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In Chinatown, Chinese-American Activists Explain Occupy San Francisco

| October 31, 2011
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Amid children running around, men playing majong, and the general hubbub of Sunday at Portsmouth Square, in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA)] staged a skit and speaker’s program intended to explain why the Chinese-American community should view themselves as part of the 99 percent cited by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In attendance were Supervisors John Avalos and Eric Mar, both of whom said they were there because their districts are strongly linked to Chinatown — Avalos and Mar represent many Chinese-Americans in their districts in the Excelsior and the Richmond. Many of these constituents started in Chinatown and moved out to those neighborhoods once they had saved enough money.

Organizer Emily Lee played the wealthy 1% in a skit explaining who are the 99%. (Photo: Katrina Schwartz, KQED)

Emily Lee, an organizer with the Chinese Progressive Association, played the character of “One Percent” in the skit.

“I think a lot of people understand and they personally identify with this story of the 99 percent because,” she said. “As with most immigrants, you come here to America, you’re chasing the American Dream, you want more opportunity, they came for their kids, for better education. And that’s a universal story in the Chinese community.”

Lee said that in general the Occupy San Francisco movement is not portrayed favorably in the Chinese-language media. The focus there has been more about the sanitation and public safety concerns and many in the Chinese-American community have written the movement off as a bunch of “white hippies.” Lee says that she’s been down to the OccupySF encampment and those stereotypes aren’t true. She hopes the Chinatown event will help people realize that their immigrant stories are part of the economic injustice central to the Occupy movement.

Stephanie Chan is a junior at Galileo Academy and says that she and her family are struggling. “My parents are immigrants and they are struggling to make ends meet. And though my dad works more than 13 hours a day and my mom works two jobs my family is still low income.” She worries that she won’t be able to go to college since financial aid has been cut statewide and her family can’t afford tuition.

Protesters march from Chinatown to the Occupy San Francisco encampment. (Photo: Katrina Schwartz, KQED)

After the event, about a hundred protesters marched from Portsmouth Square down Kearny Street, through the financial district and to the Occupy San Francisco encampment. They shouted slogans in Chinese and English as they went and carried colorful banners identifying themselves in both languages as the 99 percent. When they arrived at Justin Herman Plaza, they were met by cheers from the protesters camped there.

One occupier known as Diamond Dave welcomed the marchers with a short speech, which one of the CPA organizers translated. While the mood was light and welcoming, it was easy to see how this language barrier might prevent many of those gathered in Chinatown from voluntarily joining the Occupy movement on their own. Lee says that the Chinese Progressive Association has been considering pitching a tent at the Occupy encampment specifically for people of color to try and make the movement feel more inclusive.

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Category: Poverty Issues, San Francisco

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About the Author ()

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She's worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported, produced and blogged on health, climate change and local news for KQED in San Francisco. Reach Katrina Schwartz at kschwartz@kqed.org.

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