Equity & Diversity

Op-Ed: Isolation in Chinatown

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 17, 2009 1 min read
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Theresa Zhen, a native of New York City’s Chinatown, paints a picture of Chinatowns being communities in which residents are generally isolated from the resources they need to succeed.

In an op-ed piece in Asians in America Magazine, Zhen makes a distinction between acculturated Chinese and Chinese who are newcomers and may be very isolated because of their poverty and lack of English skills. She notes that in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the median household income is $17,886, compared with San Francisco’s median household income of $55,221. She says schools are overcrowded in that city’s Chinatown.

Acculturated Chinese students tap into networks such as their friends’ older brothers and sisters or community organizations to learn how to navigate U.S. society, but newly arrived immigrants don’t necessarily have access to those channels, she writes. She doesn’t say if Chinatown has many acculturated Chinese, or if those students live elsewhere.

Zhen suggests that bridges need to be built between “different parties involved in a child’s education,” but she doesn’t offer specific solutions. Mostly, she raises questions:

Can these ethnic communities prosper? Will its residents ever see the top rung of the social ladder, or will their success be limited to the small advances in their enclave economies?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.