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Students Support Long-Awaited Library in Chinatown

By Samuel Y. Weinstock, Contributing Writer

When the Chinatown Cultural Center opens a long-awaited public library in November, an advocacy program launched by six Harvard undergraduates plans to provide programming focused on storytelling, mentoring, and computer literacy.

Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood has been advocating for a library for over fifty years, and the Center—a small, privately-funded library and cultural center in Chinatown—will open in the bottom of an apartment complex within the next month.

“Even without municipal funding, there’s no reason why Chinatown shouldn’t have a library,” said Nancy Y. Xie ’13, the coordinator of the Harvard Chinatown Advocacy for Learning and Literacy. HCALL’s other members include C.C. Gong ’15, Esther W. Lee ’13, Jenny Ye ’13, Katrina T. Wong ’14, and Paige Qin ’13.

Xie said that she was attracted to the Center’s mission because of her own roots.

“A lot of this really starts from a story of self,” Xie said. “My family was a first-generation immigrant family. That gave me an added motive.”

Gong said that the community’s efforts in pushing for the Center illustrated its importance in their eyes.

“What attracted me was the fact that this entire project was created because a community came together and made this possible,” Gong said. “That just shows the need. They took matters into their own hands.”

The 700-square-foot Center is housed in the first floor of the Oak Terrace apartment complex in Chinatown. Xie explained that the Center is a culmination of a five-decade-long effort to bring a library to Chinatown, the only neighborhood in Boston without one.

“Chinatown is the only neighborhood that has not had a library in 50 years,” Xie said. “That brings up the question, ‘Why?’ There’s definitely a need.”

Xie said that about 60 years ago, there was a Boston Public Library branch in Chinatown, but it was torn down to make room for a highway. Afterwards, the library sent book trucks into the neighborhood, but that program was also discontinued. In 2001, the Chinatown Coalition began advocating for a new branch, and their proposal reached the Boston City Council but was rejected in 2008 when the recession hit.

In 2009, the Coalition opened a “storefront” library, which operated until the beginning of 2010. The Chinatown Coalition and the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center have since found a temporary space to house a collection of 7,000 books, Xie said.

HCALL plans to organize three programs at the Center: storytelling, peer-to-peer mentoring, and computer literacy.

The group will invite Harvard students to tell stories, make presentations, or put on performances at the Center.

“It’ll be a fun way to get more people involved and spark the community interest,” Xie said.

The mentoring program will pair Harvard students and, eventually, students from other colleges, with mainly immigrant high school students to help students prepare to apply for college.

The organization has already begun actively recruiting on campus, and Xie is looking forward to seeing the work continue after she graduates.

“This is only going to get bigger,” Xie said. “I’m a junior. It would be great to see people continuously involved.”

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