MAY 4th • CHINATOWN MANHATTAN
We met Jhon in Columbus Park among the older Chinese men and women playing cards and Mah Jong despite the drizzly weather. A writer, Jhon was going to be working on new material. We encouraged him first to take a walk for an hour throughout Chinatown to take in his context before meeting us at the American Legion on Canal St.
We were warmly greeted by Gabe and Shawn at the Legion post, who showed us around and whisked us a few blocks away through the rain to the Sons of the Legion group, huddled under a tent giving out American flags. Gabe was concerned there wasn’t going to be enough going on at the Legion, but we assured him just the space itself, imbued with all it is, can be the perfect thing for a writer. Here’s Jhon’s post:
There are many ways to be an American.
I’m writing from the American Legion in Chinatown. I usually take naps while writing, but here they keep me up. A Chinese woman showed me where the coffee was every time she saw me dozing off. I guess I had to be always ready in the American Legion. I’m very thankful for their hospitality.
Post Script: A reflection on the flag. This American Legion post was created after WWI like many other American Legions, built after the World Wars. This post, unlike most yet not singularly, holds the rare position of holding space for a legacy of war time veterans once excluded from the very shores it fought for. A series of acts and treaties were on the books starting in 1882. Colloquially known as the Chinese Exclusion act, each one pertaining to the ethnic exclusion of Chinese laborers and people. Not until December of ‘43 were 105 Chinese people allowed to enter per year– opening the door for Chinese male immigrants, if they made it in, to fight baring stripes and stars. Not until the abolishment of direct racial barriers (Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952), and later the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, was the National Origins Formula abolished and with it Chinese exclusion.
And if you have not read up on your ninth grade history (or maybe Zinn) in a while, I recommend reading up on this one: the National Origins Formula was an American system of immigration quotas, used between 1921 and 1965, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the population. It aimed to reduce the overall number of unskilled immigrants (especially from Southern Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia), to allow families to re-unite, and to prevent immigration from changing the ethnic distribution of the largely Protestant Northwestern European-descended United States population. (Thanks Wikipedia)
Sound Familiar? 1965 was not that long ago. For me, my parents generation; for many, your own.
This group holding the American flag… waving a particular pride. One that I relate to with a different charm– one that bares equally, if not more, a pride of belonging, of being allowed to belong.