National Geographic : 1998 Aug
(Continuedfrom page 64) than for their Euro pean predecessors in these tenements, assim ilation is difficult for the Chinese. "No matter what we achieve and where we live, people still see us as Chinese," one businessman tells me. Their ethnic pride is rooted in a continuous culture 4,000 years old. Except for the past few hundred years, China was the world's most technologically advanced culture. Everyone I meet, even Chinatown's poorest, uses the same word for white people. It means "barbarian." Cultural pride is evident in Chinese Ameri cans who live among non-Chinese neighbors throughout the metropolitan area but come back to Chinatown on weekends to give their children what they call "a Chinese experience." "It's like going back to mom's house," one woman explains. "It's nostalgic. You go even if you don't need anything, and you always pick up something that reminds you of home." Chinatown also attracts young adults who don't speak Chinese but feel drawn for reasons they can hardly articulate. "Only a Chinese person can cut my hair," says a young Chinese American who lives in Connecticut but whose barber works in Chinatown. Residents of Chi natown describe these visitors as ABCs American-born Chinese-or as bananas, yellow on the outside and white on the inside. The ABCs often sound defensive. "It's not a crime to be Chinese and not speak Chinese," one young woman shouts at a street vendor who's frustrated that she speaks only English. To keep their sense of the mother culture strong, some ABC parents send their children to Chinese-language, or "Saturday," schools in Chinatown. Others bring their children to Chi natown's public schools from other parts of New York. One afternoon I wait with parents as they pick up their kids after school. They are middle-class professionals. "We never lived in Chinatown," one mother tells me. "I just want my daughter to know what it's like to be in an environment with Chinese people." HINESE IS THE NATIVE LANGUAGE of photographer Chien-Chi Chang. He is from Taiwan and has been living in Chinatown with illegal immigrants for about six weeks. I ask if I can visit where he sleeps. He is apologetic but firm: This might jeopardize the trust he has earned. I can come only when he has finished taking photographs.