In response to the controversial #OmerFast “August” exhibit that depicts a Chinatown storefront pre-gentrification, I shared this speech yesterday at a Chinatown rally to Say Goodbye to Omer Fast’s Racist Show at James Cohan Gallery, hosted by the Chinatown Art Brigade and Decolonize This Place. I shared as a resident of Chinatown and as a Chinatown Tenants Union member of CAAAV- Organizing Asian Communities. I also shared a condensed version of the speech in Cantonese to Chinese press, which is below the English text:
In June 2011, New York Magazine called the street I grew up on, one block north of here on Broome, the smelliest block in NYC. My neighbors, neighboring businesses, and Chinatown quickly became laughingstocks. Of course, shortly after the article came out, the city came and fixed the sewers, and with that fix went much of the smell. It was never Chinatown residents at fault.
The media has always reinforced the idea that Chinatown is squalid, and its people primitive. That pre-gentrified Chinatown was run-down, broken, and needed to be fixed by gentrification. The idea is that new businesses and art galleries should replace and supposedly beautify those spaces.
This art gallery adds to this narrative of Chinatown- it is one more addition to the hundreds of years of abuse, harassment, and attack against Chinatowns and Chinese American people. It is a direct threat to my neighbors and community.
I moved back to my hometown after five years in Chicago to again be a part my communities’ full vibrancy and humanity. Chinatown created a space for my family, my community, and myself to be fully Chinese and American. There are very few places in the world with this vibrancy- and we as tenants are here to protect that community and others like it.
As a teacher in Sunset Park, I teach my students not just to love reading and math, but to love their languages and their cultures. I work with parents, families, and communities in their languages, in Chinese and Spanish. I come to their community centers, their storefronts and businesses. We learn together not just to be tolerant of, but respect and appreciate cultures other than our own. THAT is a gesture to community. A gallery coming to a neighborhood, pushing a racist vision of Chinatown on Chinatown? That is an insult.
I implore the James Cohan Gallery, Omer Fast, and all the people who come into Chinatown- you are welcome here, but do better. Listen to the people who live here. Do not contribute to the loss of businesses and homes that have devastated our community. We are not your puppets to mock, nor your props to make money off of. We are, and will continue to be, one of the most vibrant communities in New York City. We are here to stay.
Here is the condensed Cantonese version I read aloud to Chinese press. (Forgive if there are grammatical or vocabulary errors, as this is the first speech I’ve ever written in Cantonese, written with help from a fellow Chinatown Tenants Union member.)
你地好。 我係譚歡欣。 我今年28歲。我更Brooklyn唐人街做老師。 我在紐約唐人街出生，又在芝加哥住過五年。再搬返紐約，係希望多的識，瞭解，同埋認識中國個文化同埋歷史。
我給我嘅學生上課既時候我會介紹呢中國既文化，歷史，同埋佢地既藝術，同埋地理知識。同樣 講偈咗使比亞既文化地理知識。我讓佢哋從小認識到 文化差異學會理解和尊重。