We went to the Tenement Museum to start off our last Shared Stories meeting. The whole tour took place inside 97 Orchard Street, one of the oldest tenements in Chinatown. Our tour guide started by giving us the legal definition of a tenement: a building with more than three related families living in it. That definition hit me. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles have lived, and currently are still living, in a tenement. That's why I wasn't that astounded when I stood inside the cramped apartment lined with dust and peeling walls. My cousins still live in a space like this, albeit roomier. To an affluent European tourist, perhaps this was an amazing part of their history, but today there are still modern day tenements in the same condition.
What surprised me most about the tour were the little anecdotes, pictures, charts that Ya Yun, our tour guide, showed us. In the U.S Census for 97 Orchard Street, my eyes widened when I saw a category for Children Born, followed by Children Born Alive. I had no idea that infant mortality was so high that there was a need for two separate categories. What's more is that there was a significant difference in the numbers. One family had 10 children born, and 6 born alive. I later found out the infant mortality rate was 25%. Incredible.
Ya Yun then asked us how our traditions were different than our parents'. At first, I thought they weren't. I still celebrate Chinese New Year and go to the cemetery every year. But then Jeff, a mentor, mentioned how we lose little things with the generations. For example on Chinese New Year, my grandparents believe that you shouldn't wash your hair. However my sister and I do it anyway. It makes no sense to us why we shouldn't, especially if we need to. I wonder what other parts of our traditions we lose. It's interesting how, I think (mentor) Linda mentioned, that the youth today are working towards their future, while the older generation is so rooted in preserving the past. If little parts of traditions keep slipping, does this mean that three generations down the line, Chinese New Year will no longer be like it is now? Does this mean when we go to the cemetery, we will no longer be bringing a whole pig, hard boiled eggs, and carrot cake to eat in front of the gravestone?
We got back to CPA to hold our small graduation ceremony. It's then that I realized that it's been 10 weeks already. It hit me because I didn't realize 2 months had passed since we started the program. The program's been great in educating me about gentrification, Asian American history, and the Dream Act, to name a few, but what I value most are the small conversations I've had on the side during the program. While walking to the Tenement Museum, for instance, Linda mentioned to me that she was on the Young Professionals committee at MOCA. She saw my name on their Community Youth Action Committee, and asked me about that program. I mentioned that I was really interested in doing my research project on mentally challenged Asian American youth and study how Asian culture and values affect how they're treated. Linda then mentioned, to my pleasant surprise, that she knew someone I could talk to at the Sino American Community Center. It's these interactions that I'll remember when I look back on my Shared Stories sessions.
*Thank you Bernice Chan for all of your thoughtful reflections!
For more information on the session, click here.
We hope to see you in the Summer.
For those of you going to college, congratulations on this milestone and good luck!