History of the Ethnic Community

Background/Departure from Homeland Up-Arrow

By Sunny Johnson

For much of European and American history, China was a relative unknown that had been isolated from Western influence. Heavily influenced by the Confucian idea of meritocracy, there were similarities in the theme of class mobility that both the Chinese and Americans shared. In some ways, the Chinese embodied the democratic spirit that Americans sought to strive for. Freedom of land, trade and self-government were important in Chinese culture. This idea was in stark contrast to the idea many Americans had of the Chinese of being ruled by authoritarians. In fact many of the villages were self-governing and the citizens were electing the headman.

The differences between Americans and Chinese could be found in each group’s social norms. These differences would be what initially drives a wedge between the incoming Chinese and native white populations. For the Chinese, patriotism is replaced by loyalty to the family and the village. Many of the men who immigrated to China initially went to raise money to send back to their wives and family back home. Some even were able to transfer their sons to work alongside them. Most however did not expect to settle in America.[22]

For long periods of time, emigration from China was discouraged and the laws created in the Chinese Empire threatened those who emigrated with the punishment of death. As European and American influences spread, those laws began to be ignored and eventually removed as Chinese immigrants began to flow to the Eastern, but primarily Western Coasts of America.

One of the largest influences came through trade. During the 1820s trade between America and China was primarily of silver. Eventually that trade shifted to Levant opium. British poppy grown in India was also sent to China. Eventually Britain became the largest provider of Opium to China. The Opium Wars from 1839-1842 was largely caused by a dispute over the growing influence of the British and the negative effects opium was having on the society. British trade of opium into China from the British East India Company had grown and the emperor took steps to restrict and remove the opium and also attempted to further isolate China from Western Influences. In retaliation, the British government sent a squadron of troops and forced China back into the market and further opened up China to the Western world. [23]


The vast majority of those in the Chinese workforce were in agriculture or the fishing business. These two groups would make the bulk of the immigrant class that would eventually immigrate to America. Many of the laborers were contracted to go to work in Cuba and South America. It was the poor farmer class that would make its way to California.

That flow of immigrants eventually boomed when the discovery of gold mines in the West coast sent a rush of Chinese peasants who had heard news of the higher paying jobs that were available. Jobs building railroads were also available to the Chinese who moved to California. Chinese men who worked in California could earn three to five dollars per day, as ten to sixteen cents earned by the average Chinese man who stayed in his home country.

The higher wages and prospects of fortunes made from gold mining were just as convincing to some Chinese to emigrate as the negatives of staying. In 1850, the Taiping Rebellion began a period of war and famine in South Eastern China. The rebellion was against the Manchu ruling class who were viewed as the reason why foreign exploitation continued. Plague was also rampant during this time. Many Chinese saw the potential for improvement in America. This only served to increase the flow of Chinese into the Americas.[22]


Eventually the profits from gold mining had slowed and the railroad construction neared completion. Ultimately however, the profits were not as grand as advertised. Instead, many Chinese who initially went to become prospectors became merchants. Chinese immigrants also moved to New York or were even smuggled to New Jersey in order to work in hand laundry. The Chinese Exclusion Act also slowed down the flow out of China and many Chinese went to Australia and South America as the alternative. This act was eventually lifted creating another massive wave of Chinese immigrants.[22]

The Act was lifted mainly due to the reasoning that an ally in the fight against imperialist Japan could not conceivably be discriminated against through quotas. Unfortunately, that success was short lived due to the growing problems caused by cold war tensions. After the World War Two had ended, a realignment of world power began to take shape. The Western nations embraced democracy as the form of government that would be spread throughout the world. The Soviet Union and its growing allies governed through communist ideals. A civil war erupted in China with United States backed Nationalists fighting against Soviet backed Communists, who would be the eventual victors. Nationalist seeking to escape communist rule were given the chance to immigrate to America and laws were loosened to allow their entry.[24]


China’s siding with the Soviet Union further increased tensions between the United States and China, and immigration obviously took a huge hit. Americans were seen as supporters of the overthrown Nationalists and the warm relationship that was created after World War Two between the United States and China quickly disintegrated. Immigration came to a standstill. All American consulates in China were closed and all the applications for citizenship between the two countries were put on the back burner. Legal immigration to America had become a 12-year process where the applicant had to first send the application to the American consulate in Hong Kong before it could be sent to the processing centers in America.

