by Belinda N., Community Gathering committee co-chair
On a beautifully warm and sunny day, Saturday, April 13, approximately fifty St. Bernard’s boys, siblings, and parents traveled downtown for a historic walking tour of Chinatown, one of New York City’s oldest neighborhoods, led by the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA).
The morning started with a MOCA-led stamp-making workshop. The museum’s educators explained how block printing, invented during the Tang Dynasty, was once the method used to make books. They proceeded to teach the group how to make their own personalized stamps, including how to write Chinese characters to add to their stamps. St. Bernard’s families enjoyed each other’s company while carefully crafting their stamp designs and using them to decorate cards and artwork.
After the stamp-making workshop, the MOCA educators led a historic walking tour of Chinatown. The boys and their siblings noticed several fresh fish markets and fruit stands where vendors sold specialty fruit, such as dragon fruit and durian. Our families learned of the history of Columbus Park, formerly known as Five Points Park, a previously swampy area surrounded by tenement housing known for its poor living conditions. This neighborhood was made widely known by Jacob Riis in his book, “How the Other Half Lives.” From Columbus Park we strolled down to Funeral Row and then to Mott Street, where we learned about the history of Chinese immigration in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The first major waves of Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States during the Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Those Chinese laborers eventually settled into and created Chinatown communities, including Manhattan’s Chinatown. Chinatown became known as a “Bachelor’s Society” due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited Chinese immigration, and, as a result, prevented Chinese laborers from bringing their wives and families to America.
Along the way we learned about local landmarks and Chinese dishes. For example, we learned that chop suey is not a dish from China but a dish created by Chinese living in America, using Chinese cooking techniques and local American ingredients. While on Mott Street, we saw Wing On & Co. (Chinatown’s oldest store) and the Church of the Transfiguration, a New York City landmark and one of New York City’s oldest churches which has served each of the neighborhood’s changing immigrant communities, including Irish, Italians, and now Chinese. We then made our way to Doyer’s Street, infamous in the early 1900s for gang warfare, as the street’s sharp bend allowed for surprise attacks on rival gangs. Doyer’s Street is also home to the Nom Wah Tea Parlor (one of Chinatown’s oldest restaurants), the former Chinese Opera House, and a network of underground tunnels. Our walking tour came to an end at Chatham Square where we found a statue of Lin Zexu, who fought to keep opium out of China, and the Kim Lau Memorial Arch, which honors Chinese Americans who served in the United States military during World War II.
After our tour, many families were able to stay for a group dim sum lunch. Following dim sum, some continued their excursion through Chinatown, visiting bubble tea shops, browsing the street vendor’s stands, and shopping in stores such as Pearl River Mart.
We are glad that so many St. Bernard’s families could enjoy a beautiful day out together, exploring Chinatown as a community. Our Chinatown excursion was well suited for the Community Gathering Committee’s theme for this year – Our Community, Our Stories.