On Friday, when we visited Chùa Tường Vân in Lowell, Mass., the massive temple space simultaneously blew me away but also filled me with a strange sense of strange déjà vu. The entire visit, I tried to pinpoint the source: it wasn’t the statues, it wasn’t the apples, it wasn’t the cat Micky. It was only during my evening reflection that I discovered where the emotion came from.

It was the mural. The great tree that extended behind Buddha, filling the room and extending onto the ceiling. The paint turned the white ceiling into a window to a clear sky.

Three days before then, I had been filled with awe by a similar mural in the city of Lawrence. I had been standing outside of Cafe Azteca, staring at rows of smiling musicians lining the walls of a small park. The colors brought life to an otherwise empty alley, and gave a sense of home amidst rows of modern buildings. Dariana Guerrero, our guide, had spoken about how the original Lawrence residents could no longer afford to meet the rent prices imposed on their homes. The park was now dilapidated, and I imagined the colorful murals of musicians and sunrises dripping off of the brick wall.

On the bus returning from Lawrence, I began to piece together the intricate relationship between socioeconomic class and cultural communities. Gentrification seems to be a force which cannot be subjective — it’s an entity which only targets based on numbers in an individual’s bank account. Yet, I came to understand how specific economic instruments can be manipulated to wash away entire ethnic groups.

I had seen gentrification once before. This February, I had the opportunity to visit my father’s old home in China. The neighborhood of his childhood had essentially ceased to exist — the restaurant that sold cheap baozi, the small park that used to host karaoke nights on Sunday — those things were all memories now. The original residents also disappeared. As the value of property rose, all of my father’s neighbors were forced to relocate away from Beijing’s city center. One particular lament of my father still rings clear in my mind. While walking back home, he told me that when he was younger, he used to be able to see the stars in the sky.

While lamenting gentrification, I discovered that the murals in Lawrence and Chùa Tường Vân began to overlap. The Buddhist temple had a similar feeling of home as the alley in Lawrence. It was a small sanctuary built by the community to preserve their religion and way of life; however, built in 2016, it is a testament to how culture is not always eternally subtracted from a region. Immigrants do not need to be forced to lose a part of themselves for the sake of assimilation. Instead, with proper support, they can establish new ethnic communities and reinforce the presence of the town’s current residents. Chùa Tường Vân’s mural of the tree of life shows that culture can grow.

Chùa Tường Vân’s mural of the tree of life shows that culture can grow.

Raymond 24



Each spring term, The Workshop welcomes approximately 20 seniors to this interdisciplinary, project-based course. With an eye toward reimagining what school can be, the Workshop is the senior’s only academic commitment for the entire term. Instead of splitting their time and attention into units of distinct courses and fields of study, they work closely with peers, faculty, and community and global partners on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single theme. Within the theme Experiments in Education, students explore areas of personal interest.

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