaw used those issues as fuel for J.D. to work hard and to gain success similar to how the Chinese highlight the struggles of the homeless as a warning to children to not slack off.

This neglection of the poor has been improving with the Chinese American Citizens Alliance which uses that sketchy building that my parents thought was a drug den as a place for people to learn English and learn how to earn citizenship in America. That building brings to light a more important point that the Chinatown community and other developing communities have to put away it’s pride of self reliance and help each other to truly escape their economic struggles for future generations.

My community, Chinatown, often reflects a common viewpoint in low income environments that self reliance is more important than seeking help from others. With the advent of nonprofits such as the Chinese American Alliance, people struggling in my community need to change their mindsets and realize that working hard is not enough to overcome some struggles and rather gaining help from the community will help. More importantly, we need more role models in the Chinatown communities to help children see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize that their future is wide open. Helping one another seems to be lost when we are solely focused on our own struggles while if we contribute back to our communities, the community will prosper greatly and help eliminate the drug and homeless issues for our future generations.


  1. “C.A.C.A – Boston Lodge.” Chinese American Citizens Alliance – Boston Lodge. Chinese
  2. American Citizens Alliance, 10 Jan. 2017. Web. 09 July 2017. <>.
  3. Chinatown Then and Now. Rep. New York: Asian American Legal Defense and Education Foundation, 2013. Print.
  4. Vance, JD. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. , 2016. Print.

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The Irony in the Chinatown Community. (2022, Mar 30). Retrieved from

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