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2008.040.015 Oral History Interview with Kam Mak March 6, 2008

Kam Mak is an artist who emigrated with his parents from Hong Kong to the United States at age ten in 1971. In this interview, he vividly describes growing up in an old tenement building on Eldridge Street and becoming involved with street kids during the seventies. He mentions the strong presence of street gangs during his childhood as well as the turning point during his youth that redirected him towards art as an escape from getting into trouble. Mak also discusses conceptual ideas that inspire his artwork, which is heavily influenced by his sensory impressions of the Chinatown neighborhood and culture. He notes the changes in neighborhood dynamic since then, observing differences in population, safety, and lifestyle. After moving out of Chinatown in the early 90s, Maks art became a means to reconnect or save his ties to the Chinatown community. He goes on to describe his work writing and illustrating his childrens book My Chinatown and designing a series of Lunar New Year stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. Reflecting on how Chinatown’s identity is rooted in its low-income and immigrant residents, he laments about how the forces of gentrification could eventually erode Chinatown to a “fake” shell of its former glory.