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Home arrowInclusiveness arrowChinese Heritage in Boston Has Strong Advocates

Chinese Heritage in Boston Has Strong Advocates

As part of the ACHP initiative on building a more inclusive national preservation program, two listening sessions were held to seek the views of Asian American and Pacific Island (AAPI) experts on cultural heritage and historic preservation, including activists, scholars, community leaders, and representatives of non-governmental organizations and institutions. The purpose was to discuss ways historic preservation can better meet their communities’ needs to preserve and enhance AAPI historic places, history, and culture at the local, state, and national level.

The ACHP was joined by several guests, including the Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE). CHSNE was founded in 1992 as a membership-based non-profit seeking to promote, preserve, and document the history and legacy of Chinese immigration to New England.

Based in Boston’s Chinatown, the organization grew out of a campaign to recognize and maintain the Chinese burial sites at Mt. Hope Cemetery—where many early Chinese settlers of Boston’s Chinatown, impacted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and anti-Chinese sentiment, are buried. The primary preservation effort of CHSNE has been the Chinese Immigrant Memorial Project at the cemetery.  Besides raising funds for the design and building of a memorial to the early immigrants who are buried there, the Society collaborated with students at UMass Boston for the creation of a database and for a clean up of the cemetery grounds. While already on the National Register, the nomination could be amended to add context for the Chinese people buried there.

CHSNE is also part of a larger collective of Chinese American Historical Societies and Museums across the country organized by the 1882 Foundation, which recently convened a third symposium to address collaborative opportunities and share best practices.

It was at last year’s symposium that CHSNE first connected with the ACHP and learned about federal initiatives to increase the inclusion of underrepresented communities in historic preservation. Since then, CHSNE in partnership with the Massachusetts Historical Commission have been awarded an Underrepresented Community Grant from the National Park Service—seeking to increase the number of listings in the National Register of Historic Places and further reflect the history of all Americans. Funds will be used to develop a National Register Historic Context statement for Boston’s Chinese community in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries, and will be used to support the first nomination of a site to the National Register for its associations with Boston’s historic Chinese community.


Other sites under consideration include the following:  

The Chinese Merchants Building (20 Hudson St, 1951) only three years after construction, faced demolition, along with a huge swath of Chinatown, under the proposed development of the Southeast Expressway. Following active community protesting and negotiating, the building survived with a partial but significant loss of the rear third of the building and now stands as a visible reminder of the struggle the community faced and continues to face under urban redevelopment.

The Old Quincy School (88-90 Tyler Street, 1847), named after Boston’s second mayor, was established by education innovators including Horace Mann to educate immigrants to Boston during the 19th century. It was the first school in the country to have a classroom for each grade and a separate chair for each student, which later became a model for educational reform nationwide, replacing the norm of one-room schoolhouses and shared student benches. Long the neighborhood school for the Chinatown community, it has since housed pillar community institutions including the Asian American Civic Association—publisher of Sampan (the bilingual community newspaper), and Kwong Kow Chinese School (founded in 1916); and today is still the home of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and continues to serve as an active community space.

The hope is to have the first nomination accepted in time for the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016!

June 17, 2015

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