How (not) to talk about gentrification

This story was originally published in the January 26, 2018 issue of The Slant. Want Asian American news, media and culture in your inbox every Friday? Subscribe today.

Los Angeles’ Chinatown has historically been an area of disinvestment. But recently, it’s been flagged as a prime location for wealthy developers due to its proximity to Downtown LA.

It’s a familiar story: new real estate properties increase rent prices, and increased rent prices push out poor, immigrant, and elderly people of color.

But it’s not inevitable

As Frances Huynh explores in an in-depth Medium article, there’s danger in describing gentrification as a natural process. Instead, it’s the result of “inequitable decision making”—and talking about Chinatown as though it’s some community in need of urgent revitalization only contributes to its “perpetual foreign[ess].”

After all, how often have you heard people talking about Chinatown and other ethnic enclaves as “fading, dying or aging” … only to be reborn by some hipster coffee shop?

So how should we be talking?

First off, it’s best to call what’s happening to Chinatown as what it is: gentrification. But at the same time, it’s good to recognize if we’re 4th-wave gentrifiers complaining about 5th wave gentrification, and recognizing our own contributions.

But it’s most important to center stories around the narratives of existing communities, not the flashy, expensive pho restaurant that’s moving in. And not just because those narratives are pleasantly exotic.

—Natalie Bui, editor, who wants to acknowledge that Los Angeles rests on the land of the Tongva, displaced by colonists

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