Mass. Historical Society examines senior migration in Chinatown

By Kenny Sui-Fung Yim

 

Harvard University social studies instructor Nicole Newendorp shared a chapter of a new book on “Boston’s Chinatowns and Recent Senior Migration,” along with commentator Wing-kai To, a professor at Bridgewater State University. Newendorp’s studies are based on her experiences volunteering as an English teacher at a social service agency in Chinatown.

The Massachusetts Historical Society hosted a presentation on senior migration to Chinatown on March 25. (L to R) Marilyn Halter, Nicole Newendorp and Wing-kai To. (Image courtesy of Kenny Sui-Fung Yim.)

The Massachusetts Historical Society hosted a presentation on senior migration to Chinatown on March 25. (L to R) Marilyn Halter, Nicole Newendorp and Wing-kai To. (Image courtesy of Kenny Sui-Fung Yim.)

Her methodology involved interviewing 45 participants who immigrated after 1990, and documenting their thoughts about transitioning into life in Boston Chinatown, as well as the satellite community in Quincy. She found around 30 percent of new immigrants into Boston are over the age of 60.

Their needs are also particular as they develop habits in their native home country that they then must translate into their new communities. There are many stressors, as well as success stories. Newendorp recognized the difficulties, but also highlighted outstanding senior citizens who found a way to stay active and participate socially, and sometimes economically and civically, in their adopted countries. She describes this process as “aging in place,” which allows them to preserve their old ways of life from back in China.

Chinatown historians, such as Tunney Lee, as well as historians affiliated with the Massachusetts Historical Society, discussed other areas of research, including comparing Chinese senior migration with the Italian population in the North End, as well as within the Chinese population itself, which is not homogenous. For instance, Newendorp explained Fuzhouese and Toisanese have opposite reactions to living in Boston, with the latter feeling generally more positive. She attributed this to the fact that they have had an easier time finding jobs.

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