Nostalgia Foretold

Dimitri Mellos

2007 - Ongoing

New York City’s Chinatown is just about the only neighborhood in Manhattan that still retains some of the atmosphere of old New York, a city that was much less sterilized and gentrified than it has now become: a city that was gritty, noisy, overcrowded, pulsing with life and toil, a city of immigrants and the working class.

In this part of the town, recent immigrants are still struggling to make a new home in America—in many of the same tenement buildings that housed generations of poor immigrants from eastern and southern Europe more than a century ago. And yet, even as they pursue the American dream, these recent and not-so-recent immigrants also tenaciously hold on to their own cultural practices and identity, and this gives Chinatown its unique and authentic character.

However, even Chinatown has now steadily started succumbing to the forces of modernization and gentrification. Grocery stores are shutting down and old apartment buildings are being demolished in order to make way for fancy new hotels, coffee shops, boutique stores, art galleries, and the like.

I am anguished to see Chinatown start losing its character right before my eyes, and the act of photographing allows me to preserve a few bits and pieces of what life in this vibrant immigrant community has been like, in a form impervious to the passage of time. My work is fueled by a sense of loss and nostalgia foretold.

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