Inside Out Project in Salinas Chinatown

On April 22nd, the Inside Out Project, led by Jeffrey Lehner of CSUMB, began posting very large images–faces–of people up on the exterior wall of a building owned by the Ahtye family in Salinas Chinatown; the faces are visible from E. Market St. and Sherwood Dr.  Students from the CSUMB Service Learning Project trimmed the weeds in the lot next to the building; they brought in a crane and began putting up the images.

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CSUMB Students came to clear weeds and post the images. L to R: Aubrey Correa, Ayumi Komiyama, Jada Ginn, Jessica Avila, Mayra Cuevas, and Hardesh Mohar. Not pictured:  Juliana Saldana & Valerie Castaneda.

Jeff Lehner of CSUMB Service Learning. Behind him: Belen Aceves & Javier Rodriguez help direct the work.

Inside Out is “a global project that gives everyone the opportunity to share their portrait and make a statement for what they stand for. It is a global platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art” (Inside Out). The aim of the Salinas Chinatown Inside Out project is to remind everyone who passes by Chinatown that this neighborhood is, first and foremost, made up of people–individuals and families–who care about this neighborhood. Many citizens of Salinas think of Chinatown as, simply, a dangerous or blighted area that one should stay away from. But Chinatown is composed of people with wide-ranging, diverse histories, experiences, and needs. The closer you look, the more you realize that Chinatown is an active community of caring people.

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We know that there has been violence and drug-dealing in the area. But how many know that, for some, Chinatown represents community, help, and even safety? And for others, Chinatown represents ancestors, families, memories of childhood, businesses, and hopes for the future. So, who are the people of Chinatown?

People and families who are homeless gravitate to Chinatown because other areas in the County hold more risk for them. The Women Alive! program (which may soon be temporarily shut down for lack of funds) is one of the only places single women, including transgender women, can find walk-in emergency shelter services in Monterey County. Dorothy’s Place Hospitality Center and Victory Mission provide meals, drop-in programs, and transitional residences. Temporary storage can be had for the homeless who tire of carrying their belongings around all day. The Chinatown Health Center provides showers, toilets, health services, and counseling. The Community Learning Center provides computers and classes, and ways to stay connected.

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Belen Aceves & Javier Rodriguez. Above them: Cathy Chavez-Miller in photograph, Co-chair of ACE.

Chinatown is business and property owners. Many of the current business owners are Latino and Mexican and have been in Chinatown for two or three decades; they have employees and clientele that they have cultivated over the years. For them, Chinatown has provided a way to support their families and contribute to Salinas. They want to see Chinatown revitalized, and they want to be part of that change.

Chinatown is also property owners, old-timers, and their children and grandchildren; even though many have moved out of the area, they still hold on to the property, as one holds on to memories. Chinatown has a history; it was founded in 1893 by Chinese merchants; Japanese and Filipino families followed, then Mexicans and African Americans. Surviving Chinatown families fondly remember a bustling neighborhood of families, schools, and businesses–hotels and cafes, temples, a joss house, and churches; the Ahtye family gas station, bars, pool halls, a labor union, barbershops, a photography shop, dry goods and produce markets.

Larry Hirahara & Cathy Chavez-Miller of ACE, standing before the wall. The top middle photo is of ACE Board member Kenneth W. Allen. Because some of the homeless residents of Chinatown may not want their names mentioned, I have left those out for now.

Chinatown is community organizations and committees: Dorothy’s Place, Victory Mission, CSUMB’s Chinatown Community Learning Center, Chinatown Homeless Action Team (CHAT),  Asian Cultural Experience (ACE), Salinas Downtown Community Board, Chinatown Businesses Committee, the Safety, Social Services, & Sanitation Committee, the Chinese Associations, Buddhist Temple of Salinas, and the Filipino Community Center. The neighborhood is now expanding; families and individuals are moving into new affordable housing units, such as Dai-Ichi Village and the in-progress Nihon Machi Village, with the MidPen artists community expected to break ground at the end of this year. What will these new residents contribute to Chinatown?

The Inside Out Project now brings the interior of Chinatown–its people, its lives and experiences, hopes and dreams–to this wall. Our faces look both inside, and outside toward you. The images are temporary, and will wash away with time. But we hope that for this brief period, they will make a connection. The future of Chinatown is also the future of Salinas. Let’s talk.

—Jean Vengua, Co-chair

Asian Cultural Experience

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