Candidate Wu has big plans for Paris Chinatown

Candidate Wu has big plans for Paris Chinatown

29th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Wu said he looked at Sarkozy's new multi-coloured government and wondered: "Where are the Asians?". Carole Landry reports.

   There are no ornate gateways like in San Francisco or Vancouver and the street names are all unquestionably French, but leave it to Felix Wu and Europe's biggest Chinatown could get a makeover.

   A young restaurant manager born in France to Chinese immigrants, Wu is
running for mayor of Paris' 13th district, home to Chinatown, the heart of
Asia in the French capital.

   He is the first French-Chinese to seek a mayor's seat, mounting an
independent campaign for the March 9-16 elections after lamenting the district
did not have a single councillor of Asian descent.

   "They come around once a year for Chinese New Year and that's the only time
we see them," said Wu, a bright-eyed 37-year-old who speaks perfect French and

   "France really needs to change its view of immigrants," he said at his campaign office, bedecked with posters of himself and his list of running
mates who include a Malian, a north African and several "native" French.

   A collection of bland apartment blocks built in the 1970s, Paris Chinatown
hosts the typical array of restaurants and curio shops along with Tang Freres
(Tang Brothers), an Asian supermarket considered a local landmark.

   It is the more established of two Asian quarters in the French capital,
with a second one, Belleville, home to a more recent wave of mostly-Chinese

   "Why wouldn't we have a nice gate at the entrance to Chinatown that says
'bienvenue'?" said Wu, before adding quickly: "We would have a sign in French
because I'm not sure about Mandarin."

   France is grappling with the idea of promoting its ethnic diversity, with
many on both right and left arguing that it is an affront to republican ideals
of equality and the much-cherished notion that every citizen is "French first."

   But descendants of immigrants like Wu are challenging this view, partly
emboldened by President Nicolas Sarkozy who named three women of Arab and
African descent to his government after he was elected last year.

   Wu said he looked at Sarkozy's new multi-coloured government and wondered:
"Where are the Asians?".

   France's Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian and other Asian communities have
adopted a form of "discreet" co-existence with other Parisians, he said,
melting into French society as smiling restaurateurs, congenial shop owners
and "hardworking students who excel at school".

   But there are no Asian faces on TV or filmscreens and none in national politics.

   About 20 percent of residents in the 13th arrondissement are of Asian
origin, representing some 30,000 people. Nationwide, there are an estimated
half-million people of Asian descent.

   "People say to me 'finally' when I introduce myself as a candidate for
office," said Wu. "It's really time that we stopped being invisible."

   Wu said Chinatown should be a bigger draw for the millions of tourists who
visit France every year through better marketing and also some architectural

   "We don't have to have pagodas and dragons everywhere," said Wu. "But a
visitor should know that he is in Chinatown. There has to be more to it than

   Jacques Mathieu, a community activist who is running on Wu's ticket, agrees
Chinatown could have more of an Asian feel. "We have to show on the outside
this culture that lives within."

   Wu's list of candidates is calling for a commercial overhaul of Chinatown to bring in a greater variety of shops, measures to help ease overcrowding in housing and the opening of centres for the elderly.

   "It's Europe's biggest Chinatown. It should be France's window on Asia and vice versa," said Wu.


expatica february 2008

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