Pasar malam



Pasar malam is the Malay term for night market or night bazaar, and a pasar malam typically opens for business when night falls.1 Pasar malam has its origins as weekly night markets organised by hawkers in 1950s Singapore.2 The night markets were phased out in 1978, as they had caused health and pollution problems as well as traffic jams and inconvenience to residents, resulting in the relocation of street hawkers to hawker centres. Pasar malam were given a new lease of life in the 1980s, but were subject to strict government regulatory control.3 Present-day pasar malam are generally held once a year at specific locations, usually before festive occasions such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali.4

Early developments
The first pasar malam were established in the mid-1950s near British military bases, in the vicinity of Jalan Kayu, Sembawang and Keppel Harbour.5 They were organised by hawkers on a weekly basis in order to coincide with the payday of workers at the military bases.6

Pasar malam grew in numbers in the 1960s due to the development of public and private housing estates during the decade.7 As there were few shopping facilities outside the city centre, hawkers travelled to various parts of Singapore to sell their wares at pasar malam, which operated at a different location each night.8 During a visit to a pasar malam in Woodlands in 1963, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew thanked the hawkers for organising the night market, as “they brought goods to the doorsteps of people, beside[s] providing some employment for a large number of people”.9 The goods sold at pasar malam include food and snacks, clothing and footwear, personal-needs items and household goods and furnishings.10

The proliferation of pasar malam in housing estates gave rise to public complaints. In January 1963, the government announced a ban on the weekly Woodlands pasar malam, as it was causing traffic congestion in the area11 as well as traffic obstruction at the Causeway. Moreover, shopowners in Johor, Malaysia, were unhappy that people were flocking to Singapore to patronise the pasar malam.12

During the early 1960s, pasar malam were characterised by their mobile nature.13 Itinerant hawkers travelled across Singapore on a fixed circuit, setting up makeshift stalls at regular locations in the evenings.14 In a typical week, around 40 pasar malam operated in different parts of Singapore, at locations such as Balestier Road, Farrer Road, Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Mountbatten Road and Prinsep Street.15

Licensing and closure of pasar malam
In March 1966, an island-wide government campaign was launched to license all hawkers, including those at pasar malam, in light of the new Hawkers Code introduced, which required all hawkers to register with the government as well as comply with public health and traffic regulations.16 Under the new ruling, hawkers were required to apply for a hawker’s licence by completing and submitting a numbered application form to the Hawkers Department on Scotts Road.17 Once the licensing exercise ended in April 1966, hawking without a licence at authorised or unauthorised pasar malam sites was illegal.18 Illegal hawkers were prosecuted and had their goods and vehicles seized.19

The government crackdown on pasar malam continued throughout the 1970s. In February 1970, the Ministry of Health announced that pasar malam would be barred from operating in Housing and Development Board estates as they caused traffic congestion and affected the business of the shops located in the estates.20 In August the same year, then Minister for Health Chua Sian Chin announced that all street hawkers would be relocated to hawker centres by 1975.21

After a massive licensing exercise in 1972 and 1973, no new hawker licences were issued. The government rationalised that granting additional hawker licences would make the relocation of street hawkers impossible.22 In 1975, the Ministry of Environment closed nine pasar malam, and terminated the licences of 119 hawkers.23 In the same year, the ministry also announced plans to gradually phase out pasar malam due to traffic congestion woes, noise pollution and other public-health problems.24

Six more pasar malam sites were closed or relocated in 1976, while 22 were closed in 1977.25 By April 1978, the last of the pasar malam stalls were shut down, marking the completion of the environment ministry’s campaign. Some of the pasar malam hawkers were given licences to run stalls at markets and food centres.26

Establishment of government-organised pasar malam
The pasar malam was revived at Sentosa in 1983, as part of efforts by the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) to attract tourists and enhance the area’s nightlife.27 The environment ministry aided the SDC by inviting former pasar malam hawkers to rent the stalls. The pasar malam was held on Saturdays from December 1983 to March the following year, along the footpath leading from the Rasa Sentosa hawker centre to the musical fountain. Items sold include costume jewellery, leather goods, glassware, clothes and toiletries.28 It became a regular event from 1985 onwards, and was held on Fridays and Saturdays,29 before becoming a nightly affair in the mid-1990s.30

In March 1985, the government dismissed requests from several members of parliament to allow pasar malam to return to the streets of Singapore. Then Parliamentary Secretary (Environment) Lee Boon Yang stated that pasar malam would not be making a comeback due to the health hazards they pose, but hawkers would be allowed to display and sell their wares at designated locations like the Singapore Handicraft Centre (SHC) and the upcoming Malay Village.31

