Forever Struggle

Activism, Identity, and Survival in Boston’s Chinatown, 1880–2018

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Michael Liu

Chinatown has a long history in Boston. Though little documented, it represents the city’s most sustained neighborhood effort to survive during eras of hostility and urban transformation. It has been wounded and transformed, slowly ceding ground; at the same time, its residents and organizations have gained a more prominent voice over their community’s fate.

In writing about Boston Chinatown’s long history, Michael Liu, a lifelong activist and scholar of the community, charts its journey and efforts for survival—from its emergence during a time of immigration and deep xenophobia to the highway construction and urban renewal projects that threatened the neighborhood after World War II to its more recent efforts to keep commercial developers at bay. At the ground level, Liu depicts its people, organizations, internal battles, and varied and complex strategies against land-taking by outside institutions and public authorities. The documented courage, resilience, and ingenuity of this low-income immigrant neighborhood of color have earned it a place amongst our urban narratives. Chinatown has much to teach us about neighborhood agency, the power of organizing, and the prospects of such neighborhoods in rapidly growing and changing cities.

Cover design by John Barnett |
Cover photo by Douglass Brugge, Elderly with Megaphone. Courtesy of the Chinese Progressive Association.


Preface & Acknowledgments

List of Abbreviations

A Chinatown Walk

Chapter 1
Bands of Brothers Build Community, 1880–1941

Chapter 2
A Neighborhood Moves through Unfamiliar Times, 1942–1974

Chapter 3
The Neighborhood in a World-Class City, 1974–1983

Chapter 4
Chinatown Joins the Revolt of the Neighborhoods, 1975–1983

Chapter 5
Limits of the Populist Growth Coalition, 1984–1989

Chapter 6
“To Be or Not to Be” for the Parcel C Garage, 1990–1993

Chapter 7
Leading against the Growth Machine, 1993–1998

Chapter 8
Building New Alliances, 1999–2007

Chapter 9
Bubble, Trouble, and Testing a New Vision, 2008–2014

Chapter 10
Chinatowns and Ethnic Survival in a Globalized World

Making the Road by Walking