When I was a girl, I lived with my mom — who taught at LMU — but I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Our family store was in what was then called Old Chinatown — an area along Spring and Ord Streets. I loved the aromas in the International Grocery and seeing the barbecued ducks hanging in the window of the Sam Sing Butcher Shop. Just a couple of blocks away, though, was a whole other world. New Chinatown! Even though I had family that lived and worked there, my grandparents always complained it was too touristy. Sure, it wasn’t “real” or “authentic,” but I was entranced by the fantasy. Colorful gates beckoned. Buildings were gaily painted and topped by upturned eaves. Neon glowed — new, new, new! — even though everything had already been around a long time. Years go by, and life changes. Many of the original residents have died or moved elsewhere, and old shops and cafés have closed; artists and galleries have moved in. The neon sign on the Broadway gate now reads “Old Chinatown.” If this is Old Chinatown, what does that make me? —Lisa See ’79
Lisa See is the author of 10 novels and a nonfiction book that draw on her Chinese American heritage. Her new novel is “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane,” an excerpt from which can be found here.