By Bianca Palmarini

Nestled in the beating heart of Boston’s historical Chinatown, the Asian Community Development Corporation has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Basing its services on both real estate and community development, the corporation has created initiatives to oversee the impact of gentrification in the area, keeping the borders of the neighborhood alive, and preventing them from eroding.

Like other “Chinatowns” across the nation, the borders of culturally rich communities are targeted to build high-end, expensive living spaces. However, these strategies make it impossible for low-income families to continue living in them. In order to slow down the process of people leaving the city, ACDC has put emphasis on creating affordable housing to ensure that the people of Chinatown are able to sustain living in it.

“We can’t just build buildings, we need to build the community in and around them” said Jeena Hah, youth programs manager, stressing how ACDC provides ground for members to build a strong sense of identity.

The corporation has strengthened communities for the past 30 years by emphasizing the importance of inviting “immigrants and young people to the decision table” according to Hah. She believes that one of ACDC’s key features is that they let “you, as a resident in your neighborhood, dictate the physical landscaping of it”. This concept is backed up by ACDC’s dedication to creating projects to reclaim areas.

“We’re not building boundaries and keeping people outside, rather ACDC focuses on preserving culture and livelihood” said Hah.

An example of how ACDC is actively working to keep the culture from fading is through projects like Films at the Gate, which link cinematic kung fu tradition to the streets of Boston. Events such as these attract youth to first join as volunteers and later move on to become members of A-VOYCE, one of ACDC’s pilot programs. Standing for Asian Voices of Organized Youth for Community Empowerment, A-VOYCE has changed many teen’s approach towards the area, but most importantly towards their perception of themselves, said youth leader Jennie Chang.

From volunteering at Films at the Gate to becoming a program manager for ACDC’s latest project, Placemaking Art, Jennie Chang admits that “being a member of A-VOYCE has inspired me to actually take actions, and it has led me to become more attached to Chinatown and its residents”.

For the past few months, she has been in charge of operations for a mural that will fit on the borders of the neighborhood, celebrating its history and tradition. The subject of the artwork is the interchange of three different generations growing up in Chinatown, including images from historical spots that are still there and some that are only present in the earliest residents’ memories. The mural will be unveiled on July 15 in Phillip’s Square.

Reflecting on the years to come, Hah is confident that ACDC will continue to provide affordable housing for low-income families, hoping to one day diversify the demographic of the programs and foster the sense of leadership in the youth participants.

“People talk about being leaders of tomorrow. We’re doing it today, we don’t need tomorrow”, she said.

Click on states to see locations of Chinatowns.

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