Many of the Chinese bypassed the new law by undergoing a process known as paper immigration or by becoming “paper” sons. Immigrants blocked by restrictive laws posed as the relatives of citizens already living in America. The papers showing the relation were forged, but it allowed them a quicker entry into the country, bypassing many of the roadblocks legal entries faced.

As conditions in China improved levels of immigration slowed down. Chinese immigrants still continue to come to America. As China has become an economic powerhouse the background to the immigrants have changed slightly. There are a lot more educated immigrants that have emigrated to the country. That does not change the fact that many Chinese are immigrating illegally and see America as the way to improve the condition of their lives and their families’ lives. [24]

Arrival and Settlement Up-Arrow

by Neil Chattopadhyay

The first large wave of Chinese immigrants to the United States came during the mid 19th century. Many Chinese flocked to the west coast of the U.S in order to work in gold mines during the appealing and prosperous era of the California Gold Rush during the 1850’s. Many immigrants also worked in garment factories and farming industries. These immigrants were mainly unskilled laborers and many resided in the San Francisco area of California, which is now the central Chinatown neighborhood of the west coast. Clusters of Chinese immigrants began living together in smaller “Chinatown” neighborhoods like the one in San Francisco. Their first encounters with Americans were not pleasant as they had to deal with racism and anti-Chinese movements that led to government action. [31]

Gold Rush[36]

As the number of Chinese immigrants on the west coast grew, more tension between Americans and this latest group of immigrants formed. American whites were already hostile towards minority groups, which was seen through the use of slavery of blacks for agricultural uses during the same time period. Since the Chinese lived in their own separate neighborhoods, Americans were not fully aware of their culture or lifestyle. As a result, Americans began to make assumptions about their ways of life and thought poorly of them because of the rumors that spread that suggested prostitution, smoking of opium and gambling were occurring in their neighborhoods. Many Americans saw the introduction of these Asian immigrants as a threat to the “higher standards” of American culture and society. Others provided racist reasons for limiting the number of Asians in the United States.[32]

Tensions between Chinese workers and Americans also grew because of competition for jobs and wages. The Chinese immigrants who came were mostly men who were sending money back home to China in order to support their families. They fought for jobs at all cost and even worked for lower wages. This source of productive and cheap labor was beneficial to employers but angered American workers since they were being outcompeted for certain jobs. An example of this was seen through the gold mining industry when around 25,000 Chinese immigrants arrived. Gold mining eventually became company run as time passed by. They hired Chinese immigrants because of their cheap labor. The addition of Chinese workers to the already competitive job of gold mining gave rise to tension between Americans and Chinese. Americans wanted the Chinese workers to be excluded from working in the mines and in 1949 miners in the Tuolumne County were able to pass a resolution that prevented Chinese immigrants from working in there. Many other areas along the west coast followed this idea of excluding Chinese workers from the mines.[33]

Because of the economic and social tension that was present between Chinese immigrants and Americans, laws were being passed on the west coast, particularly in California, that were anti-Chinese. In 1858, a law was passed that prevented Chinese people from entering California. In 1879, Congress was able to create and pass a bill that limited the number of Chinese immigrants allowed to come to American on any one vessel to just fifteen. There were many more attempts by the government, both state and federal, to reduce the number of Chinese immigrants and their influence on American society.[34] Though many of these bills and laws were unconstitutional or vetoed, it showed the increasing hostility towards this new group of immigrants that had made a largely negative impact on Americans and their society.

By 1882, the first lasting bill was enacted to prevent Chinese immigration. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, preventing Chinese immigrants, both skilled and unskilled laborers, from entering the United States for 10 years. This was the first truly restricting law against immigration in American history, showing the level of resentment that Americans had for Chinese immigrants. This suspension on Chinese immigrants was extended for 10 more years in 1892 and extended once again in 1902, preventing Chinese from entering the United States for a very long period of time. In 1924, quota acts and the national origins act was passed that further stunted development for any resolution with the Chinese. It was not until 1943 that Chinese immigrants were allowed to even enter the United States. However, the second wave of immigration from China did not occur until 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act removed the quota laws, allowing more immigrants to enter the United States.[35]

The first arrivals of Chinese immigration faced much adversity as a result of racism and tension with Americans who disliked their culture and fought with them for jobs. Many moved east, especially to New York, where they again clustered in neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side and current day Chinatown. Even there, they faced much discrimination and Chinese women were not even allowed to enter the United States, forcing these men to send their money back home to their families. The hardships involved in the arrival and settlement of Chinese immigrants paved a tough road towards assimilation and acceptance in American society.

