Libraries are a luxury most people may take for granted.
This is not the case in Chinatown. When thinking of public libraries in Boston, the grandeur and expansiveness of the main branch on Boylston comes to mind, but there are 25 other branches strewn throughout the city and its neighborhoods, with only one exception-Chinatown.
The Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) is doing what it can to change that, with a little bit of help. The CPA’s mission, according to Kim Situ, youth coordinator at the CPA, includes “making sure Chinatown is a place where working-class Chinese immigrants, who see this place as a gateway to the American dream, can also see Chinatown as a place with resources and a place that helps them strive in the community.”
The CPA advocates for workers’ rights, helps with tenant organization, and strives to stabilize the bustling community through its many programs, including youth initiatives that introduce the young members of Chinatown to the community’s issues.
The absence of a library has been an issue in the community for over 50 years, when, in 1956, the Chinatown library branch was torn down. Residents have been outspoken about a need for a new library since. Ten years ago, the CPA youth program began a campaign to bring a library to Chinatown, arguing that a library would, according to Kim, “provide access to books and computers to those who otherwise might not have them, as well as serve as a place for classes and a community center where the people of Chinatown can interact.”
This issue has reached the public’s attention due to continued efforts by the CPA and, most recently, a protest by the children at the Young Achievers School. The Young Achievers School is a social justice school located in Mattapan. Students had been focusing on literacy and access to literature when they learned that Chinatown did not have a library. The students then contacted the CPA and were interested in staging a protest for this issue as part of a service day in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The CPA, according to Kim, opted to call it an advocacy walk designed to raise awareness about the issue, rather than a protest.
“The advocacy walk allowed young students to engage with the Chinatown community and gain experience being agents of change,” Situ said. “Their service goes along with what they’re learning about in school and even allows them to take action on the things they’re learning about, which is something very special.”
On Friday afternoon, The Boston Globe reported, the children of the Young Achievers School marched from the Chinatown gate to City Hall with this chant: “We want justice. We want it now!” Along with their march and chant, the children read poems, sang songs, gave speeches, and handed out pamphlets detailing the importance of public libraries and the importance of establishing one in Chinatown.
The march ended directly in front of City Hall, where the children were met with city officials, according to the Globe. The officials, including Councilor Michelle Wu, promised to engage talks with Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’07, in order to provide Chinatown with the resources, and perhaps the library, it lacks.
“Mayor Walsh had the issue brought to his attention and was very responsive,” Situ said. “Walsh pledged to bring back the library to the community that so desperately wants it.”
Though the advocacy walk was done to gain the attention of the mayor and city officials, there was another intended audience. The children marched through the streets of Boston in lieu of just protesting outside of City Hall. The symbolic walk strove to bring the need for a library in Chinatown to the attention of average Bostonians.
“Everyone can participate in this effort,” Situ said. “Everyone can play a part.”