Chinatown Interview: Interviewee
Chinatown Interview: Interviewer
Chinatown Interview: Date
Chinatown Interview: Language
Chinatown Interview: Occupation
Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)
Q: Today is May 24th. I’m sitting here with Chris Chan of Chinese Progressive Association, otherwise known as CPA here on 83 Canal Street. We will talk more about the asthma-related work that CPA has done the last couple of years, but first we want to get to know you, who you are. Chris, tell us a little bit about where you’re from.
Chan: Actually, I’m from Hong Kong, via Macau.
Q: In Macau?
Chan: Yes, I was born in China, but I moved to Macau when I was 2 years old. I grew up in Macau. After high school, I went to Hong Kong.
Q: Ok. Where in China are you from and why did your family move to Macau?
Chan: I’m not quite sure, but I think after the Communist took over China, my parents wanted to leave that environment. They found a way and went to Macau. I grew up in Macau and spent my childhood in Macau.
Q: So this is the 60s, the 70s, what era are we talking about?
Chan: (laugher) Yeah, probably around 1960, early 1970. After high school, I found a job in Hong Kong, then I moved to Hong Kong.
Q: In Macau, did you go to a bilingual school? Did you study Portuguese?
Chan: It was not a bilingual school, but a normal school, which was Chinese. When I was in the 10th and 11th grade, our school started having Portuguese lessons as one subject. So I did have a chance to learn some Portuguese.
Q: What was your childhood in a Portuguese colony like? So you have no impression of China, obviously since you left so young?
Chan: Yes, because Macau and China are really close, I do know what’s going on in China. The memory I still have of childhood: I remember everybody would send something back to China…
Chan: Yeah, money or goods, or they would physically bring something back China for their relatives or families. That’s very common for that period.
Q: After high school, you got a job in Hong Kong as what?
Chan: As a construction worker (laughter). In Macau, that many businesses. The main business in China is casinos.
Q: In Macau?
Chan: Yes, even now, it’s still casinos. Besides that, there’s not much else you can do. So, after I graduated from high school, it was hard to find a job. Then, I had a chance to go to Hong Kong. Any job that I can find, I’d love to do it. Finally, I got a job in the construction field.
Q: You mean manual labor kind of construction, as in building?
Chan: Yeah, building. Hong Kong has lots of high rise buildings. At that time, the real estate was a really booming business. So it was easy to find a job.
Q: This was in the 80s?
Chan: This was around late 70s to early 80s.
Q: So the real estate was really booming in Hong Kong at that time?
Chan: Right. Right. To be a construction worker, even if you don’t have the skills, they’ll hire you and train you at the work site. Learn it and practice it.
Q: In Hong Kong, why did you decide to come to America? When did you decide to come to America?
Chan: In 1984. 1984, April.
Q: What made you decide to come to America?
Chan: I had a chance to come. My sister was already here. She was married and was able to apply for us to come.
Q: So your sister sponsored you to come to America?
Chan: Right. Before that, she came here to study college. After that, she got married and got citizenship and she sponsored us to come.
Q: How old were you when you came?
Chan: I was born in 1957. So in 1984….27? Yeah, 27.
Q: So already with work experience in Hong Kong and a little bit of English. Some English skills from Hong Kong.
Chan: (laughter) uh, not quite.
Q: Not quite (laughter)?
Chan: Because in Hong Kong, I just worked and also it’s predominantly Chinese. Most people speak Chinese. Of course in Hong Kong, English is very common, but working in the lower level, most people speak Chinese. Only a few words in English and not correct pronunciation. For me, I would consider it as no English at all. I did have difficulty when I first came here, for a period.
Q: So you came straight to New York, ‘cause you already had a sister here?
What was your impression of New York City?
Chan: Um…because my sister lived in Queens. My first impression was that New York is not a modern city (laugher). Compared to Hong Kong where there’s a lot of modern building and high rises. Here, it’s all concrete buildings. Queens is almost like a suburb. And back at that time, in my area, the tallest building was six stories high (laughter).
Q: What area of Queens was this?
Chan: Kew Gardens.
