Philadelphia Inquirer: AALDEF to join Chinatown coalition to fight against Sixers arena

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The standing room only audience Wednesday Dec. 14, 2022 during a public meeting at the Ocean Harbor restaurant with Chinatown residents about the Sixers’ planned arena and its impact on the nearby neighborhood. Credit: Tom Gralish/Philadelphia Inquirer.

Chinatown community members are announcing a formalized coalition against the 76ers arena at a press conference Monday morning. At that time AALDEF will be pledging legal support to their fight.

by Massarah Mikati/Philadelphia Inquirer

Almost 50 Chinatown associations and organizations will come together Monday morning to formally announce the Chinatown Coalition to Oppose the Arena — and joining the coalition will be the national civil rights organization Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).

“It’s important for people to stand up and voice out,” said Steven Zhu, head of the Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association. “There are people understanding how the issue is so serious, that this is something that will destroy Chinatown.”

Harry Leong, director of the Chinese Christian Church and Center and president of the Philadelphia Suns, said the coalition is about organizing and bringing together the community. Members of the coalition include the Greater Philadelphia Fujian Association, the Greater Philadelphia United Chinese American Chamber of Commerce and the Pennsylvania Chinese Business Association.

“We’re gathering businesses together and saying, ‘Hey, we’re together on this, let’s get your voice out,” he said. “We’re more unified compared to separate.”

“What most people don’t know when they’re going for dim sum in Chinatown is that Chinatowns started as a direct result of the violence against the Asian American community. They were forced to create Chinatowns in order to survive,” said Bethany Li, legal director of AALDEF.

“They weren’t located in places that were considered desirable to live,” Li said. “That’s changed in recent decades, which is why we’re seeing this inundation of development without regard to not just the history, but really the necessity … especially in this current context of anti-Asian violence.”

Li said AALDEF would look into the possibilities of legal action, citing the organization’s history of fighting against gentrification and displacement, particularly of low-income residents.

The New York-based group has fought and won in Philadelphia once before.

In 2010, AALDEF helped achieve two major settlements that required the School District of Philadelphia to make broad changes in how it handled complaints of harassment and violence against students.

The legal group accused the district of “deliberate indifference” to the mistreatment of Asian immigrant students at South Philadelphia High School, culminating in violence on Dec. 3, 2009. About 30 Asian students were attacked by classmates in and around the school, sending 13 to the hospital with injuries.

The coalition was announced the morning of the first steering committee meeting designated for business owners and made up of 13 Chinatown businesses, organizations and residents. There have been concerns in the community about the process and legitimacy of the committee.


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