Sheridan Su

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Born and Raised.....

(Chinatown Los Angeles)
Chinatowns around the world were started in the 1800's. In the US, these neighborhoods were started by immigrants who were brought over to build railroads.
Whenever I hear the word "Chinatown", I always get wonderful feelings of nostalgia. After all, I was born and raised in Chinatown (LA). I was born in 1982 in the old French hospital (Pacific Alliance Medical Center is the current name), across the street from Castelar Elementary School, which I attended from pre-school until the 6th grade. My family immigrated to Taiwan during the Cultural Revolution in 1949. My mom's side of the family is from Shandong, China. When my mom arrived in to the US, she got a job at the Golden Palace, which was a couple blocks away from Castelar. It was a mega multi leveled restaurant, and if memory serves me right, was the size of a couple football fields. It was here where I recieved my first introduction to restaurants and its cooking. I can go on and on talking about food, so it's best that I save it for another time.

Growing up, I fell in love with the sounds, sights and aromas of this Chinese neighborhood. It was all I knew, but I felt a deep connection to the land. It was a feeling of connection that strung all the way to the homeland and to my ancestors. It has kept me close to my roots, while growing up in a major American city.
I remember the markets and the streets of Broadway, College, and Alpine and playing ball at the recreation center. I still remember running around the streets of Chung King Road with my friends. There was the wishing well at Central Plaza where everyone threw pennies into. I remember the Chinese school, the talented lion dancers practicing for the upcoming New Year's Celebration, and trying to get through the weekends at a family friend's gambling parlor. I remember the smells of fresh baked and steamed breads each morning while walking to school. I also remember the liquor shop where I used to buy baseball cards and then hung around with the shop owner for hours at a time, hoping to finally meet his daughter. (She was a Lakers Girl, and even then, I was a fanatic for the team.) To me, this neighborhood was the size of the world, yet small enough where people walking into shops knew each other by name.

(Common business found in Chinatowns: open fish market, bakery, Cantonese style BBQ, and a variety of street food)
Although I had continued going to school in Chinatown's Castelar until the 6th grade, my mom made the move to Monterey Park, CA (near the 60 fwy) when I was 5 yrs old. Located in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, the city is considered the first suburban Chinatown in the world. When I moved to Monterey Park in 1986, my neighborhood was predominantly white and hispanic. Looking back, it was interesting to see how the neighborhood and the city transformed into what it is today.
I've always lived in or close to Chinese neighborhoods, whether it was in Chinatown LA to Monterey Park, NYC: Manhatten's Mott Street to Flushing, Queens or Boston's and the Las Vegas' Chinatown. I have always been attracted to these neighborhoods. I loved the chaos and its energy. It was being close to the familiar and always felt like "home".

(Dolores Street, Mexico City's Chinatown)
There is a Barrio Chino here in Mexico City, however it is not quite satisfactory. This is the first time in my life where a place didn't feel like "home". There are no Chinese bakeries here, or Cantonese BBQ or ladies pushing dim sum carts. Noodle shops are non existent, and so is authentic cooking, for that matter.
I spent Chinese New Year at Barrio Chino, and ended up being photographed with my fiance multiple times, by tourists and locals for being the only Chinese people in town. I spent part of the day watching celebrations back home on the internet, and somewhat wishing I could have been a part of it all. There is no doubt that this is Chinatown, but it is very unfamiliar to me. It looked like home, but didn't sound, smell, or feel like it. I wanted this to be my Barrio Chino. However, this isn't my Chinatown. This isn't my "home", but it is somebody else's. Some days, I miss my "home". Today, being one of those days. If you feel me, why don't you throw out one of those virtual hugs.

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