Chan: It was not what I know of New York City. But of course once I visited Manhattan, it’s different. I didn’t know Manhattan that well, because three days after I landed in New York, I found a job in Chinatown (laughter). So I just deal with my daily life in Chinatown. I didn’t have a chance to see the real face of Manhattan. Everyday, I just traveled from Kew Garden to Manhattan and go back home. That’s all.
Q: What did you think you were going to do once you got to America?
Chan: I didn’t have any plans. I just needed to find a job because I needed to survive. In my pocket, I had only $60 (laughter) when I came to New York. The next day, my sister showed me how to go to Chinatown. I bought a newspaper and started calling. I was really lucky. Three days later, I found a construction job in Chinatown to do renovation.
Q: Is it similar to the sky scrappers you worked on in Hong Kong?
Chan: Not quite. Because the wall is (sheet?) rock, it’s not cement. The structure is different, but it’s okay. I feel it’s easier for me to work. It’s just a little different than in Hong Kong.
Q: So you worked for Chinese people when you came?
Q: And you didn’t have to use English too much.
Chan: No, not at all. I still remember…ah…once around my house, I walked on the street and there were some Americans on that side, I was so really afraid that I walked on the other side (laughter).
Q: To the other side of the street?
Chan: Yeah, I was afraid to face those people. To ‘hi’ or whatever. Yeah, back at that time, I was afraid. But after about one and a half years in Chinatown, I felt that I needed to break the wall. If I decide to stay in America, I really need to learn English. I started to find those ESL classes to participate. Back at that time, I didn’t know there were any free classes, that the community provides free English classes. So I just go to those paid ESL classes. I started at the grass stage, like ABC.
Q: Very basic.
Chan: Yes, very basic. But back at that time. I still didn’t know where would provide those courses. Seems like none. When I went to join those classes, it was pretty advance for me. No bilingual teacher and I don’t know what’s going on, what they’re talking about (laughter). I still remember the first class I went to, three days later, I just dropped out. I totally did not know what’s going on. I can’t follow it. I tried to watch the news on TV, listen to the radio. Pick it up little by little. Once it hit me to really make my decision to spend time in English, it was two years later after I worked in Chinatown, after the payday, I really wanted to treat my brother to McDonald’s for a meal in midtown. But when I went there, I can’t order (laughter). They didn’t know what I’m talking about and I wanted to….
Q: This is two years after you arrived in America?
Chan: Yeah, I wanted to order a Big Mac and french fries. I kept saying ‘potato chips’ and they said ‘we don’t have it.’ Later on, we just went back to Chinatown and had dinner. After that, I really think how I can live in America for two years and I can’t go to McDonald’s to have my meal? That’s a real shame for myself. It really gave me great encourage to find ways to learn English.
Q: So two years into living in New York City and you cannot order a Big Mac and french fried meal at McDonald’s and you felt very bad….
Chan: Yeah, very bad.
Q: And you decided to study, I mean really study English.
Chan: I spent time from class to class, school to school, read newspapers. And some friends introduce me to where there are classes and if it fits into my schedule, I go. It took me a long time to overcome.
Q: So you were still working as a construction worker in Chinatown during all this time?
Chan: No, after I decided to learn English, I quit my job and found a warehouse job in midtown with an American company. I tried to get out of the Chinese community and tried to force myself into an English environment to pick up English.
Q: What did you do at this warehouse?
Chan: It was a fabric warehouse. Textile. They had different designers in their company and make those textiles and they will print and ship it to the warehouse. The other companies would go there to get the materials. My job was to cut the textile to them, how many yards they need and keep the records. A lot of tons of different designs, pattern by pattern.
Q: Did that job force you to speak English?
Chan: Yes. Yes. It was getting better. Later on, I changed a few times. But still, I finally came back to construction. I was familiar with that.
Q: The first time you came to Chinatown, those first two years, what was your impression of Chinatown?
Chan: Chinatown, at that time for me, was an enclosed separate area from outside. That’s what I feel. In Chinatown, you don’t need to speak any English. You can survive purely in Chinese. You can make your living and everything just speaking Chinese. At that time, I thought Chinatown was pretty old. The stores and restaurant, the food that was served was in old style. And the products sold in Chinatown were old in style too. In Hong Kong, you will see new things. In Hong Kong, it’s different, there’s lots of new products from different countries are flown in Hong Kong to test the market. In Chinatown, the feeling is like back in the 16th century!