The SHC pasar malam, which was established in 1985 to attract tourists, sold handicrafts, souvenirs, batik and clothing. There was, however, a “noticeable difference between pasar malams of old and the new pasar malam”, due to the absence of food and fruit stalls, which were disallowed by the authorities for hygiene reasons.32 The SHC pasar malam gradually allowed the sale of pre-packed food items such as preserved fruit, candy, peanuts and biscuits.33 In 1986, food stalls were added to make the pasar malam more appealing to Singaporeans.34

The success of the SHC pasar malam led to the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB; now known as the Singapore Tourism Board) and the Ministry of Environment to identify other suitable locations for pasar malam activities.35 In June 1988, the STPB organised a pasar malam at Boat Quay along the Singapore River. However, the pasar malam was not well received, as the lack of ambience, good bargains and freshly cooked food led visitors to describe it as “nothing like the old days”.36 Neither tourists nor locals were interested to visit it, and the pasar malam suspended operations three months later in October due to poor sales.37

The present-day pasar malam
The year 1991 marked the return of pasar malam to HDB estates. That year, the STPB and the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS), along with several town councils, organised a series of “mobile markets” to boost business and revive older HDB estates like Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh.38

From 1991 onwards, pasar malam became a fundraising vehicle for community groups and grassroots bodies such as citizens’ consultative committees (CCCs) and residents’ committees (RCs).39 The pasar malam are generally held for a period between one and three days, usually coinciding with festive occasions such as the Lunar New Year, Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali.40 The pasar malam are managed by pasar malam contractors, whose job entails engaging a variety of stallholders for the pasar malam according to the scale and location of the pasar malam as well as hiring tents, tables, chairs, generators and other amenities.41

Unlike the travelling pasar malam of the 1950s and 1960s, which operated on a weekly basis, present-day pasar malam generally operate once a year at fixed locations.42 Only grassroots organisations, RCs and charitable, civic, educational, religious and social institutions are allowed to organise pasar malam. The duration depends on who the organiser is. For instance, CCCs can hold 16-day pasar malam, while RCs are only allowed to organise three-day pasar malam.

Key features of pasar malam
Pasar malam are known for their brightly lit stalls, loud blaring music and affordable goods.43 Common features of pasar malam include stallholders’ shouts of “lelong, lelong” (which means “sale, sale” in Malay)  as well as the haggling with stallholders.44


Pasar malam stalls selling food such as roasted chestnuts, steamed peanuts, steamed corn, coconut cakes, burgers, otah and fish crackers are always a huge draw.45 In addition to food, an eclectic range of items such as clothing, footwear, kitchenware, toys, compact discs, household goods, children’s toys, handicraft, and even books and magazines, are offered for sale at pasar malam stalls.46


Rules and regulations for organising pasar malam
Those interested in setting up a pasar malam are required to apply for a trade fair permit from the National Environment Agency (NEA).47 No trade fair can begin operation unless a permit has been issued. The organiser must also obtain the consensus of the shopkeepers in the neighbourhood to hold the trade fair in a public area,48 and if the trade fair is held at a common area in an HDB estate, the organiser must also apply to the town council for the use of the site.49 In addition, under the Fire Safety Act, the organiser has to apply and seek approval from the Singapore Civil Defence Force.50 Furthermore, organisers are required to obtain written approval from other relevant authorities, depending on the venue and type of facilities required, in order to hold the trade fair.51


Pasar malam food stalls are licensed by the NEA.52 Food handlers at these stalls are required to attend and pass the basic food hygiene course and register with the NEA before they are allowed to work at pasar malam stalls. Stallholders are, however, not allowed to prepare food on site without proper washing and food storage facilities, such as a sink connected to a clean water supply, temperature-controlled storage like freezers, chillers or food warmers, and a display showcase for food items. Without such facilities, only pre-cooked food obtained from licensed sources is allowed to be sold, although simple cooking like grilling and frying is permitted.53 The NEA conducts frequent checks on pasar malam stalls to ensure that hygiene standards are met.54

Pasar malam stalls are prohibited from displaying and selling animals, including ornamental fish, and are also prohibited from selling items that depict tobacco brands. The Media Development Authority requires pasar malam operators to ensure that stalls selling videotapes, VCDs and DVDs hold a valid video licence.55

The state of pasar malam in Singapore
In 2008, an editorial in The Straits Times newspaper commented that times were bad for pasar malam vendors, as their takings had dropped and their numbers had fallen from 1,000 in 2005 to 700 in 2008. The vendors blamed competition from air-conditioned shopping malls as well as rising overheads such as stall rentals, utility bills and workers’ salaries.56 These factors caused many vendors to drop out of the business.57