Story of the Community in NYC From Settlement to the Present Up-Arrow

By James McKenzie

In the 1860’s-1870’s, expansion of a Chinese-American population in New York City began. Originally, many Chinese-Americans from Canton had immigrated to the U.S. via Angel Island into California. Wages in California, for native-born whites at least, were between $3-$5, while standard working wages in China were from ten to sixteen cents. [3] Once the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, transit across the United States was made possible, and many Chinese immigrants quickly took advantage of this opportunity. Arriving in New York, many were embraced as strike breakers, which contributed to racial and ethnic prejudices against them from native-born whites, and a phobia of what would come to be known as “Yellow Fever.” Fear of racial discrimination and violence forced the Chinese-Americans to form their own smaller communities, which would come to be known as “Chinatowns.” The first Chinatown in New York is perhaps the most famous one, the Chinatown of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Later, neighborhoods such as Flushing in Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn would come to be known as Chinatowns in their own right, especially when Fuzhounese Chinese-Americans begin to move in in the early 1980’s.[5]


Chinese-American society in New York before the turn of the 20th century is often described as a “bachelor society”: the male population greatly outnumbered the female because it was primarily males who immigrated to the United States to work, due in large part to the Page Act of 1875 that placed restrictions on female Asian immigration on the basis of anticipated prostitution. Many of the men did actually have wives, mistresses, and even families back home, but did not have the means to transport them yet. [9]

A common trade for Chinese-Americans in New York was, and still is, owning and working in laundromats. These laundromats were often adorned with religious shrines, often revering tutelary war gods. Many also run their own shops and groceries, which often became popular social hangouts for other Chinese-Americans. Many Chinese sought to learn English so that they may be hirable as interpreters either here or back in their native country (should they wish to return). Nonetheless, many dialects Chinese-Americans in the late 1800’s spoke were of such fractured English that they qualified as patois.[4]

Chinese Laundry

The nature of racial prejudice against Chinese-American immigrants by Native-born whites in New York was a feeling of general distrust. A common derogatory term used to describe them was “heathen”, and they were often stereotyped as cheaters, swindlers, gamblers, and opium lords.[3]


The prejudice reached its institutional peak with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which gave the government the ability to suspend labor immigration to the U.S. from China. President Chester A. Arthur signed the bill in 1882. It restricted the immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States, and non-laborer Chinese citizens attempting to immigrate were required to provide proof that they were not laborers; however, the terminology used to define a “laborer” was so broad that it was nearly impossible for Chinese emigrants to prove that they were not laborers. Ergo, Chinese immigration decreased dramatically in the late 1800’s.

The act did not make life easier for Chinese residents already living in America, either. Chinese-American citizens who left the country had to have certification in order to re-enter. State and federal courts were denied the freedom to grant citizenship to non-citizen Chinese living in the United States, although these courts did still have the freedom to deport them. The restrictions placed by the Chinese Exclusion Act caused the Chinese-American population in America (especially New York) to dwindle, which further facilitated the already established bachelor society.


The bill was originally only set to last ten years. However, once it expired in 1892, it was replaced by the Geary Act, which upheld the same restrictions and actually added some. Under the Geary Act, Chinese non-laborer immigrants had to obtain a certification of residence or face deportation. The Geary Act was made permanent in 1902, and was upheld until 1943. When immigration increased after World War II, the Exclusion Act was replaced by a quota system, allowing for 105 Chinese immigrants maximum. In 1965 this was replaced by the Immigration Act, which allowed 170,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere per year, and 20,000 from any one particular country. At this point, Chinese immigration began to boom, and the Chinese-American population began to develop dramatically.[7]