Q: Very far behind Hong Kong.
Chan: Yeah, right.
Q: You felt comfortable in Chinatown?
Chan: Yes. People are friendly. A lot of Chinese are willing to help each other. That’s how I felt.
Q: You didn’t know anyone here besides your sister?
Chan: No. I did join a church in Chinatown (laugher). So I very quickly established some friendship in the church.
Q: How long did you work in the warehouse before you found your way to CPA?
Chan: The warehouse I only worked for about a year, then I switched to another job. I had a chance to find another job as an architect, prospective drawing. It was a Taiwanese company. They needed an assistant to draw the prospectives. I loved drawing ever since I was in Macau. I learned how to do it at that company. I spent one and a half year at that company. Later on, I had another chance to work in a development company as a construction development. A lot of Chinese people will buy houses, knock it down and build 3, 6 story buildings. I had a chance to work there. Later on, I started my own business as a construction company. In 1999, since real estate was not that active, I closed my company and went back to school.
Q: At what point did you become active at CPA?
Chan: Since 1989, the June 4th event after that. Not long after that, I went to City College. The first college I went was LaGuardia College. Since I was back in school and closed my company, I needed a part time job. Somebody told me that CPA had an opening for a community organizer and I just sent in my resume and started working at CPA in 1992.
Q: Before that, did you participate in any community activity at all?
Chan: I was active in the church. It was not exactly community work, but helping church members. Back to the June 4th event, I was really active in those and had a chance to know about different organizations. I started getting more interested and know more about community services. So I (became) interested in this direction.
Q: So this is really different from construction work.
Chan: Really different (chuckles). Totally different. I work in CPA, I love it. After I graduated in college—my major is art and computer graphics.
Q: What do you like about working at CPA?
Chan: CPA as a grassroots organization provides direct service to the community. It gives me a chance to really see the community and also understand their issues, problems. We can get hands-on experience on how to help them. You can see the results, how your work can reshape the community. That’s gives me a deep impact.
Q: What are some of the services that CPA offers to the community?
Chan: CPA has a number of services to the community. First is immigration rights. We have a citizenship program to help people who qualify or want to know about citizenship and procedure. We handle cases and do the follow up too. We provide English classes, citizen class. We do handle cases and also educate them about how and what they can do. Besides that, CPA is concerned with environmental issues. The Chinatown area has a lot of environmental problems, so CPA is really concerned about that and educate the community. For example, we’re concerned about lead poisoning for those old buildings. Chinatown has a lot of old buildings. Chinese people do not understand this issue, but this one you can protect if you know what’s going on. You can protect yourself. You won’t get hurt. Also the asthma issue and smoking. Smoking in the Chinese community is really popular. Youth smokers are increasing. We try to stress this in the community, especially the teenagers about smoking and second smoke.
Q: Let’s talk about one of the studies you did you, I think in 2001?
Q: 2002, you surveyed 580 people?
Q: In the Chinatown area. Tell us about that study. And where exactly were the borders? What areas did you survey?
Chan: Since 1996, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) released a report for diesel population in the Manhattan area. The report indicates that Canal Street is one of the higher polluted streets in the city. We think this is a really serious issue. We also know that CPA members and friends have asthma issues. That’s why CPA wants to find out more about the asthma issue in Chinatown area. Before that, we did some report, and got the statistics from DOH. The statistics show that the Chinatown area asthma situation for children is very low…
Q: Very low?
Chan: yes, very low. Of course this is the hospitalized rate. They get the data based on who has asthma attacks and has stayed in hospital overnight and they got this data. In Chinese community, not that many people would go to the hospital and would stay overnight.
Q: Where did you get this statistic?
Chan: DOH. Department of Health. We feel that this only shows a part of the situation. Also after 911, pollution is even worse. That’s why we have decided to do the asthma survey to find out the real face in the Chinatown area. We grouped a lot of volunteers together and researched the survey. We went out on the streets, in the park, library, and different places in the Chinatown area to do the survey. Some surveys, we can’t count it because some people that we interviewed were not living in the Chinatown area. Some of the surveys we can’t use it. Finally, we surveyed 580 families all over the Chinatown area, not in any one specific area. We found out that we saw a surprise. According to statistics, (in a) five family household, already has at least one member with asthma in the household.
