Perpetual Chinatown
October 2020

A symbol set and reproducible pamphlet inspired by my personal research on community efforts of individuals and businesses to prop up Chinatowns around the country, given anti-Asian and xenophobic sentiment, economic stressors including COVID-19, and the rampant gentrification of these cultural hubs.

These eight symbols are derived from the eight strokes that comprise most Chinese characters, and are the eight used to form the Chinese character for “forever” or “perpetual” (永). By borrowing the dotted visual language of repetitive calligraphic worksheets used to learn how to write characters with proper stroke order, the symbols represent a storytelling device that chronicles a family’s journey from motherland to foreign homebase and tabulates the act of building and rebuilding.

The strokes each correspond to one of 8 themes in order of the necessary stroke, workable both in Chinese and English:

1. 下脚点 (arrival)
2. 奋斗 (struggle to strive)
3. 中心 (pulse/the pillar of association)
4. 方言 (dialect vs "topolect")
5. 提升 (uplift)
6. 适应力 (resiliency)
7. 守护传承 (gatekeepers)
8. 爱广泛而深入 (love wide and deep)

By collecting the symbols into a broadside-fold booklet, the object can generate dialogue about the intergenerational impact of Chinatowns. Thematically, the pamphlet comes to represent the resilience of Chinatowns for the Chinese diaspora. The object also presents a guided inquiry into the oral histories of immigrant families in general. You can download and print a PDF copy of the booklet.

I also conducted an oral history with my parents on their immigrant journey passing through New York’s Manhattan Chinatown, even as we moved away to Georgia. You can listen on Soundcloud.

Crystal Bi and Lily Xie, “Dream Chinatown". 
Experience Chinatown Arts Festival in Boston, 2020. Photo from BCNC.

Screenshot from Instagram feed for @chinatownpretty.
Zoom with my parents

Reusuable bags like these are durable representations of the immigrant story, and iconic for Chinese grandmas to store groceries and ingredients to boil herbal soups for their grandkids. The 婆仔袋.

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