“A love letter to the Chinatowns that aren’t going down without a fight.”
Chinatowns, along with other racialized neighborhoods, have always been targeted for gentrification which causes the displacement of the poor and working-class residents from their neighborhood by developing new and inaccessible housing (ex. Condos, high rises) and businesses that end up replacing existing small businesses and cultural landmarks. In some cases, new companies and businesses will attempt to cloak themselves by appropriating the culture of the neighborhood. For example, white-owned businesses sometimes disguise themselves as Chinese-owned businesses in Chinatown. Gentrification is often marketed as a good thing, but in reality, it drives the cost of living up, forcing the original inhabitants of the neighbourhood out, and erasing the culture and community the neighbourhood worked so hard to foster.
Why do large developers consistently target Chinatowns? Born out of the displacement of Chinese and Asian migrants due to anti-Asian racism and Sinophobia, Chinatowns are disappearing for those same reasons. In fact, urban planning has always been intertwined with racism because Western civilization here on Turtle Island is built by white supremacy. Colonizers forcibly took land from the Indigenous Peoples, displacing them from their homes and attempting to destroy their cultures. Our governments continue to perpetuate displacement through the gentrification of the communities of racialized people who have already been displaced. It is subtle and veiled under the guise of development but is a perfect example of the inseparable nature of capitalism, colonialism, and racism.
Chinatowns’ protectors are fighting for the survival of these vital neighborhoods across the United States and Canada. Land trusts and other collectives have popped up in many Chinatowns as a means of protecting the land from developers and taking care of the community.
Toronto’s Chinatown has its own progressive social movement, led by Friends of Chinatown (FOCT), within a broader political context. At CCNC-SJ, we recognize Chinatown’s history of community solidarity and the ongoing claims groups have made for the representation of Chinatown, and support FOCT’s emerging role as a grassroots leader in the Chinatown community leading the Toronto Chinatown Land Trust initiative. TCLT is a community-led collective that gives Chinatown residents more agency over the land they live on.
It is important to sustain the dialogue surrounding the defense of Chinatowns, and so in partnership with TCLT, we hosted a community screening of Big Fight in Little Chinatown. This is a film documenting community resistance and resilience against the rapid gentrification of Chinatowns across North America during the unprecedented rise in anti-Asian racism throughout COVID pandemic. Big Fight in Little Chinatown takes us through the lives of Chinatown locals, businesses, and community organizers facing active erasure and the devastating economic impact of the pandemic, searching for progressive alternatives to keep their communities safe from the constant threat of encroaching developers and racist policies.