By Akilah Holder
No proper thought was given to the establishment of a Chinatown in Trinidad and Tobago. I say that because when one looks at the history of the development of Chinatowns across the globe, it becomes evident that the government of Trinidad and Tobago has misunderstood the concept, and in doing so, has engendered resentment among non-Chinese citizens.
Admittedly, when I first found out about this venture, I, too, thought to myself, “but who ‘de’ hell is ‘dese’ Chinese? These damn politicians pandering to the elite again.” Then when I saw the erection of the arch stating Chinatown, I thought to myself, “maybe, I mean, for the most part, Chinese businesses do populate Charlotte Street.” But then I woke up the following morning to an article in the Trinidad Newsday that reported that the sentiment of many locals interviewed was displeasure.
As I read, I began to turn over in my mind the rationale behind Chinatown, Manhattan; I began to think deeply about its establishment, and realized that the establishment of it had nothing to do with a governmental decree, but came to be because of the high concentration of Chinese immigrants living in that part of New York State (I think it was a comment by one of the interviewees, that the culture here is different, that prompted me to think about the rationale of Chinatown abroad).
So I began to research the history of Chinatown in Manhattan, New York and discovered that it developed as a refugee city, one set up by Chinese immigrants to help and protect their own because of the virulent anti-Chinese sentiment in the US at the time that Chinese began immigrating to the US. Then I discovered that there were also Chinatowns in other American states, like San Francisco, so-called, again, because of the high presence of Chinese in the area, an area also set up by Chinese immigrants to help and secure their own.
In fact, pbs.org explained that the press started calling that area in San Francisco, Chinatown. It was, in fact, one of the US’ first Chinatowns.
Then, I discovered that Vancouver, Canada, has its own Chinatown, one that also came about because of the high concentration of Chinese immigrants in the area. It was, like those in the US, another haven city set up by refugees for the help and protection of their own. According to the dailyhive.com, Vancouver’s largest online publication, “Since before the city’s founding, Vancouver has been home to a significant Chinese population. As the people behind much of the city’s industry, trades and economic activity, the early days of Vancouver were defined in large part by its Chinese residents.
“Vancouver’s Chinese population numbers 3,559 making it the largest Chinese population and Chinatown in Canada – a designation it holds to this day.”
Therefore, Chinatown in Canada got its name because of the high concentration of Chinese immigrants who live there, who settled there. It was a refugee city. And as the last paragraph implies, there are other Chinatowns in Canada. Vancouver just happens to be the largest and like the others mentioned above, was established by immigrants themselves, not conferred by the country’s government.
Furthermore, there is a Chinatown in France, where it is called Le Quartier Chinois or Le Petite Asie. In fact, there are several Chinatowns in France. They too came about because of the large
Chinese immigrant populations settling there. According to businesstravel.fr, those, too, came about because of the large number of Chinese immigrants who settled there for a better life. The French government didn’t give them those areas, they just happened to settle there.
The Chinatowns noted above, apart from Chinese businesses, are also places rich in Chinese culture, where large numbers of Chinese reside.
This is not the situation on Charlotte Street. This decision lacked wisdom and understanding, given the above.
I should add, lastly, that erecting an arch saying Chinatown does not make a crime hotspot a tourist attraction. All it did was engender animosity on the part of many if newspaper reports are correct.