Annie Ling’s photos were was featured in a New York Times slideshow today, focusing on Chinese residents of the 81 Bowery tenement who occupy 64 square foot cubicles, with room for little more than a mattress. Some tenants have been there for over a decade, and make up the neighborhood’s kitchen workers, laborers, and elders.
While living in Manhattan’s Chinatown, I continually saw hipsters and other cultural tourists stick their cameras in the faces of residents for their latest exotic art project and whatnot. It’s refreshing to see respectful photojournalism about elderly and low income Asian folks that demonstrates sensitivity to the reality and resilience of their daily lives, and makes a connection to important community issues.
Annie Ling’s website includes more excellent portfolios related to Chinatown tenants. “Shut In” concerns migrant worker elders who, due to poverty and poor health, live in indoor isolation. “Tenements” was shot after a tragic fire broke out in a St. James St. building where Ling lived — killing two and making over 200 homeless. This was only one of a series fires over the past couple years — many of which I remember seeing the flames or smelling the smoke — that have devastated hundreds of Chinatown families and businesses. Often, these buildings had several fire violations and were poorly maintained.
81 Bowery has also had problems with fire hazard and unsafe living conditions, which resulted in the City’s sudden eviction of over 50 residents in 2008. CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was able to mobilize actions to get the tenants back in the building and advocate for safer tenements.
Unfortunately this isn’t an isolated incident, but had occurred in at least 6 other buildings within the 6-month period, and is part of the larger context of increasing gentrification in Chinatown (as well as countless other urban neighborhoods) , which incentivizes displacement of low-income, indigenous residents and new constructions and renovations to bring in higher-paying renters. CAAAV released a report in 2008 which found that 75% of Chinatown residents had experienced some form of landlord harassment or received a serious housing violation within the previous year. To learn more about CAAAV’s work to preserve Chinatown as a community for working class Asian immigrants through their Chinatown Justice Project, go here.
Thanks Char Char!