The largest Chinese community outside of Asia Chinatown is also the most densely populated of San Francisco's neighborhoods. The population of San Francisco's Chinatown climbed rapidly in the 1860s. The socio-political and, to some extent, the cultural rhetoric of Chinatown has changed, it is intriguing that the imagination of Chinatowns in the twenty-first century as isolated, separate spaces within city centers such as New York and San Francisco diverges little from that of the nineteenth century. The word "Chinatown" today is often used as a metaphor for a world of inscrutable otherness that is closed, exotic, dangerous, and mystical. Conversely, Chinatowns since the nineteenth century have functioned as crucial sites in the building of a middle-class American spatial identity, and at the same time continuously disrupt the binaries of East and West, Orient and Occident, by mirroring, inverting, and contesting what is believed to be the natural order of spaces.