“Locked Out at 81 Bowery” – Chinatown Doc/Film Review up at Cinevue

I wrote about two short films for Asian Cinevision’s CineVue in the aftermath of a raid at 81 Bowery, an SRO (single-room occupancy) residence in Manhattan’s Chinatown, that left many elderly and low-income tenants out in the cold. While the tenants of 81 Bowery, who are Chinese immigrants, have weathered many years of tension with their landlord, including an eviction, this raid actually came courtesy of CNN – i.e. a broadcast that sensationalized the conditions of the SRO and led to the FDNY’s emergency raid. I tied this in with two films by ManSee Kong – one a short documentary, called Here To Stay, and another – a short feature, called Room 11. To read the full article, click here:

Screenshot of CNN clip "Immigrants in NY Squeeze Into 54 sq. ft"

Screenshot of CNN clip “Immigrants in NY Squeeze Into 54 sq. ft”


“If they evict us, we wouldn’t know where to go,” says 80-year-old Wong Pui Tak, a retired Chinatown restaurant worker, in HERE TO STAY, a short documentary film by ManSee Kong. In the film, Mr. Wong speaks on behalf of himself and the more than thirty residents of 81 Bowery’s fourth floor SRO as they struggle to keep their homes. When a new landlord takes over the building in 2003, he tries to evict everyone from the fourth floor, and the tenants fight back. But in 2008, an anonymous tip about dangerous living conditions triggered an emergency eviction by the city. It took the landlord nine months to make the required repairs, but in 2009, Mr. Wong and many other tenants finally returned home. How could he expect that just a few years after winning that long battle, that he would find himself locked out again?

However, on March 7th, he and the other residents of 81 Bowery came home and found the doors of their units broken down. They were told that they couldn’t stay because of fire hazards, and later, an additional hazard of gas leaks. There was no warning, no time to prepare. This time it was not because of their landlord, but because this CNN clip had spurred a viewer in Arizona to report the building to the Fire Department of New York. When CNN returned to cover the eviction, they ended their coverage with, “It’s so sad for him, but, boy, it does look like a fire trap, doesn’t it?”

Who speaks for the benefit of the tenants at 81 Bowery? Is it CNN, whose coverage of the “dirty, dangerous” “fire trap” has resulted in all of the tenants being evicted? What is missing from the all-too-common portrayal of low-income immigrants as uneducated, helpless, and ‘other’? For one, the stereotype of the immigrant as victim ignores the history of many organizing for better conditions.

When they were evicted in 2008, the tenants at 81 Bowery, along with the Chinatown Tenants Union, spoke at rallies and press conferences to pressure the landlord and the city so they could return to their homes. Before this, they had sent hundreds of complaints to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) about dangerous wiring, broken windows and bathroom stalls, and other unsafe conditions. In the wake of this eviction, the tenants are again meeting at the Chinatown Tenants’ Union and planning a series of actions to make it clear that they plan to return home to 81 Bowery. Alongside them, Kong is filming in an effort to make a follow-up film that supports their organizing and highlights the impact of gentrification in Chinatown.

Read more here.
Room 11 by ManSee Kong :

Room #11 (2011) from mansee on Vimeo.

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This entry was posted on March 18, 2014 by .

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