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“Uptown”/”Downtown” Chinese Lesson Plan


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Big Apple Bites

Video Documentary Shorts on NYC Immigration

“Uptown”/”Downtown” Chinese in New York City


TOC

Overview

Objectives

Keywords

Estimated Time Needed

Materials Needed

Background Information

About the Videographer

Activity: College Lesson Plan (75 mins)

(8 mins) Opening questions for class

(12 mins) Watch video

(45 mins) Discussion and Questions

Comprehension & Reaction Questions for College

Critical Analysis Questions for College

(10 mins) Closing Remarks

Suggested Readings for College Students

Activity: HS Lesson Plan (60 mins)

(5 mins) Opening questions for class

(12 mins) Watch video

(33 mins) Discussion and Questions

Comprehension and Reaction Questions for HS

Critical Analysis Questions for HS

(10 mins) Closing Remarks

Suggested Readings for HS Students


Overview

This lesson plan is designed to be used in conjunction with with the documentary short Their Stories, Their Dreams – ”Uptown”/”Downtown” Chinese in New York City (videographer Siqi Tu, 11.5 minute video) explores the heterogeneity of Chinese immigrants positioned in different types of neighborhoods in New York City. Note, that much of the video is in Chinese with subtitles.

Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will:

Keywords

#Chinese #social class #SES #language #culture #community #enclave

Estimated Time Needed

There are two plans here-- a 75-minute plan for a college level class and a 60-minute plan for high school students.

Materials Needed

Background Information

Wider American mainstream society tends to view Chinese ethnics as a monolithic group stereotyped as either “model minority” students or as Chinese restaurant owners who barely speak English. In fact, Chinese immigrants in America are very heterogeneous, differentiated by geographic origins, dialects, social class, and education. Peter’s Kwong designated the different groups as either “Uptown” or “Downtown” Chinese. According to Kwong, "uptown" Chinese are those educated in Western studies, dislocated from ancestral domiciles by World War II, who tend to make a living independent of Chinatown, and are able to move easily and socially in the American world. "Downtown" Chinese are those immigrants confined to Lower Manhattan's Chinatown borders. Limited in English, this group struggles to make a living while subject to four squeezes: exploitative Chinese employers, a powerful traditional community hierarchy, greedy landlords, and indifferent labor unions. This video was inspired by Peter Kwong’s work and offers  a nuanced picture of Chinese immigrants by examining the different experiences of several Chinese immigrants as they describe, in their own words and dialects, their migration history, work, and home settings.

About the Videographer

Siqi Tu’s work is primarily within the areas of urban sociology and immigration. She was born and raised in Shanghai, China and moved to New York City in 2012. Siqi developed her interest in immigration and urban neighborhoods as an observer of diverse communities in different metropolitan areas. She is currently working on an experimental study on public opinion towards undocumented immigrants. She teaches mass communication at Brooklyn College from Fall 2014.


Activity: College Lesson Plan (75 mins)

(8 mins) Opening questions for class

(12 mins) Watch video

(45 mins) Discussion and Questions

Note: If a class is particularly  large, you may want to consider breaking students into smaller groups of 4-5 students. There are also many questions listed here that we thought would be useful. You may wish to view the video ahead of time and choose just a few.

Comprehension & Reaction Questions for College

  1. What Chinese dialects are used in the video? Who speaks which dialects? Can you differentiate between the two dialects?
  2. What differences do you see between the interviewees?
  3. Who do you think is “uptown” Chinese? Who do you think is “Downtown” Chinese? How do you know?
  4. How does Maria Liang’s work differ from Gordon Liu’s work?
  5. How do Maria Liang and Gordon Liu differ in terms of leisure?  
  6. Given the differences, do you see commonalities between Chinese immigrants?
  7. According to interviewees, what commonalities exist between Chinese immigrants?

Critical Analysis Questions for College

  1. What role do you think pre-migration capital plays in the experiences of these immigrants?
  2. Given their different starting points and different experiences, do you think respondents are treated the same by the wider American mainstream society? Why?
  3. Do you think one or the other interviewee is more or less assimilated into the American mainstream? Why?
  4. Do you think the children of Maria Liang and Gordon Liu have different experiences? What kinds and in what ways?
  5. Do you Maria Liang’s and Gordon Liu’s children will have different educational attainments or outcomes? How and why?
  6. What do you think is the future of Chinese immigrants in terms of social cohesion and assimilation? Why?

