About the Q Train Project

Our collaborative website project features the two communities of Chinatown in Manhattan and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, as well as the Q train subway that connects the two. At first glance, it seems as if Chinatown and Brighton Beach could not be any more different. A stretch of ocean separates the two areas, with Chinatown at the southern tip of Manhattan and Brighton Beach at the bottom of Brooklyn. Chinatown is a tourist destination for those visiting New York City for the first time. Meanwhile, Brighton Beach remains fairly unknown, except to its residents and the city’s frequent beach goers. The two neighborhoods appear to share little in terms of culture or tradition either. In fact, to the casual observer, the Q train that links Brighton Beach to Chinatown appears to be a bridge between two apparently different worlds.

In reality, however, these two places share much in common. Earlier immigrants created each neighborhood decades ago. Chinatown in Manhattan emerged in the 19th century, the product both of anti-Chinese discrimination and Chinese immigrants’ residential and business decisions. Between the 1910s and 1940s, two waves of Jewish immigrants and their children made their homes in Brighton Beach. Since the liberalization of immigration laws in 1965, hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and, most recently, the PRC, have settled in Manhattan’s Chinatown and surrounding areas. In the 1970s, when the Soviet Union began allowing Jews to leave the country permanently, tens of thousands found homes in Brighton Beach, with more arriving after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Even some of the internal dynamics of the two neighborhoods are similar. In Chinatown, the Cantonese speaking immigrants who came to the U.S. before 1965, the Hong Kong and Taiwanese arrivals of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and the most recent immigrants from Mainland China, especially Fujian Province, at times express hostility toward each other. In Brighton Beach, tension sometimes exists between the older and more religious Jewish residents and the new Russian immigrants, who often knew very little about Jewish traditions when they first arrived. At the same time, however, recent Russian and Chinese arrivals have learned to rely on local organizations established by oldtimers to help them adjust to life in the United States. Meanwhile, their American-born children generally strive to leave these neighborhoods.

As a class, we approached this project from a variety of perspectives, as visitors will quickly see. In particular, we have tried to pay close attention to the way outsiders to both of these communities often have particular ideas about them--as well as how the residents of these communities (the insiders) see their communities.