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Chinatown inspired by Obama win, sees no quick fix to economy

8 November 2008 One Comment

By Guo Shipeng

Barack Obama’s historic win has moved many Chinatown residents, who saw the election of a black President as an inspiration and also a potential blessing for the community, but some business owners are pessimistic about an imminent recovery from the current economic hardships.

“When Obama breaks the glass ceiling, it means that pretty much any child of color really does have a chance to become the president of the United States,” said Oakland City Council Member Jean Quan, a Chinese American Democrat.

"Secondly Obama is much more in tune to the urban issues. That's really important because most Asians still live in urban cores," Quan said.

She said programs "that were good for Asians" cut under the Republicans, could get rescued after Obama took office and "many more appointments for Asian Americans in the administration" could be made.

"Being raised in Hawaii, he is much more attuned to cultures of Asians and Asian Pacific Islanders," Quan said.

Cheng Chunzhen, a 73-year-old former teacher who moved to the United States from China four years ago, said she was deeply moved by Obama's life stories.

"He's so diligent, otherwise he couldn't have come this far," Cheng said. "It's really not easy for someone from an ethnic minority to achieve that."

But many in the business community didn't expect the Obama presidency to bring a quick fix for Chinatown's sagging businesses, which were hurt by the national downturn in the economy, Oakland's high crime rate and increasing competition.

"We'll see how Obama does. He definitely deserves a chance, but it's all up to how he handles and whom he picks for the cabinet," said Jennie Ong, Executive Director of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.

Ong said Obama's election certainly gave the Chinese community a positive feeling as an ethnic minority, but people were more occupied with worries about the economy for the moment.

"Chinatown used to be the destination for Asian goods in the East Bay. People came here shopping and eating in the restaurants," Ong said. "Believe it or not, we were the fourth biggest source of sales tax revenues for the city. Now the ranking is very low."

Ong attributed the decline to the city's "crime image", the weak overall economy and competition from Ranch 99, a supermarket chain featuring Asian goods that had been expanding across the Bay Area.

"We are surrounded by Ranch 99. It really hurts Chinatown businesses," Ong said.

Still, Ong was hopeful that things would get better under Obama.

"Let's say there is hope," Ong said.

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