(10 mins) Closing Remarks

The Chinese version of the Horatio Alger story-- whereby poor Chinese immigrants who speak little English arrive in America and settle in Chinatown, but who eventually work their way up through their own hard work-- dominates the mainstream Americans’ ideas of the experiences of Chinese immigrants. However, this narrative, like the Horatio Alger story, hides a great deal of the diversity of Chinese immigrants in America. The reality is that Chinese immigrants vary widely in language, geographical origins, education, and social class even before they begin migrating to the US. This pre-migration capital usually results in radically different experiences for them and their children. The most evident difference is shown in where they choose to settle, the jobs they do, and what schools their children attend.

While many of the nuances and differences within the Chinese community are often lost on the wider American mainstream since most Americans are unable to differentiate differences in Chinese dialects, they are clearly not lost on the Chinese immigrants themselves. Yet, despite internal variation, there are also commonalities that unite Chinese ethnics-- foods, cultural traditions, and the fact that they are viewed as so monolithic by the wider mainstream. Given the enormous assimilatory pressures of the US, it’s clear that second and later generations of Chinese Americans will likely be fluent in English and be an increasing part of the American mainstream economy and society. However, it’s also a little early to predict the strength of their attachment to their ethnic roots.  

Suggested Readings for College Students


Activity: HS Lesson Plan (60 mins)

(5 mins) Opening questions for class

(12 mins) Watch video

(33 mins) Discussion and Questions

Note: If a class is particularly  large, you may want to consider breaking students into smaller groups of 4-5 students. There are also many questions listed here that we thought would be useful. You may wish to view the video ahead of time and choose just a few.

Comprehension and Reaction Questions for HS

  1. What Chinese dialects are used in the video? Who speaks which dialects? Can you differentiate between the two dialects?
  2. What differences do you see between the interviewees?
  3. Who do you think is “uptown” Chinese? Who do you think is “Downtown” Chinese? How do you know?
  4. How does Maria Liang’s work differ from Gordon Liu’s work?
  5. How do Maria Liang and Gordon Liu differ in terms of leisure?  
  6. Given the differences, do you see commonalities between Chinese immigrants?
  7. According to interviewees, what commonalities exist between Chinese immigrants?

Critical Analysis Questions for HS

  1. Given their different starting points and different experiences, do you think respondents are treated the same by the wider American mainstream society? Why?
  2. Do you think one or the other interviewee is more or less assimilated into the American mainstream? Why?
  3. Do you Maria Liang’s and Gordon Liu’s children will have different experiences in terms of assimilation? Educational attainment? How and why?
  4. What do you think is the future of Chinese immigrants in terms of social cohesion and assimilation? Why?

(10 mins) Closing Remarks

The Chinese version of the Horatio Alger story-- whereby poor Chinese immigrants who speak little English arrive in America and settle in Chinatown, but who eventually work their way up through their own hard work-- dominates the mainstream Americans’ ideas of the experiences of Chinese immigrants. However, this narrative, like the Horatio Alger story, hides a great deal of the diversity of Chinese immigrants in America. The reality is that Chinese immigrants vary widely in language, geographical origins, education, and social class even before they begin migrating to the US. This pre-migration capital usually results in radically different experiences for them and their children. The most evident difference is shown in where they choose to settle, the jobs they do, and what schools their children attend.

While many of the nuances and differences within the Chinese community are often lost on the wider American mainstream since most Americans are unable to differentiate differences in Chinese dialects, they are clearly not lost on the Chinese immigrants themselves. Yet, despite internal variation, there are also commonalities that unite Chinese ethnics-- foods, cultural traditions, and the fact that they are viewed as so monolithic by the wider mainstream. Given the enormous assimilatory pressures of the US, it’s clear that second and later generations of Chinese Americans will likely be fluent in English and be an increasing part of the American mainstream economy and society. However, it’s also a little early to predict the strength of their attachment to their ethnic roots.  

Suggested Readings for HS Students