Manhattan Chinatown Urges Newark to Commemorate Its Own

Newark’s Chinatown once boasted a language school. (Photo courtesy of Newark Public Library via World Journal)

The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA), a major community-based organization in Manhattan’s Chinatown and seven large member organizations and an additional 12 member organizations decided at their monthly meeting on March 27 to sign a petition calling for the city of Newark to build a monument on the location where the Newark Chinatown used to be. The organizations believe that, as one of the earliest Chinatowns in the country, the Newark Chinatown, although long gone, should be identified as a landmark for the history of Chinese Americans.

Eric Ng, president of the CCBA, said the petition was initiated by Yoland Skeete, who runs the Newark Chinatown History project at the Sumei Multidisciplinary Arts Center in Newark, an organization Skeete co-founded in 1993 to connect communities in Newark with artists around the world. It calls for the city of Newark to erect a monument to honor Chinese Americans in New Jersey and Chinese veterans at the Mulberry Commons, a public park that is now under construction. All together, 20 organizations in Manhattan’s Chinatown signed the petition.

Ng said despite the fact that many Chinese live in New Jersey today, there is no established Chinatown in the state that’s comparable to the ones in New York and other cities with large Chinese populations. But more than a century ago, the Newark Chinatown was not only large, but also the first one established on the East Coast. For Chinese immigrants who entered the U.S. via the East Coast, it was the place where most of them settled down at first.

A scene in Newark’s Chinatown. (Photo courtesy of the Newark Public Library via World Journal)

“My grandfather landed in Newark too when he came to the U.S.,” said Ng. “Most of the people living in the Newark Chinatown then had the same last name as mine.”

According to Skeete’s research, the earliest Chinese settlers in Newark were 68 unskilled laborers who arrived in the city in 1870. They worked in a steam laundromat. Some locals were unfriendly toward the Chinese and protested against the newcomers. By 1922, the population of Chinese living in Newark exceeded 3,000, and Mulberry Street between Edison Street and Walnut Street had formed the third largest Chinatown in the country, after the ones in San Francisco and Manhattan.

But as the second and third generations of Chinese professionals moved out of Chinatown, and following the Newark riots in 1967, the local Chinatown started shrinking until it disappeared completely. The busy area that many Chinese immigrants called home is now the Prudential Center and Mulberry Commons, a sprawling public park the city has been building.

Skeete, who is one-quarter Chinese, has been compiling and studying the history of the Newark Chinatown since the late 1990s. In the petition, she said the Newark Chinatown has significant historical value. It represents roots for many Chinese immigrants. A monument should be erected to commemorate the history.

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