Q: How did you conduct the survey? Is it just randomly asking people on the street in different public places? Did you give people a breathing test? What did you do exactly?
Chan: Random pick….
Q: Of questionnaires?
Chan: We spent about three months up setting up the questionnaires.
Q: Give me a sample of a few questions that were on this. How do you determine if someone has asthma or not?
Chan: In our survey, first we ask them where does the person live? Also, do you have a breathing problem? Do they diagnosis asthma by a doctor and when? We ask such questions.
Q: Is your study carried out in the same or similar way that EPA does that when they came out with the statistic that Chinatown is more polluted than other areas in New York City. How did they get that information? Is there a similar method that you both use? Do you know how they do it?
Chan: I forgot. When we set up the questionnaire, we got the example from, I think, the DOH and the EPA, those example.
Q: You modified it?
Chan: Yes, we modified it. Mount Sinai Hospital also conducted their own research too. We got the different ways and compared them and set up our own sample.
Q: There are lots of non profit organizations in Chinatown, why did CPA stand out and do this?
Chan: Actually I don’t know why, but it seems in the Chinatown area, we all should be concerned with environmental issue, but maybe because of funding or not that many people feel that it’s a serious issue because asthma, lead poisoning, and smoking does not have immediate effects on health. They have long term effect, not immediate. We know that these are serious issues, and we also know that asthma, lead poisoning and smoking can be controlled. If you know what’s going on, you can project yourself.
Q: Did you make a point of studying people of all different ages? You said that 580 families were surveyed, from elders to kids?
Chan: Right. If the kids were under 16 years old, we’d leave them out of the survey. The survey is for 16 and up. We went to the senior centers also to conduct survey the elders. During the survey process, we found out that not that many people understand the asthma issue, especially the elders. Most elders have the concept that asthma is a children’s problems. “Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to do anything. If they grow up, the asthma will be automatically gone.” Something along those lines. They think if you have asthma, just do some sports, jogging, run, or swim, make your body stronger and the asthma will be gone. That kind of concept. Most of them also believe that over-the-counter medicine can cure asthma if you take it consistently over a period of time, it will be gone.
Q: So it sounds there are two things here that your study shows: one is the environmental factors within Chinatown, the air quality itself…
Q: Secondly, it’s asthma and those two things are related. But for example, you mentioned elders. I imagine that because a lot of them come from China, where smoking is very a normal habit for men. And depending on where they live, if they live near a factory or in a big city like Guangzhou where the pollution is very bad, a lot of these people may have come with already a foundation for asthma, you cannot really show that they got asthma in Chinatown. Do you understand what I’m asking? How much of the problem is created here in Chinatown and how much is carried over from say China and personal health?
Chan: That’s a good question actually (laughter). In our statistic, 51.1% of asthma sufferers are teenagers. As a whole, asthma patients are 1/3 of their diagnosis of asthma is since they moved into the Chinatown area. That means that before they came to the U.S., before they came to New York, they did not diagnosis anything, but since they moved into Chinatown, especially after 911, they have breathing problems. Those symptoms came up more serious. It might be as you said, carried over from their homeland. But the facts have shown us that after September 11, the whole is getting worse. That’s the facts we saw.
The last study that was done before 911 was in 1996 by EPA?
Chan: Yes. But that one only showed diesel pollution. It’s not the whole thing, the air quality. But after September 11, I’d like to say it’s a really serious issue. I work in Chinatown. That day, I was in Chinatown. After that, I didn’t come to Chinatown for just one day. I continued to come to Chinatown everyday. I still remember I can smell the smell from the air even after Thanksgiving.
Q: So we’re talking about two months.
Chan: The first two, three weeks was terrible. Even with closed windows, everywhere, there was strong, weird smell in the air.
Q: Do you remember if the EPA did any studies, pollution studies, at that time in Chinatown as a direct result of September 11 being so near…the World Trade Center being so near Chinatown?