In the early 1980’s, New York began to witness an influx of Fuzhounese Chinese-Americans. Fuzhounese immigrants were attracted by promises of opportunity in New York (other destinations of interest were Japan, Australia, and Europe). Many undocumented immigrants came to New York as well, brought to the United States through human smuggling practices that had become widespread in the towns outside Fuzhou. Fuzhou is the capitol city of the Fujian province of China, located in the southeast. Emigrants who traveled to New York lived both in Fuzhou itself and in smaller villages outside of Fuzhou. The quantity of Fuzhounese immigrants measure into the tens of thousands. Fuzhounese immigrants in New York now outnumber Cantonese immigrants. Parts of the Lower East Side Chinatown and Sunset Park Chinatown are coming to be described as “Little Fuzhou” to acknowledge the growing Fuzhounese population.[5][8]

Since the arrival of Fuzhounese people in Manhattan, Chinatown has expanded dramatically. Parts of the Lower East Side that originally belonged to Little Italy were now being assimilated into the ever-growing “Little Fuzhou” that was developing, such as Elizabeth St. Their arrival has greatly revitalized the economy and introduced new Chinese culture to New York’s respective Chinatowns.

This newfound inclusion of Fuzhounese immigrants created a new hetereogeneity in New York City’s Chinese-American population. While a great quantity of the Manhattan Chinatown’s population is now Fuzhounese, the Cantonese population that existed before still remained. Mott St. runs through the original Cantonese Chinatown, while East Broadway runs through the new Little Fuzhou, with the Bowery serving as a boundary. Sunset Park is also developing into a Little Fuzhou of its own.[5]

Lin Zexu Chinatown Chatham Square Kim Lau Square Gino Leslie 1

Today, in the 21st century, there are over 400,000 Chinese-Americans living in New York. Many of them are first, second, and beyond-generation Americans, born and raised in the United States. Many attend Chinese heritage language schools in their childhood to learn their native language, but statistically, ~94% of native-born Chinese-Americans speak fluent English. Chinese-Americans in New York, both native-born and immigrants, exist within and outside of New York’s three Chinatowns.[6]

Contemporary Data and Analysis

Population Analysis Up-Arrow

By James McKenzie

LES Chinatown on Mott St
Chinatown in Lower Manhattan during the New Year’s Day Fireworks festival.
Photo from

As of 2010, there were a total of 8,175,133 people living in New York. Of these, there were a total of 487,532 documented Chinese Americans living in New York City, according to the Census Bureau. Of these 487,532 Chinese Americans, the female population (254,842) outnumbered the male population (232,690) by 22,152, approximating to 52.3% of the Chinese-American population in New York City.

In terms of age, the Chinese population of New York City had a median age of 38.4 in 2010. 11.8 percent of the population was above the age of 65 (57,442), which means that over one tenth of the Chinese-American population in New York City were senior citizens, which (to me) seems like a rather large quantity, although likely not compared to the 88,526 Chinese-Americans under the age of 16 (18.2%). Together, the youth and the elderly make up 29%, which is more than one quarter of the entire Chinese-American population in New York City. This is the group of people who would likely not be able to legally find work.

There was a population difference of 18,142 between those 18-and-over (399,006) and those 21-and-over (380,864), which may not be considered a particularly considerable difference in comparison to the figures stated earlier. It’s important to differentiate 21-and-over from 18-and-over adults because those who are aged 21 can legally drink and therefore can find jobs involving the sale and/or consumption of alcohol. There was a huge dip between those 21-and-over and those 62-and-over (70,833), which is approximately 310,000 people. This shows that the vast majority of the Chinese-American population were adults in the age range of 21-62, which may seem obvious at first, but makes holds an extra degree of importance when considering that these are the people who can (in theory; not accounting for inexperience, ethnic prejudice, or other mitigating factors) work any job.

While there are Chinese-Americans all over New York City, there are three central neighborhoods in the city that stand as landmark Chinese-American communities, each designated a “Chinatown” in their own right: the Chinatown of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Chinatown of Queens’ Flushing, and the Chinatown of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.

Lower Manhattan, the most widely known Chinatown in NYC.Sunset Park's 8th Ave, Brooklyn's Chinatown.Sunset Park’s 8th Ave, Brooklyn’s Chinatown.
Flushing, Queens, the third of NYC’s Chinatowns.