Pasar malam operators were also affected by the economic recession in 2009, which caused business to be reduced by 30 to 40 percent, resulting in a decrease in the frequency and duration of pasar malam.58

Pasar malam operators also faced complaints from shopkeepers in housing estates for drawing customers away from their shops. In 1992, shopkeepers in Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh and Yishun claimed that their business declined by 20 to 40 percent whenever trade fairs were held nearby.59 Similarly, in 2009, shopkeepers in Clementi Central estate complained that pasar malam were taking away their business due to their lower prices.60 Unlicensed pasar malam have proliferated in recent years. Since 2011, the NEA has taken action against the operators of 16 unlicensed fairs held in Tampines, Toa Payoh, Simei, Clementi, Kovan City, Bukit Merah, Kampong Glam, Chinatown, Serangoon North, Rivervale Walk and Tanglin Halt.61



Author
Vina Jie-Min Prasad




References
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2. Yueng, Y. M. (1978). Travelling night markets in Singapore. In R. H. T. Smith (Ed.), Market-place rade: periodic markets, hawkers, and traders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vancouver: Centre for Transportation Studies, p. 143. (Call no.: RSEA 381 MAR); Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 118. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801
3. Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 130. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801; Teo, A. (1991, July 2). Pasar malam comeback draws hundreds. The Straits Times, p. 27; Lelong lelong! The pasar malam is back. (1997, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 2; Ee, B. L. (1985, March 27). Government’s ‘no’ to pasar malam. Singapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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5. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. (1986, March 21). Budget, Ministry of the Environment (Vol. 47). Singapore: Govt. Printer, col. 983. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN); Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 118. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801; Yueng, Y. M. (1978). Travelling night markets in Singapore. In R. H. T. Smith (Ed.), Market-place trade: Periodic markets, hawkers, and traders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vancouver: Centre for Transportation Studies, p. 143. (Call no.: RSEA 381 MAR)
6. Yueng, Y. M. (1978). Travelling night markets in Singapore. In R. H. T. Smith (Ed.), Market-place trade: Periodic markets, hawkers, and traders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vancouver: Centre for Transportation Studies, p. 143. (Call no.: RSEA 381 MAR)
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8. Rozario, F. (1963, January 6). Police enforce ban on Woodlands pasar malam. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yueng, Y. M. (1978). Travelling night markets in Singapore. In R. H. T. Smith (Ed.), Market-place trade: Periodic markets, hawkers, and traders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vancouver: Centre for Transportation Studies, p. 145. (Call no.: RSEA 381 MAR)
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11. Causeway night market goes. (1963, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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13. Yueng, Y. M. (1978). Travelling night markets in Singapore. In R. H. T. Smith (Ed.), Market-place trade: Periodic markets, hawkers, and traders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vancouver: Centre for Transportation Studies, p. 142. (Call no.: RSEA 381 MAR)
14. Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 117. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801
15. Drive to licence hawkers at night bazaars. (1966, February 28). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yueng, Y. M. (1978). Travelling night markets in Singapore. In R. H. T. Smith (Ed.), Market-place trade: Periodic markets, hawkers, and traders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vancouver: Centre for Transportation Studies, p. 143. (Call no.: RSEA 381 MAR)
16. Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 127–128. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801; Understanding with firmness: Yong. (1966, April 2). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. 1,724 more forms for hawkers. (1966, March 3). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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19. Drive to licence hawkers at night bazaars. (1966, February 28). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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22. Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 131. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801
23. 9 pasars malam taken off the roads. (1976, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. No plans to revive pasar malam, says ministry. (1980, June 23). The Straits Times, p. 7; 9 pasars malam taken off the roads. (1976, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 28; Campbell, W. (1975, February 18). When inspectors have to be tough but tactful... The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 132–133. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801
