Chinatown: The Socioeconomic Potential of an Urban Enclave

Foreword by Alejandro Portes
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 316
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Min Zhou examines how an ethnic enclave works to direct its members into American society, while at the same time shielding them from it. Focusing specifically on New York's Chinatown, a community established more than a century ago, Zhou offers a thorough and modern treatment of the enclave as a socioeconomic system, distinct form, but intrinsically linked with, the larger society.

    Zhou's central theme is that Chinatown does not keep immigrant Chinese from assimilating into mainstream society, but instead provides an alternative means of incorporation into society that does not conflict with cultural distinctiveness. Concentrating on the past two decades, Zhou maintains that community networks and social capital are important resources for reaching socioeconomic goals and social positions in the United States; in Chinatown, ethnic employers use family ties and ethnic resources to advance socially. Relying on her family's networks in New York's Chinatown and her fluency in both Cantonese and Mandarin, the author, who was born in the People's Republic of China, makes extensive use of personal interviews to present a rich picture of the daily work life in the community. She demonstrates that for many immigrants, low-paid menial jobs provide by the enclave are expected as a part of the time-honored path to upward social mobility of the family.

    In the seriesConflicts in Urban and Regional Development, edited by John R. Logan and Todd Swanstrom.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0417-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Alejandro Portes

    Chinatown: The name evokes images of an exotic world where people different from the rest of us lead secretive, mysterious lives. The excitement one experiences in stepping into these patches of urban territory comes from the paradox of finding oneself in a wholly foreign land without ever leaving home—the Orient a bus ride away. And yet these extraordinary social entities have been the subject of remarkably little sociological inquiry. Perhaps their very foreignness, their vast distance from the everyday realities of American urban life, has ruled them out as serious subjects of investigation. Chinatown is in the city, but...

  6. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  8. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Strolling along the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City, one cannot possibly miss Chinatown, one of the many old ethnic neighborhoods that has formed part of the city’s social mosaic. In Chinatown shops of all kinds are marked with signs written in Chinese characters, narrow sidewalks are crowded with vegetable stands and vendor carts, restaurant windows show rows of barbecued ribs and roast chickens and ducklings, and the air is filled with smells of dim sum¹ and other delicacies. Every day camera-toting tourists jam the busy streets, wandering about restaurants, shops, and vendor stands to try to get...

  9. 2 Memories of Sojourning
    (pp. 18-40)

    Chinese immigration to the United States dates back to the early 1840s after the Chinese defeat in the Opium War (1838–1842). The one-and-a-half-century history is fairly long in a country that is only a little more than two hundred years of age. Studies on early Chinese immigration have focused on various aspects of the life and experience of immigrant Chinese in the United States.¹ These studies have served as invaluable background sources for the study of today’s Chinese-Americans. Why did the Chinese emigrate, to start with? Was it because of the “American dream”? Without a doubt. Or was it...

  10. 3 Changes in Recent Chinese Immigration
    (pp. 41-68)

    The year 1965 was a significant milestone in the history of immigration to the United States. In that year the U.S. government revised the discriminatory immigration law to abolish the national-origin quotas that favored immigrants from northwestern Europe, predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants.¹ The United States has achieved most of its population growth in the past two hundred years, primarily through immigration. Significant waves of immigrants poured into the United States in the 1850s when the country was badly in need of labor for development and industrialization. During the first decade of this century, immigration reached a record high of 8.7...

  11. 4 Uprooted: The New Arrivals
    (pp. 69-90)

    “We finally made it to the Gold Mountain, and we are here to stay.” These words express the new attitude of many Chinese immigrants, who now seek a home and a better life in the United States rather than “gold” and a return “home” to their land of origin. Since 1965, the Chinese have ceased to be an unimportant residuum in the larger U.S. population. Their number more than tripled over the period between 1960 and 1980, reaching a record high of 812,178. Unlike the early sojourners, who were obsessed with the desire to make enough money to return home,...

  12. 5 The Rise of the Economic Enclave
    (pp. 91-118)

    Like many immigrant enclaves in American cities, New York’s Chinatown has always been stereotyped as nothing more than an immigrant ghetto—a rundown residential neighborhood or, at best, a culturally distinctive enclave. It has been thought to serve either as a springboard from which immigrants, crippled by disadvantages related to immigration, can jump into the mainstream or as a cultural center where ethnic-specific needs can be satisfied. Until mass immigration began in the mid-196os, New York City’s Chinatown had primarily been a residential enclave for first-generation Chinese-Americans with a self-sustaining, small-scale ethnic subeconomy.

    Since 1965, however, the stereotyped Chinatown has...

  13. 6 The Ethnic Labor Force and Its Labor-Market Experience
    (pp. 119-151)

    Chinatown’s booming enclave economy has transformed the community from an isolated immigrant neighborhood into one that goes beyond its original boundaries. As an increasingly large number of Chinese immigrants continue to pour into New York City bringing ample human and economic resources into the enclave, ethnic Chinese residents and businesses are no longer restricted to Old Chinatown. They are much more spread out than their predecessors, into outer-borough neighborhoods and even into the metropolitan suburbs. However, the decentralization of the Chinese population and its business activities does not seem to be accompanied by diminishing ethnic coherence or a drain of...

  14. 7 The Other Half of the Sky: Socioeconomic Adaptation of Immigrant Women
    (pp. 152-184)

    “Women hold up half of the sky.” This saying describes what is true of Chinatown’s enclave labor force. More often than not, when people think of the Chinese in the United States, they imagine railroad workers, hand laundrymen, or restaurant waiters. Women are seldom seen, or heard of, in Old Chinatown. Past studies of Chinese immigration and immigrant incorporation have often depicted female immigrants as invisible or stereotyped, even after 1965 when women began to come in large numbers. These studies have emphasized the experience of men or examined the research with little recognition that the experience of immigrant women...

  15. 8 Residential Mobility and Ethnic Segregation
    (pp. 185-218)

    Manhattan’s Old Chinatown has always been a definable, contiguous geographic locality in which the Chinese are concentrated. However, today’s Chinese are much more spread out than their predecessors. More than half of New York City’s Chinese now live in Queens and Brooklyn in growing Chinese neighborhoods. The rapid residential dispersion of the Chinese population does not seem to have been accompanied by the decline of the original enclave, however. While other ethnic enclaves, such as Little Italy, have dispersed and then dwindled in significance Chinatown has survived for more than 140 years and has retained a strong ethnic economy and...

  16. 9 Conclusion: Rising Out of Chinatown
    (pp. 219-234)

    This book tells the story of immigrant Chinese entering the United States in the past two decades and their daily struggle to gain social positions in American society. It is about how Chinatown is understood by immigrant Chinese as a positive means of adaptation to their new country. In the preceding chapters, I have analyzed and synthesized a great deal of information from the U.S. census, various published sources, and my fieldwork data, bringing them to bear on both theoretical and practical issues involving the mode of adaptation of immigrant Chinese in the United States. I argue that the enclave...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 235-250)
  18. References
    (pp. 251-264)
  19. Index
    (pp. 265-275)