Welcome to Chinatown. Port-of-Spain has been abuzz with images of the arch which went up at the corner of Charlotte and Park Streets on Thursday night as Charlotte Street was renamed Chinatown.
While many claimed they were taken by surprise, the announcement came months ago as part of a Government initiative to “twin” Port-of-Spain with Shanghai in China and is aimed at providing potential economic and tourism benefits for the country.
In September, a stakeholders’ meeting was held on the move but it was poorly attended and Port of Spain North/St Ann’s MP Stuart Young expressed disappointment that people had not come out to express their views.
In Port-of-Spain yesterday, there was consternation from some about the arch, with one citizen calling it an “international scandal.” One wonders why this would be viewed as such since there are many Chinese business places run by China nationals which contribute to the city's overall development.
The arch probably also adds to the ambience of the busy city street. One wonders, however, if as part of their claim on Charlotte Street, members of the Chinese community will see this as an opportunity to do their part to keep that part of the city clean and create a climate more conducive to shoppers.
One also can’t help but wonder whether the new ‘Chinatown’ will have continued space for vendors who have long traded on the busy street, which has grown in popularity for shoppers looking for anything from fresh produce to cheap goods which, ironically, often carry the “Made in China” label.
Truth be told, a Chinatown is nothing new. Many of us would have paid a visit to Chinatown in cities in the United States as well as London. The Chinese presence across the globe is growing and that’s no different here in Trinidad and Tobago, where the Chinese presence is evident in every nook and cranny.
The reality is that this is the price of progress. We have for decades accepted members of the Chinese migrant community into this country.
Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez hit the nail on the head when he said the Chinese have a rich culture supported by many in this country. The Chinese heritage spans not just Charlotte but George and Nelson streets with establishments in the 1960s like Yet Ming, Ng Chow, Chooquan Supermarket, Cheewah, Tam Pack, Aleong’s and Chin’s Grocery. Mayor Martinez also reminded us that there are five Chinese Associations on Charlotte Street, with four within the boundaries of the designated Chinatown area.
Let us thus open our minds to the bigger picture in front of us as a nation. This weekend’s celebration of Divali gives each of us the opportunity to open our hearts and to let the light take the place of darkness.