Chatham Square Midterm

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  • 1. Vanessa Castanier Solana Ma IDC: Midterm Part III Chinatown’s Chatham Square Library The Chatham Square Library is located on 33 East Broadway between Catherine Street and Market Street. It is actually snuggly fit between an Oriental Stationery shop and a food shop and restaurant. This library first opened in 1903 and was designed by an architectural firm known as McKim, Mead, and White (2). This monumental structure is a four story building consisting of: a basement, home to an archive about the Chinese heritage, a ground floor, composed of a variety of literature and technology for young adults and adults, a second floor, overflowing with colorful picture books and graphic novels for young children, and the third floor, which is open space used for events and programs for the community. The library has a pillared façade that makes it stand out from the rest of the buildings on this block. The large majority of the people entering and exiting the building are Chinese. The Chatham Square Library is known to be one of the busiest libraries in Chinatown. This library serves a wide range of ages, from young pre-kindergarten children to the white-haired elderly. Because it caters to such a large assortment of people, many events are held in the third floor open space. A majority of the events focus on the culture of China, such as a Chinese Film Series event, “Music from China”, and “The Story of the Monkey King” (1). Other events include teaching English as a second language, magic shows, tutoring, story time and so forth. It seems as if the community, no matter what age is, has been brought together in this one building (4). One famous quote that became well known and commonly used was, “Coming to
  • 2. America is like seeking the golden mountain.” This refers to the opportunities that the Chinese immigrants saw in this new land. Coming to America gave them a chance to prosper and become rich. A film called Golden Mountain on Mott Street, which was made about this immigration period, is often shown in the library. The film portrays the hardships in the 1960s, as Chinese immigrants were having difficulty adjusting to a new life in New York (3). At the same time, they as they continued to maintain connections with their families, the library became a place of aid and comfort. One example of unity with this Chinatown community was the plan to raise money to keep the Chatham Square Library open on Saturdays. The community united as one and raised $18,000 to keep the library open for an extra day. According to Louise Lareau, a current children’s librarian we interviewed, Saturday is the library’s busiest day. She told us that this location was a “destination branch”, which meant that people from all over the tri-state come to borrow and return library materials. She acknowledges this feat could not be done without the assistance of the enormous heritage collection in the basement (5). The heritage collection consists of newspapers from different towns in China, movies made by famous Chinese directors from the beginning of the film industry to now, books written by notable Chinese philosophers and authors. The collection does not gear itself to a specific age group or town; it is open to children, with videos about fables to the elderly, who want to hear about their hometowns (5). Another example of unity is the sense of culture and tradition that the Chinese continue to maintain despite being away from their hometown. As we looked for files about the Chatham Library, we noticed that a majority of newspaper clippings were from different areas of China. Not only were there local newspapers, there were also postcards,
  • 3. pamphlets, and magazines sent from different organizations in China, who wanted their friends and families to find them and stay updated with their news. The library also holds events once in a whole, where a prominent figure in Chinatown comes to visit and talks to everyone for a bit. In doing so, the library keeps all its users connected with the constant changing world outside. There was a Chinatown Project teaching Chinese heritage in 1973, where many students were provided with information about their Asian American heritage at this library. The goal was to raise awareness of Asian American youth’s own identity. A variety of photos, films, songs, and storytelling were offered to teach these students. Many community members volunteered at this event to promote Asian interest and awareness (6). One such volunteer was Jeff Jung Ho, who told a Chinese fairytale about Pan-Ku, a man who had powers to make rain and mountains. Jeanie Chin was another volunteer who taught about kites – their meaning and how to make them. Susan Yung was an assistant who shared her sewing talent – teaching the art of crocheting. The program invited anyone who was interested in sharing their traditions, talents, and knowledge with children for two hours a Saturday (6). In our research, we also found that in 1985, there was a problem with the classification of books at the library. Many people complained about the difficulty of locating Chinese characters since the reference books were translated to English and did not follow the Pin Yin system. Chinese characters are made up of strokes and each character has its own meaning and sound. Because the characters could not be phonetically translated into a simpler Chinese form, the system of Pin Yin was created (11). This system translated the characters into the current Roman alphabet. This way, it
  • 4. was easier to order books and other material – making it more accessible to the public. The Chinese community wanted improvements in their library and succeeded by demanding more hours, which would give them more time to visit and take advantage of the great resources available. In addition repairs were made to the library in April 1985. The building was becoming too old and possibly hazardous to all those who worked and visited this branch. Through community efforts, the Chatham Square Library was granted permission to remodel by the New York Public Library system. Those who needed access to the Chatham Square library were directed to the Seward Park Library, farther down East Broadway. From our research about the Chatham Square Library, it is obvious that a sense of community is extremely strong. The Chinese set up goals and work together to accomplish them in a fashion that not only succeeds, but also teaches the youth, the future of America, about the past traditions and culture.