Chan: I heard, but I’m not sure if I remember. Yes, they did, but not in the Chinatown area. Also, after 911, people were only concerned with Chinatown from the south of Canal Street. I feel this is really funny (laughter) because what’s the difference with this boundary, the air is free flow. Actually, our office location is north of Canal. But still I can smell it everyday.
Q: So because you are by location, north of Canal, were you eligible for air filters or any of the 911 fundings?
Chan: No. No (laughter).
Q: So CPA as an organization, because of your location, did not get any 911 money?
Chan: No. No.
Q: Then how did you fund the asthma study?
Chan: I forgot the fund, but it’s a very small grant.
Q: So it was a private grant?
Chan: I think it was a private grant. CPA is mostly funded by private foundations. Government funds, we did not get that much because we are not a big organization even though we do a lot of quality work for the community. Since the budget cut from the government, we really have a hard time getting funding. We have funding for an English class right now that provides free English class. But this funding is not a 911 funding. It was from before. CPA did not get 911 funding for job training, English classes…
Q: The technical boundaries for the area that is considered Chinatown that is eligible for air filters and fundings and all that is between Canal and Pike? Is that what it is?
Chan: In that area and below. As for filters, later on, if you’re eligible, you can get it at home.
Q: Regardless of where you are?
Chan: As long as you got affected by the air. I know that a lot of people who live in Brooklyn’s Sunset part area also got it.
Q: (interruption)…Chinatown was just polluted because of the traffic. We have the Manhattan Bridge, not so far the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s just a lot of traffic congestion in this area. Diesel pollution, you were talking about earlier. So Chinatown was already bad long before 911. Has the EPA or any other environmental organizations do anything to clean up the air here? What to your knowledge has been done to address this problem?
Chan: From what I know, right now the government is not doing that much in the Chinatown area. Right now, it’s getting worse because of 911 effected the air quality and the tour buses. These private companies have tour buses that go to Boston, Washington, Philadelphia…
Q: On East Broadway?
Chan: Yeah, on East Broadway. And the casino buses on Bowery. The big tucks and big buses. Also, the bridge has non-stop construction. A lot of repairs on Canal Street. Constructions, tour buses, diesel trucks still go through the Manhattan Bridge….
Q: So all these things have nothing to do with 911? These things are just in Chinatown already?
Chan: It’s just getting worse. After 911, it’s just like coincidence. Just the whole Chinatown area is getting worse, the air quality. Getting worse and worse.
Q: When you did the study, it was over how long of a period?
Chan: We conducted in 2002 Spring and had the final results in 2002 August.
Q: So just in 6 months? Did you go back to the same families? How did you collect the information?
Chan: We didn’t do that much follow up because of manpower and we don’t have any money to do the follow up job. Right now, we’re developing an asthma project this is on- going in the Chinatown community. CPA has plans to do this better. The first thing is to do more education. Second thing is to improve the environment. The third thing is air quality monitoring. In these three directions, we’re working on. Right now, we’re applying for some grants and see if we can have funding to do it. It would be in these three directions.
Q: Education meaning educating the community, to let the residents and business, people who work and live here know what’s going on in their environment. So with the results of this study, what have you done with it? How is that used towards getting more attention or meetings with councilmen? How are you approaching on a government level so that changes can be made to address these problems?
Chan: On a government level, we’d like to see improvement of the environment. We just had some brainstorming. For example, this summer, we worked with other groups, we’d like to make a video documentary to give a rough idea of the Chinatown area air pollution. We work with a group of teenagers, give them training about this issue and what idea they come up with. We hope the 10 minute documentary tape is a tour in the Chinatown area to address those environmental issues. We also have another idea, we haven’t got a concrete idea because we have a core group to develop that. Another idea is tree count in the Chinatown area and compare that with environmentally healthy communities, things like how much green areas. If we got this done, the second step is we’d send it to the councilmen.
Q: In your study, it was mainly for asthma. You didn’t do environmental study in terms of what is in the air besides diesel after 911?
Chan: The air monitoring actually we’re getting information. We’ve already contacted field organizations that’s doing the monitoring. But it really involves technical stuff and professionals. We have ideas to work with some university professors and Phd projects to see if they have interest in finding out the air quality in the Chinatown area. But we definitely know that is not enough. That only one monitoring station on top of the post office.
