I used to sneer at Chinatowns.
I considered them tourist attractions that I wanted nothing to do with. I grew up in Taiwan with Chinese food and Chinese culture—what's new to see in any city's Chinatown?
I've been living in the U.S. since 1989, and in Portland for the past decade. But it wasn't until 2008, when I produced my first documentary, Pig Roast & Tank of Fish, that I began to explore Portland's Chinatown and sensed a shift in myself from being a Chinese in America to a Chinese-American.
At the time, I didn't know our Chinatown had been the second largest in the country during the early 1900s. By 2008, many Chinese restaurants (including the legendary Hung Far Low) and businesses had either closed or moved. And there was already talk about a "new Chinatown" emerging along 82nd Avenue, becoming a popular destination for authentic Chinese food and a bountiful source of hard-to-find Asian grocery items.
Before my mother moved to Portland from Monterey Park (aka "Little Taipei") in Los Angeles five years ago, my experience on 82nd was restricted to occasional visits to Fubonn (the largest Asian shopping center in Oregon) for my fix of I Mei coconut butter cookies, my supply of dumpling dipping sauce, as well as my semiannual invitations to the Chinatown Old-Timers Luncheon at Super King Buffet.
But I began to experience 82nd more often when I accompanied my mom to the Chinese Free Methodist Church of Portland, located at Southeast 84th Avenue and Morrison Street. There is something very profound and heartwarming about pigging out on Chinese food with the congregation right after church service.
WW asked me to explore the changes along 82nd. I focused on the portion of the street between Northeast Glisan Street and Southeast Holgate Boulevard, a 2.5-mile section that passes through the Montavilla, South Tabor, Foster-Powell and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhoods.
It's still a commercial corridor of strip malls, used-car lots and gas stations, but the area has become one of the most ethnically diverse in Oregon, with many Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Latino restaurants and businesses. One businessman told me 82nd is so diverse it's not right to call it a "new Chinatown."
The result of my reporting is a 22-minute documentary where I share a visit to my mother's church; meet Cindy Louis, who (with degrees in oceanography and chemistry) now runs Canton Grill, a restaurant opened by her grandfather in 1944; and attend Slavic Church Emmanuel, located in the former Eastgate Theater, with a congregation of at least 600.
Ivy Lin is a documentary filmmaker whose work also includes Come Together Home, a film about the journey home of the remains of early Chinese immigrants from Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery. See more of her work at ivylinstoryteller.com.