Activities: Context Activities
Locking the Gates: The City within the City
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 Arnold Genthe, Street of the Gamblers (by day) (1898), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-3890].
The "city within the city" has long been understood to mean urban enclaves with names like Little Italy, Chinatown, the Barrio, or Boystown. The literature included in this unit contains richly descriptive accounts of such communities, including Maxine Hong Kingston's Chinatown, Sandra Cisneros's Chicano neighborhoods, and Leslie Feinberg's queer district. These authors' characters, like their real-life counterparts, have found acceptance, cultural touchstones, and inspiration in these communities.
In recent years, however, while many of these ethnic, racial, or identity-based communities have continued to thrive, another definition of the "city within the city" has begun to take hold, inspired by another striking urban division: the economic imbalance between the "haves" and the "have-nots." Disparities in income have delineated new cities within the city with boundaries defined not by identity markers so much as by widely varying living conditions and opportunities. Like Disney World, a self-enclosed, sanitized, comfortable space that provides everything its visitors need--food, shelter, entertainment, and, perhaps most importantly, security--new urban designs promoted by the wealthy and sometimes billed as "urban renewal" seemingly offer many benefits: meeting places, museums, restaurants, arts, and diversions. But these ostensible improvements mask the growing economic disparity between the rich and the poor and often physically displace the poor from their homes.
In many cities, including Los Angeles and New York, physical barriers literally separate the classes, creating fortresses that insulate the "safe" areas from "dangerous" ones. As urban theorist Mike Davis sees it, the "pleasure domes" of new malls, apartment complexes, office buildings, and art centers depend upon the "social imprisonment of the third-world service [workers] who live in increasingly repressive ghettoes and barrios." While ambition and creativity are still evident in these economically depressed neighborhoods, as seen in the more than 3000 murals (primarily painted by Hispanic Americans) that decorate Los Angeles's walls, these previously vibrant urban communities have been devastated by widespread drug use, crime, and poverty. In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois predicted that "the problem of the Twentieth Century [would be] the problem of the color line." Now, at the beginning of a new millennium, urban theorists warn that the problem of the twenty-first century will be the problem of these abject cities within the city.
- Comprehension: What are some potential negative effects of creating urban "pleasure domes"?
- Context: Explore the photos of early-twentieth-century Chinatown [6164, 6166, 6167]. Compare the clothing worn by people pictured in these images to Wittman Ah Sing's descriptions of Chinese Americans in Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey: "Immigrants. Fresh Off the Boats out in public. Didn't know how to walk together. . . . So uncool. You wouldn't mislike them on sight if their pants weren't so highwater, gym socks white and noticeable. F.O.B. fashions--highwaters or puddlecuffs. Can't get it right. Uncool. Uncool." Why is fashion so important to Wittman? What did the traditional Chinese clothes worn at the turn of the twentieth century signify, and what does Wittman think the "F.O.B." clothes say about their wearers?
- Exploration: Compare Wittman Ah Sing's descriptions of "F.O.B." Chinese Americans to Anzia Yezierska and Abraham Cahan's discussions of clothing and "greenhorns" in Unit 9.
- Exploration: Research the construction, condemnation, and reconstruction of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project. What does this project's history tell us about changes in theories of urban planning and development? Why do you think the architectural style of Cabrini Green and similar housing developments has fallen out of favor with city planners and residents? Use online resources including <www.voicesofcabrini.com> as well as sites created by former and current residents.
 Arnold Genthe, Street of the Gamblers (by day) (1898),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-3890].
Photograph of pedestrians in San Francisco's Chinatown. Writing at the turn of the twentieth century, Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton) tried to combat stereotypes of Chinese immigrants as "heathen," "unclean," and "untrustworthy." She provided insight into the unique culture of America's Chinatowns.
 Anonymous, Police and Detectives Guarding Chinatown, July 6, 1909 (1909),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-69697].
Writing at the turn of the twentieth century, Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton) made efforts to combat stereotypes of Chinese immigrants as "heathen," "unclean," and "untrustworthy." She provided insight into the unique culture of America's Chinatowns.
 Arnold Genthe, Children Were the Pride, Joy, Beauty, and Chief Delight of the Quarter, Chinatown, San Francisco (c. 1896 -1906),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-5265].
Four children in traditional Chinese clothing on a sidewalk in San Francisco's Chinatown. Writing about the time this photograph was taken, Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton) sought to make the lives of Chinese immigrants understandable to white audiences.
 Judith F. Baca, Pickers from Guadalupe Mural (1990),
courtesy of SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center). © Judith F. Baca, Farmworkers of Guadalupe, 1989.
Since 1976, muralist Judith Baca has worked as the founder and artistic director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center in Los Angeles. She has headed a number of large-scale projects dealing with interracial relations, such as the construction of The Great Wall, of which this image is a part.
 Danny Lyon, Young Men of the Second Ward, El Paso's Classic Barrio Near the Mexican Border (1972),
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
This photograph was taken by Danny Lyon for the Environmental Protection Agency's Documerica project. Lyon, hailed as one of the most creative documentary photographers of the late twentieth century, photographed the Rio Grande Valley and the Chicano barrio of South El Paso, Texas. Tejanos, or Chicanos from Tejas (Texas), have developed a rich tradition of arts and literature that develops out of their lives in this border again.
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