Q: That’s what we have right now?
Chan: Yes, right now, that’s all we have. The street levels don’t have it. We’re going to do more research and see which groups are interested to do street level air quality.
Q: Seems to me that there are two ways, if any changes is going to come out of this. Things like traffic, and all that, that’s the city government level. But things like the tour buses, that’s a Chinese business community level. That’s not the government saying you have to park there. That’s business people who are Chinese. So do you make any efforts to approach those groups and say maybe they have to park their buses somewhere else, cause they are also contributing to the air quality problem in Chinatown.
Chan: Definitely. After we get more job done, we’d like to contact them, those business organizations and see what they can help to improve that. As for the government level, maybe after more study, we may have suggestions on which streets should turn into a one way. Those diesel trucks should detour and not go directly through Canal. But we need to do more work before we can say that.
Q: Do you think those business people are going to care? Those tour bus company on East Broadway and those casino buses, do you think they will care that in some way they’re contributing to the pollution problem in Chinatown? Or they care just about the business?
Chan: Yes, they do care about the business. But if we can find a better solution to accomplish their business and also care about the environment, that will help the tours and the community business also. It must have some mutual benefits. But if nobody see or find this mutual area, of course the situation won’t change a bit. If we spend time and research to find this mutually benefit area, it might happen.
Q: After talking to many people in the Chinatown community, I always get the feeling that they feel the government level, the city level, is not paying enough attention to Chinatown, especially after 911. But it also seems to me that the community is not really looking after itself in many ways.
Chan: In my personal opinion, those business organizations, they work their own. Or they’re only concerned with how to make the business grow instead of environment. But they do know that the bad smell, especially in the summer, everybody knows that that is a bad thing for tourism. I’d like to point out that our neighbor across one street, Little Italy, they have restaurants next to each other on the whole street, but they don’t have that smell. What did they do? How come they can do that? If we can improve it…
Q: Are you saying that Italian restaurant owners, maybe they work together better in some way than the Chinese?
Chan: I don’t know. I think somebody else should do some research. How do they handle the garbage? How do they keep the streets clean? How do they run their business without that bad smell (laughter)? After we study it, then we can see if Chinatown can adopt it. Can Chinatown do that? I think they will see that it’s good for them that if they put a little extra effort, or pay a little more attention, they can make the environment (better) and get rid of that smell. I think they’d do that because that deals with the business issue. If the front door is clean and has no smell, of course more people would come.
(Tape change. Interruption)
Q: You were saying that you were impressed with how Little Italy, who is on the same streets, Mulberry and Mott, just one block over, manages to not have the same smell that Chinatown does (laughter). I’m going to ask you something that sounds almost unethical, do you think Chinese people take pride in their environment? Because if you look at China, would you say that Chinatown is in some way a smaller scale, a small replica of China, of the way people live? Of the way people do business? The way people interact with each other? Walking through the streets, I see that many vendors have no problem just pouring everything onto the streets. Just dumping everything, all the trash onto the street. In many ways, do Chinese really look after their environment?
Chan: I’d like to say that they don’t have such concepts. That’s why we need to educate them. I think the Chinese people, the character, they don’t like to be dirty. But they don’t know what to do. No body can set up a model for them. I’d like to pick Hong Kong as a model. I remember, back in the 60s, there was a lot of garbage on the streets. But the government had a movement that encouraged people to keep the streets clean. They even created a cartoon character, a garbage bug. Then the city changed. Then people know that that’s good. In Chinatown, no body takes action, ring up the bell and take this issue seriously.
Q: You think education is one part, that they don’t understand the impact their actions can have on the environment, on the pollution.
Chan: Yes. They don’t have the plans to tell them what to do. Not only to educate them about the concept of keeping the environment clean is good for them, but what to do and how do it. Personally, I’ve been wondering, just across the street, Little Italy is a totally different area. We can spend time and study and see how Chinatown can adopt it or find a better way to do it.
Q: Is there any dialogue with the Little Italy community to see how they keep things cleaner?
Chan: I didn’t work in this field, so I don’t know personally. But I do know there are groups who are really concerned about the environment, not only us, like Clean Up Chinatown. They formed this group as a special concern group of street cleaning in Chinatown. Probably they would better than me.