Provided below is the full chart from the NY Census bureau outlining in further detail the population of Chinese-Americans in New York City in 2010.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Income and Employment Analysis Up-Arrow

By Neil Chattopadhyay

Out of the 418,067 Chinese in New York City who are 16 years old and older, 60.8% of them are in the labor force, which is slightly below the 63.1% mark of the overall population of New York City in the labor force. The labor force consists of all civilians who are 16 years and older who are either classified as employed or unemployed.[15] 56.0% of the Chinese population is employed, which is actually the exact same percentage as the city average for all citizens. Therefore, only 4.7% of Chinese citizens in the city are unemployed while the overall unemployment percentage of the city is at 7.1%.

The most common occupations of employed Chinese workers 16 years and older are in management, business, science and arts fields. 35.4% of workers are in these fields of work. The next highest concentrated field of work is in service occupations, consisting of 26.3% of workers. Many of these service occupations include Laundromats, saloons and beauty parlors, businesses that Chinese immigrants have been working in ever since their arrival during the mid-19th century. Restaurants and food stores also constitute a large part of the service occupations, many of which are concentrated in New York City’s Chinatown as a result of its tourism and popularity. These service jobs were mainly the result of unskilled Chinese laborers immigrating to the west coast and have continued because of the lack of English proficiency within the Chinese community. 23.0% are in sales and office occupations, 10.9% are in production, transportation and materials moving occupations, and only 4.4% are in natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations. This distribution of occupations among Chinese workers fits the mold of the percentages of all workers in these jobs in New York City. In terms of male vs. female occupation types, the largest difference is in the category of management, business, science and art occupations. There is a much higher percentage of women (40.7%) in these occupations than men (30.5%). This difference can be accounted by the lack of women in natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations, and production, transportation and materials moving occupations.[16]

In terms of the industries of work, the highest percentage of employed civilian Chinese workers at 19.9% is in arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services. The next highest industries are educational services, health care and social assistance at 19.3% and finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing at 11.2%. The highest percentage of class of workers resides in the category of private wage and salary workers at 87.3%, which is comparatively with the overall 79.7% of New York City employed citizens in that category of workers.[17] Only about 7.9% of Chinese workers have government jobs, 4.6% are self-employed workers and 0.1% are unpaid family workers.

The median household income of 157,280 surveyed Chinese family households during 2011 was $46,690 (in 2011 inflation-adjusted dollars), which is slightly lower than the median of all surveyed New York City households at $49,461. The main source of income for Chinese households is from earnings with a mean earning of $80,528 in 82.4% of households. The mean social security income is $10,531 in 20.8% of households. 4.5% of Chinese households receive cash public assistance and 19.9% benefit from food stamps or SNAP, slightly lower than the 20.6% of all New York City citizens who receive food stamps/SNAP benefits.

The median income of 119,011 surveyed Chinese families was $45,895, well below the median family income of all New Yorkers combined at $54,330. Married couples made up 79.7% of all Chinese families with a median income of $45,895. Families with no spouse present had a median income of $47,990 while families with no husband present only had a median income of $36,781, indicating that Chinese families with male householders are better off in terms of income. Individuals were shown to have a per capita income of $24,100. Mean earnings for men, $57,000, were slightly higher than for women, $55,823, for full-time, year-round workers.[18]

The poverty rate for all Chinese families in the city was at 20.6%, which is above the 18.0% poverty rate of all New Yorkers. This indicates that slightly more Chinese families deal with harsh economic issues than the average New York City family. While married couples had a poverty rate of 19.5%, families with no husband present had a much higher poverty rate of 27.3%. Even further, these families that also had children under the age of 18 had a very high poverty rate of 44.1%, showing the importance of income of male Chinese workers and the cost of caring for children with fewer sources of income. The poverty rate for Chinese individuals in general was 21.0%, which was the same for New York individuals as well. A large concern is that 33.4% of Chinese people 65 years of age and older are below the poverty line, which is well above the 19.0% poverty rate for all New York citizens 65 and older.[19] The problem is that the immigrant population of Chinese in New York City is at a very high percentage. Even more immigrants have come in the past few decades, increasing the amount of seniors in the area. Since immigrants have lower paying jobs, as they age and become seniors they fall into poverty.

