Theses Master's

“Invisible History” Of The Chinese Americans’ “Economic Lifelines”: Spatial Interpretations Of The Pillar Industries Of The Chinese American Community In Manhattan’s Chinatown, 1930s - 1980s

Sun, Weijie

The development of the Chinese American immigrant community in Manhattan's Chinatown has left behind an important history belonging to the ethnic group. Under the influence of multiple factors, the immigrant community has utilized existing spaces in unique ways. For example, over the course of a century within the Chinatown community, ordinary residential, commercial, and industrial buildings supported pillar industries such as the laundry industry, the garment industry, and various food-related sectors. However, in present day Chinatown's streetscapes, it is difficult to find traces of the existence of those industrial spaces, and it's also hard to imagine how production activities took place within the ordinary buildings. Although various historical documents and archival materials were kept and recorded, they do not manifest in the physical space, the disconnection between history and spaces has made the history 'invisible' and somewhat underrepresented.

This research aims to meticulously select representative buildings and blocks as subjects for case studies, encompassing the timeframe from the 1930s to the 1980s. The focus will be on the period when Chinese American industries were managed by trade associations or unionized, coinciding with significant transitions in immigrant policies within the community. Through a comprehensive exploration of historical narratives and spatial characteristics, this study will delve into the significance of these historical buildings and will address the inadequate attention given to those spaces related to the community's social history and culture. Simultaneously, the research will explore preservation tools and narrative methods to effectively convey the history of the community's industries through spatial representation, making these historical narratives more accessible and prominent.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Pieper, Richard D.
Dolkart, Andrew S.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
May 29, 2024