Q: I think I read in your studies that one of the causes is cockroaches.
Q: As we know, Chinatown has a lot of restaurants and lots of homes above restaurants and it’s impossible to keep those buildings cockroach free whenever you have restaurants below. Do you think there’s a connection between the number of asthma sufferers in Chinatown and the fact that so much of Chinatown relies of restaurant business?
Chan: I don’t know. I won’t say that it’s related because the trigger for each asthma patient may be different. It’s not only the cockroaches that trigger or smell. Sometimes, it may be smoking. Sometimes maybe perfumes. No matter what, I would like to say that it contributes to the pollution in the environment. Also this one can be controlled and can be changed.
Q: Cockroaches can be controlled? Is that what you mean?
Chan: No, the whole. Yep. Even the cockroaches can be, to a certain extent (laughter). They just need to pay a little more attention. It’s possible to do it.
Q: You said in your survey that you found one out of five people….
Chan: Households. One out of five households.
Q: Or one person out of five household?
Chan: No. Five families has one family.
Q: One family out of five.
Chan: Yes, at least in the household has one who suffers from asthma.
Q: And this is much higher than what the Department of Health defines as asthma sufferer, which is someone who has been hospitalized overnight. You’re saying that a lot of Chinese people suffer from asthma, but they don’t spend time in a hospital.
Chan: Because Chinese has the habit of relying on over-the-counter medicines, which are imported from China.
Or maybe herbal medicine?
Chan: Yeah, maybe herbal medicine. In those Chinese drugstores, you can find different medicine for head to toe. It would cover your whole body (laughter). Even if you lost your hair, take this one, or whatever. You name it, they have it. Whether it works or not, it’s hard to say. Most Chinese would take them. That’s a habit dating back to China. If they have a problem, the first thing is they would go to the drugstore, instead of going to a doctor. They go to the drugstore to find modern or herbal medicine to cure that part of the problem, and if that doesn’t work, then try another few things. If afterwards, they keep getting worse and worse, then they have no choice but to go to the doctor. So the doctor for them is not a priority. The priority is those over-the-counter medicine.
Q: There is a perception then for Chinese people that asthma is not as serious as it is. Something that they think will just go away when they get older.
Chan: Yes. So they don’t treat asthma as a serious issue, like smoking. Everybody smokes, what’s the big deal? Why make it sound like a monster? We need to change the concept. We also work on smoking. Most people don’t know that just one cigarette contains how many substances. If they know that it contains over 4,000 chemicals that would harm their body, I think they would deeply think would they want to pick up a cigarette and light it up? They don’t have a chance to know. That’s why we take education as a first step.
Q: To your knowledge, does the EPA or other agencies, conducting air quality or air pollution studies in Chinatown on a continuous basis to see if after September 11 rally has introduced some new unknown elements in the air in this area?
Chan: From my memory, I don’t know. The EPA did a study on air quality, but they did not release any data.
Q: Aside from CPA, which is a small organization, aside from what you’re doing on your own, what else do you think, what can the EPA do better? What can other organizations do to address this problem? This is a major problem in this area that I think requires a lot of groups working together to deal with it, from the traffic to cleaning….a whole lot of things combined.
Chan: CPA is taking steps to work with other groups. Hopefully this connection will grow. Get more organizations involved, interested in this area and issues. CPA does not work on our own, but we try to cooperate with other organizations. For example, CPA worked with six different hospitals, work together and let them know about the concerns of Chinatown. We’d also like to work with bigger groups, like the coalitions, see if they’re interested and help on it.
Q: It would be interesting now, over two years later since 911, to be able to track and see if…well, we know the air quality has certainly gotten worse since 911, but you really don’t have a clear idea whether there’s a lot more asthma victims or what other potential health issues could result from the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Chan: So far, no. We do a lot of work, but because we’re small in manpower, the whole picture is still a fog. In order to get a clear picture, we need to get more organizations involved. That’s what we hope and are working on.
Q: How aware do you think or how concerned is the average Chinese person in Chinatown about all of this? If you’re a new immigrant, you come to America or New York, most likely you’ll come to Chinatown, probably for work or something else. Do you think they think “Ah, the air is bad there, maybe I shouldn’t live there?” Do you think that crosses an average Chinese person’s mind?
