June 9-10, 2009

Day 1-2: First two days at work

I started first day at work today. After 45 minutes of Green Line and Red Line of subway, I stumbled my way upon the Fields Corner neighborhood of Dorchester, Boston. From my previous research of Fields Corner (FC), it is among the most unsafe neighborhoods of Boston with two unsolved murder cases in the past year. The crime rate of FC was very high in the past ten years, but it is decreasing gradually despite the apparent stigma attached.

My supervisor (Mike) gave me an orientation of the agency Viet-AID (Vietnamese American Initiative Development Inc.) and discussed my responsibilities as an intern. The first two projects that I will work on are the Occupational Health Survey on the Working Practice of Floor Finishers (an industry that an overwhelming number of Vietnamese males engage in) and the Small Business Development plan with nail salon businesses in Dorchester and Boston area. According to the materials that Viet-AID staff gave me, as other neighborhoods in Boston, Dorchester initially was not the place where many immigrants call home like it is today. Before 1970s, Dorchester was mostly a white urban neighbor with less than 15% African-Americans and Hispanics combined and less than 2% Asian Americans.  In 2000, there are  13.2% Asian (doubled), 24% African-Americans, and the Caucasian population declined from 77% to 36%. Every nine out of ten Asians in Dorchester is Vietnamese area; they are mostly involved in floor finishing (for males) and nail care (for females). As one staff member of Viet-AID noticed, the Vietnamese community in Dorchester (and also true everywhere else) can be sum up in one sentence: “chong lam floor, vo lam nail” (husband does floor finishing, wife works at nail salon). This practice has put them in working conditions that deteriorate their health days by days.

Mike took me out on a walk around the neighborhood of Fields Corner, which is the section of Dorchester that houses the most commercial activities. Dorchester Avenue, where the two murder cases happened, and Main Street are the two major streets at FC and both are undergoing major renovations in order to make the historical housing more attractive to buyers. Around Fields Corner, Viet-AID engages in several housing projects in which the agency takes over foreclosed houses/building complexes and turns them into nice, affordable housing for low-income people. The agency has composed and continues updating the list of potential low-income buyers and they have done a tremendous job in facilitating more low-income Vietnamese Americans to buy good and affordable houses. As Mike remarked, some of the American dream can be achieved.

Mike pointed out to me a plot of land that seems to be abandoned for a few years since weeds and grasses were growing everywhere (but the plot is enclosed by fences to keep out unwanted visitors). According to Mike, the plot of land has been sitting there for 3 years and it costs Viet-AID a lot of money (thus, more funding efforts) to keep up with its mortgage. The major reason for the land being wasted away is that the agency has not been able to attain the “zoning variance” –a permission from the city to allow new construction and can only be obtained if the city is on board with it. Viet-AID is facing opposition since they want to build more affordable housing in this plot, while many local people would like to see the plot to turn into commercial space (which is very hard to find buyers in this economy). It’s an ongoing battle.

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