Critical Conservation of Chinese-American Culture: The story of Los Angeles’s five Chinese neighborhoods

Chinatown souvenir store

Collage of identities at a Chinatown souvenir store

by Hao Ding (MDes, ’17)

In this project, I study the differences between Los Angeles’s Chinatown community and San Gabriel Valley Chinese community in their histories, demographics, and the ways through which culture and identity are expressed in each place. Although both are Chinese communities, they have evolved into very different places through different processes under different socio-political circumstances.

Through this project, I intend to question the meaning of the Chinese-American identity to these two communities and ground the issue of historic and cultural conservation in an understanding of power politics. These issues are very relevant to the social justice regarding ethnic minority populations in the United States and also many other countries. The ways through which historic and cultural heritages are constructed and used in these two places reveal underlying forces that have been shaping the built environment as well as affecting people living in these neighborhoods.

I combine field observation, historic and archival research together with current spatial patterns and public policies to understand issues of demographic composition, racial discrimination as well as identities and cultures.

I conclude that historic narratives and cultural heritages have been constructed to exoticize, discriminate, and exclude the Chinese-American community who still lack political power despite their growing economic power.

Chinese American home
Domestic spaces vs. regulated architectural designs, Chinese American homes in San Gabriel Valley