Blog Post

Youth programming with Participatory Chinatown


Youth Programming

An important component to this project is to involve youth (in our case, ages 14-19), especially those from the Chinatown community.   Now that we’ve returned to youth programming after taking a short break to work on the game development, I wanted to review some of the youth work we’ve done and our plan for the next few months.  We have a few simple goals that I’d like to outline here, along with some lessons learned and things to consider:

  1. Involve youth in the development of the digital media. As a way for them to gain hard, technical skills, 4 youth interns were paid this summer to help us do initial research  and learn about how digital media can change the way people in the community can engage with neighborhood planning processes.  Victor, Lis, Karen, and Mei Hua (who blogged this summer, so check out the archives), worked on taking photographs of nearly every surface in Chinatown, which fed directly into Chris Brown’s 3-D Modeling work.  Victor and Lis were not from Chinatown and even though they were Boston natives, neither had ever been to the neighborhood.  For them, it was a new experience in a brand new neighborhood.  Mei Hua and Karen, on the other hand, are members of the Asian Community Development Corporation’s A-VOYCE youth development program.   The A-VOYCE girls were very familiar with Chinatown and were excited to engage with the community in a new way.  In fact, they were able to share the experience of attending their first community meeting for the Chinatown Master Planning process, and brought back some notes to share with us.   Of course they were the only youth there (with the exception of a few younger children who had come with their parents), which brings me to our next goal: 
    Lis presents avatar profiles we've created based on interviews with Chinatown residents

    Lis presents avatar profiles we've created based on interviews with Chinatown residents


  2. Expose youth to current planning practices and recruit them as participants. This is something that isn’t new to us, since we already have a youth development program devoted to creating opportunities for youth to engage with their communities.  The goal of A-VOYCE is to provide opportunities for civic engagement and allow the youth to develop their voices through a weekly live radio program and youth-guided walking tours of Chinatown.  That said, ACDC does have a history of utilizing media as a way of engaging youth in our community.  Partly, we’ve developed this mode of engagement in response to the stereotype that Asian Americans, especially new immigrants, don’t have strong political voices.  basically, we’ve carved out new roles through which youth can experience, understand, and impact their own communities, whether they are Youth Radio DJs (to express their voices and advocate for issues facing their community), youth walking tour guides (to promote the neighborhood and bring attention to the rich history and cultural assets), and now, Youth Interpreters (more on that in my next point). 

    So what explains the absence of youth in the standard community meetings that take place in Chinatown?  Is the process something that they have difficulty understanding (Do they need to learn all the big words?)?  Is the meeting held at a time when youth aren’t available (Are they too busy?)?  Is the topic something that doesn’t interest them (Is it boring?)?  These are the types of questions we are having our youth leaders ask of their peers, and our hope is that the game itself will allow for them to fully express what they would like to see for the future of their neighborhood.  A common teaching in Asian households is the virtue of respecting one’s elders.  Often this is practiced by not speaking out or contradicting the opinions of elders.  Community meetings in Boston’s Chinatown often have a large representation of eldery Chinese (40% of Chinatown residents are over the age of 50), and, especially for 2nd generation Asian American youth, the thought of speaking up or speaking out to a large group of elderly people is very intimidating.  This will definitely affect the dynamic of these meetings, even if youth were represented in large numbers. 

    An alumni youth returned as an intern to help train new youth at the radio station

    An alumni youth returned as an intern to help train new youth at the radio station


  3. Engage youth as interpreters during Participatory Chinatown community meetings. The role of the Youth Interpreter is especially relevant in the multi-generational context of a place like Chinatown because inter-generational relationships are nuanced by the differences in expected cultural norms of American-born teenagers versus the Chinese-born limited-English elderly.  To recap, in order to maximize access of this tool we are creating through PC, we hope to train youth to become interpreters for participants with limited-English proficiency or limited computer literacy.  In the case of Boston’s Chinatown, most residents with limited English ability are elderly and generally do not use computers.  What’s most relevant about the Youth Interpreter role is that most 2nd generation Asian American youth – and I can speak from personal experience – are often forced into the role of interpreter in their own families.  Whether it is having to attend your sibling’s parent teacher conferences, or accompanying a parent to the bank, Asian American youth are expected to fill these roles as the English speakers of their households.  These situations – again, I can speak for myself on this one – can often be…well, stressful.  The challenge for me, as the youth coordinator, is to allow the youth to feel at ease in the role of the interpreter, while showing them that they can leverage their language and computer skills to give back.  The other challenge is to make sure that the youth do not feel locked into this role.  They should also feel comfortable to be participants when they themselves are playing avatars and completing quests, and they will hopefully be active in encouraging their peers to actively participate in planning decisions for their respective communities.

[This was first blogged over at]


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