May 10, 2016

Our Heritage, Our History Part 2: Portland Chinese-American Displacement and Migration

By Mei Tsai

In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, APANO is bringing our audience content all month-long, all centered on the theme of Building Power. Each week will see a different topic, with each one connected by our central theme. This week’s topic: Anti-Displacement. This post is the second of a two-part series. The first part can be found here

The Jade District is at a critical moment in the city’s development plans. The city of Portland, TriMet, Metro, and other city agencies have several plans in the works that will permanently change the Jade District. Some of these plans involve adding new public transportation lines, as well as building more housing and business space.

Urban change and building booms are not unique or new to the city of Portland. Building booms in the 1880s and between 1900-1915 targeted streets that bordered on or ran through old-town Chinatown. Many Chinese residents lost their places of business and their homes because their places of business and their homes were specifically targeted for demolition. In the 1940s, Portland experienced another building boom – this time building housing for workers moving to Portland to work in the factories and shipyards. As a result of the influx of people, housing had to be built rapidly, and transportation and other public services had to be developed quickly. In addition to having much of northeast Portland redeveloped, many development projects in the city involved removing buildings owned by Chinese residents in Chinatown.

In the 1970s and 1980s, “urban renewal” was the buzz phrase. During this time, the city of Portland wanted to “improve” Chinatown. Some at the Bureau of Planning (now known as Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability) expressed a concern that Chinatown would completely disappear as a result of urban renewal: “The earlier Chinatown district has already been replaced by new buildings and parking lots adjacent to the downtown waterfront.” By then, very few residents, let alone Chinese residents, lived in Chinatown. Additionally, immigrants from China and Hong Kong were settling in neighborhoods with a stronger Asian immigrant and API presence- which were often the neighborhoods in Portland’s east side or within the metro area. This presence in those neighborhoods was visible through the development of small number of grocery stores and restaurants catering to the immigrants from Asian countries.

Later, in the 1990s and 2000s, development of the Pearl District ushered in another wave of rising property values and rents in the area. Businesses and residents still residing in Chinatown could no longer afford the rates and moved out – and many moved to the east side near 82nd and Division. In 2005, Hung Far Low, Portland’s oldest Chinese restaurant, moved from NW 4th and Couch to the corner of SE 82nd and Division. (It closed in 2015.) Some restaurants opened directly on SE 82nd, such as Wong’s King in 2004. In 2011, Fubonn opened in the space Portland Community College previously occupied.

Often, the result of property development (and the ordinances or laws tied to property development: allowances, rules, or zoning requirements) is displacement. This pattern can be seen from the early days of Portland’s existence and into today. Although we do not read laws today that explicitly discriminate against a particular ethnic group, it is clear that many rules in “development” and “urban renewal” affect ethnic communities and people of color the most: as the benefits of development rarely reach these communities yet they experience the greatest harm or loss from such development. The Jade District and its residents are no exception.

APANO’s work with the Jade District has been centered on development without displacement. To support this work, consider donating to APANO so we can continue our work based on our anti-displacement values. As if that was not a good enough reason, as awardees of the Coulter Foundation, all donations to APANO at $100 or more will be matched dollar for dollar- that means you can double your gift and extend its impact!

To follow APANO during heritage month, use hashtags #APIsBuildingPower and #AAPIHM, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter: @APANONews.