Even though the employment rate for Chinese Americans in New York City is around the city average, their median household and family incomes are less than average. One possible reason for this is the lack of English proficiency within the Chinese community. Of the 470,054 Chinese who are 5 years of age and older, 91.5% of them mainly speak a language other than English at home. This percentage is extremely higher than the average of 49.1% of the city population who speak a language other than English at home. As a result of the increased communication in a foreign language, many Chinese aren’t able to speak English as proficiently. A whopping 62.3% of the Chinese population speaks English less than “very well”, as classified by the U.S Census Bureau. [20] Comparatively, only 23.3% of the population of New York City speaks English less than “very well”. [21] As stated before, many Chinese have followed in the footsteps of their early immigrants by maintaining jobs in service occupations such as restaurants and Laundromats. These service jobs do not require a high level of English proficiency, making them very attractive to Chinese people who speak English less than “very well”. The downside to this is that these jobs have lower salaries, so even though the employment rate for the Chinese is fine they are making lower wages. Many higher paying occupations, such as lawyers, require high English proficiency. Since a very high percentage of Chinese in New York City are immigrants, they are not well spoken in the language and miss out on better job opportunities. This ongoing cycle will continue in the Chinese community as more immigrants pour into the city.

While poverty is present in the Chinese community of New York City, there is certainly hope for the younger generation. As we have seen throughout history, ethnic communities are able to move up in the social class system as they receive better education. A better education for the younger generation of Chinese citizens will allow them to become more proficient in English and will allow them to go through college and achieve better job opportunities than current immigrants and seniors have. Another positive for the Chinese community is that many current immigrants are being brought over from China to work as engineers or in other well paying occupations.

Housing and Household Analysis Up-Arrow

By Syed Raza

According to the 2011 American Community Survey 1-year estimates[29], there were a total of 3,420,330 Chinese Americans living in households, of which 55.6% were the householder or spouse, 26.6% were children, and 11.2% were other relatives. There were also 1,178,720 Chinese households in America in 2011. Of these households, 70% were family households and 30% of these family households had children under 18 years of age. Of the 70% of family households, 57.8% were married-couple families and 8.3% were female run households with no husband present. Non-family households account for the remaining 29.6% of Chinese Americans, of which 14.4% were Male and with 10% of those males living alone. Female householders accounted for 15.4% of non-family households with 11.9% of them living alone. This all means that a majority of Chinese Americans live in families with only 8.3% of these family’s consisting of females without a spouse. 29.6% of Chinese Americans lived without families, which seems to be a significant amount. What surprised me is that single female householders have exceeded single male householders. In the past the distribution was very skewed on the male side because of anti-immigration laws such as The Page act of 1875. These families are a bit on the older side because of the 70% of family households, only 30% have children under 18 years old.

Breakdown of Chinese Households by familial status

The average household size for Chinese Americans is 2.87 and the Average Family size is 3.39. The Chinese American population that is 15 years or older is 2,956,301. Of this number, 58.4% were married and still together. 4.2% were widowed, 4.3% were divorced, and 1% were separated. The remaining 32.0% were never married.

Of the 2,170,544 Chinese Americans 30 years and older, 5.4% lived with their grandchild(ren) and of this percentage 15.6% were responsible for grandchild(ren). Along with the average household and family sizes, we notice a trend towards a nuclear family as opposed to an extended family. Of the population of 3,362,775 that was 5 years or older, 17.7% spoke English only and 82.3% spoke a language other than English, of which 46.6% spoke English less than “very well”. Chinese Americans seem to be multilingual but still very lacking in English proficiency.

Below is a table showing the statistics I discussed above applied to the New York City Neighborhood of Chinatown. This table is taken from the 2006-2010 Census (ACS 5-year average)[30]. Once again we notice a dominance of female householders in family households, which might have to do with China’s history of matriarchy. There are more householders living alone than married couples which should be expected in such a dense and small area.

Chinatown Household Breakdown by familial and householder status

Despite what you might think, Chinatown is only 74.1% Chinese. [30]

The largest leading minorities are White persons at 16.0% and Black persons at 4.7%. It is also interesting to note the country of origin of the Asian population in Chinatown. Chinese (excluding Taiwanese) immigrants are the majority at 93.7%. The next leading origins are: Korean at 1.4% and Asian Indians at 1.1%. Although these amounts are negligible compared to the population from china, they show underlying patterns.