26. The last pasar malam stalls bow out. (1978, May 2). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Lum, M. (1983, December 29). Return of the pasar malam. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Lelong lelong! The pasar malam is back. (1997, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 2; Lum, M. (1983, December 29). Return of the pasar malam. The Straits Times, p. 1; Pasar malam’s comeback washed out by heavy rain. (1983, December 4). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Miscellaneous. (1985, May 27). Singapore Monitor, p. 18; Yap, J. (1985, March 27). ‘Pasar malam will be successful’. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Gwee, E. (1996, June 9). Sentosa spices up its nightlife. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Ee, B. L. (1985, March 27). Government’s ‘no’ to pasar malam. Singapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Shahrir Ariff. (1985, April 8). Pasar malam comeback proves popular. The Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Pasar malam to be expanded to sell food items. (1985, July 12). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. A dismal first night for foodstalls. (1986, May 24). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. More sites for pasar malam being sought. (1985, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 13; $100 m to resite hawkers. (1986, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Night market ‘a bore’. (1988, October 4). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Riverside pasar malam suspended. (1988, October 7). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Teo, A. (1991, July 2). Pasar malam comeback draws hundreds. The Straits Times, p. 27; Lelong lelong! The pasar malam is back. (1997, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Lelong lelong! The pasar malam is back. (1997, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 137. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801; Lelong lelong! The pasar malam is back. (1997, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Lelong lelong! The pasar malam is back. (1997, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 2; Tan, H. Y., & Chin, S. F. (1999, April 19). The pasar malam makes a comeback. The Straits Times, p. 32; Chow, J. (2008, October 28). Dark days for night markets. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 137. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801
43. Save the pasar malam. (2008, November 2). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Chow, J. (2008, October 28). Dark days for night markets. The Straits Times, p. 19; Ee, W. W. J. (2009, November 22). Sleepless nights over pasar malam. The Straits Times, p. 12; Boulevard bargains that are not enough. (1984, January 1). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Ervina Mohd Jalil. (2009, June 10). Tentage at pasar malam collapses. The New Paper, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 121. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801
46. Chua, F. (2002). A history of the Singapore pasar malam: A market experience in pre-modern Singapore. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16(2), 121. Retrieved from JSTOR website: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860801; Tan, H. Y., & Chin, S. F. (1999, April 19). The pasar malam makes a comeback. The Straits Times, p. 32; Disc piracy: A night stall shock for company chief. (1968, April 19). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yueng, Y. M. (1978). Travelling night markets in Singapore. In R. H. T. Smith (Ed.), Market-place trade: Periodic markets, hawkers, and traders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vancouver: Centre for Transportation Studies, p. 146. (Call no.: RSEA 381 MAR); Record shoe production. (1964, July 31). The Straits Times, p. 13; Ee, W. W. J. (2009, November 22). Sleepless nights over pasar malam. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Government of Singapore. (2014, June 9). Pasar malams. Retrieved from EnterpriseOne website: https://www.enterpriseone.gov.sg/en/Topics/Selecting%20Premises/Types%20of%20Premises/Small%20Retailers%20and%20Food%20Stalls/prem_typesmall_pasar.aspx; National Environment Agency. (n.d.) Application for trade fair permit. Retrieved from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/docs/default-source/public-health/food-hygiene/trade-fair-application-form.pdf?sfvrsn=0
48. National Environment Agency. (n.d.) Application for trade fair permit. Retrieved from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/docs/default-source/public-health/food-hygiene/trade-fair-application-form.pdf?sfvrsn=0
49. Ee, W. W. J. (2009, November 22). Sleepless nights over pasar malam. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Singapore Civil Defence Force. (2014, July 30). Temporary change of use. Retrieved from Singapore Civil Defence Force website: http://www.scdf.gov.sg/content/scdf_internet/en/building-professionals/fire-safety-permit-and-certification/temporary-change-use.html
51. National Environment Agency. (n.d.) Application for trade fair permit. Retrieved from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/docs/default-source/public-health/food-hygiene/trade-fair-application-form.pdf?sfvrsn=0
52. More night market food stall operators booked for hygiene lapses. (2009, April 21). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
53.  Change in rules for refresher courses for food handlers. (2014, September 3). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; National Environment Agency. (n.d.). Application for trade fair permit. Retrieved from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/docs/default-source/public-health/food-hygiene/trade-fair-application-form.pdf?sfvrsn=0
54. More night market food stall operators booked for hygiene lapses. (2009, April 21). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
55. National Environment Agency. (n.d.) Application for Trade Fair Permit. Retrieved from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/docs/default-source/public-health/food-hygiene/trade-fair-application-form.pdf?sfvrsn=0
56. Save the pasar malam. (2008, November 2). The Straits Times, p. 31; Chow, J. (2008, October 28). Dark days for night markets. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
57. Chow, J. (2008, October 28). Dark days for night markets. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
58. Goh, Y. H. (2009, June 8). Big retailers set up shop in night markets. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
59. Kwan, C. T. (1992, January 3). Neighbourhood shops upset over trade fairs. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
60. Ee, W. W. J. (2009, November 22). Sleepless nights over pasar malam. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
61. Tham, Y.-C. (2014, November 30). NEA to take another trade fair operator to court. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2 March 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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Ethnic Communities
Streets and Places
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