Artists paint murals on planks Chinatown traders place on shattered windows

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Callan Porter-Romeo dragged his little red wagon to a restaurant in Chinatown. She unloaded her ladder, put cans of paint and brushes on the floor, then mixed purple and pink on her palette. At the top of the splashed ladder, she drew orchids on the restaurant window.

The flowers surrounded a sketched hand holding a pair of green chopsticks.

“We need more art in the community to show that the people who grew up here are still here and that their art, their history, their creativity is valued,” said Porter-Romeo, 26.

Many artists volunteer their time to create murals in Chinatown, some on windows, some on walls, and some temporary on planks that business owners have put up for protection.

After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, numerous protests took place in Oakland, followed by the vandalism of some businesses, including those in Chinatown. The coincident COVID-19 pandemic has also led to an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans and random attacks on people in Chinatown.

According to the California Hate Crime Report 2020 released in June, the total number of hate crime incidents increased by 31% between 2019 and 2020, to reach 1,330; and anti-Asian bias events doubled to 89. Of the 52 hate crime cases reported in Alameda County, Oakland had the highest number, 19 cases. Statistics don’t cover this year, when attacks on Asians continued, prompting Chinatown officials to ask the city for more police protection.

“I woke up in the morning and saw the news that Chinatown had been destroyed overnight. I thought my store was destroyed as well, so I ran to my store and saw that the whole street was vandalized except mine, ”said Tiffany Wu, owner of the Mermaid store.

Some stores have closed and others have been barricaded. The once bustling neighborhood has become hopelessly empty and quiet.

“The whole of Chinatown had only one color – a pale yellow-brown plank of wood. It looked scary, ”Wu said.

Many store owners have turned to local organizations for help.

Three Thirty Three Arts, also known as Dragon School, is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating public artwork in Chinatown. He invited community-minded artists to decorate the wooden planks of store windows.

Chinatown mural
Mural artists volunteered to paint on the boards that store owners installed in Chinatown after vandals smashed many windows. (Jiyun Tsai)

Frog designer Eugenia Ho, 29, painted “Let Love Bloom” in a jewelry store on Ninth and Webster streets. Ho’s family is from Hong Kong and she grew up speaking Cantonese. The project therefore had a personal meaning for her.

“I wanted a positive message,” she said, “something that is always about empathy, about compassion, about letting the community heal.”

The art, with its bright colors and positive messages, makes Chinatown look more cheerful than it was when it was strewn with pristine wooden planks. But, as Wu pointed out, window decoration cannot hide what Chinatown has been missing for the past year and a half.

“I felt very grateful for the artist’s effort.” she said, “but I still wish Chinatown could go back to when it was crowded and full of people.”

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Margarita B. Bittner

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