The following is another chart from the ACS 5 year survey showing household type by household size in Chinatown. We can note that there are majority of families with only two people and an even greater number of 1-person non-family households.

Household Type by Household Size

Current Issues Facing the Community Up-Arrow

By Sunny Johnson

Despite being coined as the “model minority” myth, Chinese immigrants have faced numerous obstacles that have limited their success in New York. One such factor is the limited proficiency in English. According to data from the United States Census bureau, 58.6% of the Chinese population speaks English less than “very well.” This has created restrictions in immigrants’ ability to participate in the government, find jobs and gain access to higher-level learning. The model minority idea has also led to deeper issues with the ability to secure help from the government and other groups that might deem the Chinese population as a group that does not need the aid.   The most important issue to some Chinese Americans is access to health care. Many Chinese live below the poverty line and because of this lack health insurance. [25]



Chinese immigrants have also struggled with the role of women in the workforce. Only fifty five percent of women participate in the American workforce. Because a little less than half the population does not participate, that leaves a lot of underrepresented members of the community.  Interestingly though, since 1940, Chinese American Women went to college in higher percentages than white women, eleven percent to four percent. There is also a high reported incidence of discrimination on the workforce. Nearly thirty one percent of Asians subgroup (which the Chinese immigrants fall under), have face some sort of discrimination in the workforce. Unfortunately, this is the largest percentage for any subgroup in America.[26]

Chinatown in particular was hit hard by the terrorist attacks on the twin towers. Once a bustling neighborhood, Chinatown became a relative ghost town after 9-11. The neighborhood has recovered somewhat but the effects have lingered. Many of the businesses that were centered in Chinatown were forced to shutdown and move out of the neighborhood. 25,000 jobs in Chinatown were lost and 500 million dollars were lost in the garment industry the year after the attacks. The garment industry still has not had a complete recovery, with many workers still reporting unemployment and underemployment.[27]

Prior to the attacks, one third of Chinatown’s population in Manhattan was living below the poverty line. That number has increased as jobs are scarce and the ones that are available have a depressed wage rate. Many workers that lacked proficient English used the jobs in Chinatown as a way to make money and educate their children. This was particularly true among Chinese women.[27]

Streets were also closed down for security reasons and commerce and tourism that once flowed in came to a stop. This has led to a severe burden on Chinatown’s relatively weak infrastructure and few recreational facilities, like its parks.  Police have also increased their presence. For example on Park Row, many citizens have complained about being stopped by police, having their belongings searched and papers asked for. Many local leaders have asked for streets like Park Row to be opened and for some of the excess security be dropped. Their argument is that the blocakades continue to unnecessarily constrict traffic causing loss in tourism, profits and a strong negative impact on businesses already hit hard by the September 11th attacks.[27] The following is a photo of the Park Row blockade:


Another issue facing Chinatown is the food vendor disputes going on between mobile food carts and local politicians. Many politicians argue that the food carts use unsanitary practices and pile their garbage on the public sidewalks causing a stench that no one is cleaning up. Police have begun cracking down on the vendors and arresting those who operate without a license. On the other side, Vendors say that these new restrictions have destroyed their business. This measure has however led to a strain between the relationship between the public and the police. Many food vendors see the police as pushing out businesses that they want to establish. Locals are mixed on the issue, with some siding with the vendors for the economic benefit they bring to the town, while others see the cleanup as a positive for the community.[28]


References Up-Arrow

  1. U.S Department of the Historian.“Milestones: 1866-1898 Chinese Immigration and the Exclusion Acts”. Accessed April 20, 2013.
  2. E.W. Gillam, . “Chinese Immigration”, The North American Review. (Jul., 1886), pp. 26-34, Accessed April 20, 2013.
  3. Kanazawa, Mark. “Immigration, Exclusion, and Taxation: Anti-Chinese Legislation in Gold Rush California.” Journal of Economic History. Accessed April 20, 2013.
  4. Black, Isabella. “American Labour and Chinese Immigration.” Oxford University Press. Accessed April 20, 2013.
  5. M. J. Dee. “Chinese Immigration.” The North American Review. (Jul., 1886), pp. 506-526, Accessed April 20, 2013.
  6. U.S. Census Bureau 2010
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