The first thing that strikes you about the Chinatown arch is how huge it is, four stories high, spanning Charlotte Street at the corner of Park Street, in Port of Spain.
The second thing is how upset, nay outraged, local residents, vendors and passers-by are at the structure. The many comments overheard largely suggested that people feel they were being dominated or even pushed out by this new reaffirmation of the Chinese presence.
People were livid even as a construction crew of about five or six Chinese workmen put the finishing touches in the installation. They were so angry that it would not have even occurred to them to analyse the aesthetics of the design.
A woman aged about 60 who gave her name only as Cheryl said, “The Chinese and them shouldn’t have Chinatown in Trinidad. It should have no Chinatown. Charlotte Street does not belong to the Chinese…Chinatown could be in America and all those countries because it’s a different culture, but not here.”
A young woman walking past with babe in arms muttered in upset, “The Chinese take over the town.” Two elderly woman heading north spoke, one saying, “This is Trinidad. Why them Chinese have to come to Trinidad to take over?” A young man shouted to a male friend cycling past on a bicycle, “We gone through boy.” Two middle-aged men individually told Newsday they had no thoughts on the arches.
A woman added, “People are not pleased at all. They feel they are being pushed out of the country as Africans and Indians, the two majority groups.”
The woman also reckoned that the reaction to the second arch when installed at lower Charlotte Street soon would provoke even stronger reactions, due to an overall harsher mood/mind-set at Independence Square. “People feel they don’t have a say. They feel pushed out and that these Chinese are taking over, without anybody having a say…Everybody’s reaction was not pleasing. A few liked it but most did not like it.”
She said a consultation had been held at City Hall but claimed it had been poorly advertised and then poorly attended. Those who attended had felt the installation had been a done deal over which residents in fact had no say. “Everybody is cursing about this,” she said.
There was some concern the run-off of rainwater could be blocked by the arch columns installed in the curb-side drains.
On the other hand, Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez said that the arches would create a space that could bring tourism plus cultural and economic benefits to the area. “The arches are more than just a physical beautification but show a bright relationship between TT and China, with room to grow.”
He said a second arch at lower Charlotte Street would be installed within days, after which a formal launch would be held.
“We had started discussions to twin Port of Spain with Shanghai, and this is one of the benefits to come out of it.” Martinez said the arches were made in Shanghai.
“There is no cost to the City of Port of Spain.” The deal was done through the Chinese Embassy in Port of Spain. “I’m rather proud of what I’ve seen. It has a lot of meaning for me.”