Chan: No. Our location is on Canal and close to East Broadway, that’s where a lot of new immigrants, like the Fujianese, live. We work with a lot of Fujianese, documented and undocumented. The first thing in their mind is totally not environmental issue. They need to struggle for their living, so the first thing is to make money. How to settle down, get a better life. A very common issue is they send their kids back to the homeland in China in order for the mother to be able to work. That’s a very sad story. Their main concern is how to make money and how to make more money (laughter). There’s a lot of sad stories. The environmental problems do not cross their mind, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t tell them. We try our best, through different channels, to educate them. At least how to protect themselves in their daily lives.
Q: Give us a few examples of how people here can protect themselves. One, obviously is to not smoke.
Chan: For example, they didn’t know that smoking is that harmful and second hand smoke too. They don’t have such concept, because in China, it’s not a big deal. Everybody does it, at home or whatever. So we tell them the real situation. We ask them if they really need to smoke, if they do, then at least leave the room. If they (smokers) can’t, then you leave the room. Also, lead poisoning, especially in old buildings, they should know don’t open the fire escape windows. The window shields, peeling paints, you should pay more attention. The cockroach problems that you mentioned before, they just need to pay a little more attention. The two bridges in Chinatown, Manhattan and Williamsburg, have heavy lead dust in that area. People who live around that area should pay more attention. Don’t open the window. Use air filters or air conditioning at home.
Q: It sounds like you have a lot more work to do. First step is you need to get funding to continue the studies. Then once you have all the results, you’re hoping to connect with various groups within Chinatown, as well as city and government levels.
Chan: Right now, CPA is a member for different mainstream coalitions. For example, New York Immigration Coalitions, Asian American Federations, and New York Stop Smoking Coalitions. We’d like to bring the different groups together and hopefully in the future solve the problems in the Chinatown area.
Q: Okay, it sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you (laughter). I wish you much luck with all of that.
Chan: Actually, it’s not just me doing it or CPA doing it. CPA has a lot of volunteers. I’d like to give a high credit to those volunteers, from the English class, to the citizenship class, to the environmental issues. Every time, those volunteer contribute their time, they really care about the community, they work together and get the job done.
Q: We’ll talk about one last thing. There been various hearings about the system of the streets set up by the EPA, if you’re above Canal Street, you don’t get certain aides. Can you just give me an idea if this is a silly idea? It obviously doesn’t work to section off areas that way.
Chan: Right, definitely. EPA right now is very good with providing free home testings for those effected by 911 to check their homes’ air quality. But it’s not enough. As you said, it’s only below Canal Street. It cuts Chinatown in half.
Q: And air flows everywhere (laughter).
Chan: Right. It’s good, but not enough. Personally, I feel more. Not more free home tests. It’s like taking aspirin for a headache. It doesn’t really treat the main source. The main thing is outside, the air quality. I hope EPA thinks more about the outside quality. How to improve the area. The Chinatown area is largest residential area close to Ground Zero. Not only Chinese live in this area, but mixed people. The residents who live in this area is the frontier victims from 911. Those funding should be more concerned about this area or do more. But how to do and what to do, I think they should study more. Like some streets can be blocked totally for walking. No commercial traffic in residential area. I think this may help the pollution. The whole traffic system can be re-planned in the Chinatown area. Right now, the population is growing. No matter what, they should do more study and find a better solution for this area.
Q: It’s going to be very challenging I’m sure ‘cause all these problems did not happen over night. It’ll take a lot of efforts from a lot of organizations to make some good and permanent changes. I thank you and CPA for taking an active role and getting people to be more educated and doing your part. Thank you personally for your time and CPA for the work that you’re doing. Is there anything else you’d like to add that we have not talked about?
Chan: No. No (light laugher).
Q: Thank you very much. My name is Lan Trinh.
[end of session]
Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)
<p>陳：我不負責這些事情，因此我本人不清楚。但我知道除了我們以外還有其他一些組織比較關注環保問題，比如Clean Up Chinatown。鑒於對唐人街街道清潔問題的關注，他們特別成立了這個組織。也許他們比我們做了更多的事情。</p>