This project explores the long history of displacement of Portland’s Japanese and
Chinese communities in Old-Town. More recently, Portland is also experiencing the
current trend of mass migration back to the cities, creating high demand for urban
dwellings, pricing out poorer, mostly minority communities, pushing them toward
the outer edge of the city. The unique situation of Portland’s Old-Town is a high
concentration of social service agencies and homelessness, plus historical landmark
requirements, leaving Chinatown and Old-Town in a development vacuum. As
Chinese and Asian residents and businesses move out to more affordable locations
in East Portland, Chinatown has become a ghost town with few new business and
shuttered storefronts, while the newly coined Jade District in East Portland strives
to locate its center and identity. This project explores the intriguing territory of
inverted doppelgänger and reverse longing; mediates the space between nostalgia
for the past and practical realities of the present; and arbitrates the delicate balance
of preservation and assimilation.
A Tale of Two Ghettos excavates the hidden history of Old-Town and East Portland.
We will examine the current misuse of the word “ghetto” (that exclusively
denigrates African American neighborhoods) as oppose to its historic meaning. The
installation reminds the audience the danger of losing the culture and history of
communities of Old-Town; the simple social media technology that connects Old-
Town to East Portland, accentuates the fragile solution to this separation. Taiko
performs at both sites act as echolocation device for our communities to search out
and connect to the disappearing history of Old-Town.
Since the beginning of Portland’s history, the Chinese and Japanese communities
had been segregated in ghettoized neighborhoods. Chinese Americans were not
allowed to own land until the Magnuson Act was fully repealed in 1965. The current
Chinatown used to be called “New Chinatown/Japan town” as the “old” Chinatown
became the first victim of the gentrification and displacement when Portland
renovated its waterfront during the 30’s. During WW II, Chinese began filling in the
vacancy left by interned Japanese Americans, and in a way, built on top of the old
Japantown. It is this layered history that is fascinating to me. The “Ghettos” refer to
Japantown and Chinatown, but also describe a borderless ghetto in East Portland
where low income and ethnic communities have moved. As the march of urban
gentrification continues, the newly settled are now subject to further displacement.