History of AsiaTown Cleveland

ASIATOWN is a both a business and residential community on the east side of Cleveland with a high concentration of immigrants and citizens of Asian descent. The majority of the residents are of Chinese , Koreans , and Vetnamese. origin . With a rough geographic range from East 18th to East 40th and from St. Clair to Perkins avenues, Asiatown has the highest percentage of Asian-Americans in Ohio. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the midtown region (of which Asiatown is a large portion) has a self-identified Asian population of 39 percent, well above the national and state average.

The Chinese are the oldest Asian immigrant group in Asiatown. Chinese-Americans settled in Cleveland as early as 1860, but not until after the Civil War did the Chinese population in Cleveland exceed 100. The Chinese who settled in Cleveland came from other urban areas, many from the West Coast, looking to escape intense anti-Chinese hostility while also seeking new economic opportunities. According to a Cleveland State Heritage Study conducted in 1977, “The early Chinese settled in an area along Lakeside and St. Clair Avenues on Ontario Street . . . [and] they typically opened small service businesses when they arrived, such as laundries, restaurants, groceries and clothing stores.” By the 1920s, many Chinese eventually made their way to Rockwell Ave and East 22th, located near the outer western edge of what is now considered Asiatown. As the Chinese-American population swelled during the twentieth century (especially after the communist takeover in 1949), the area became known as Chinatown. By the early 1990s the population east of Chinatown had become significantly diverse and included strong concentrations of people from Vietnam, Korea, and Thailand. Eventually, Asian-American businesses on the east side of Cleveland decided to rename the area Asiatown.

Like the Chinese, the Korean and Vietnamese groups that have migrated to Cleveland appear to have come in the wake of political instability and military conflict occurring in their country of origin. Many Koreans migrated to the United States as Communism became the dominant political institution in the North in the 1950s. This political transition was followed by a war facilitated by the United States in an effort to contain communism. While the war proved devastating for many families, it also resulted in numerous “war brides” and refugees. Between 1946 and 1960, 4430 Koreans entered the USA as refugees. By 1970, when the U.S. Census began to count Koreans as a separate ethnic group, nearly 70,000 Americans claimed Korean ancestry, while in the Cuyahoga region approximately 2,000 people identified themselves as Korean. Today, the Korean population and businesses of the Asiatown region are numerous, and exercise an influence in the community through the Korean American Association of Greater Cleveland (KAAGC). According to the organization, the KAAGC “supports the various disciplines, of the Korean culture by providing facilities to meet, hold several events and support other organizations.” The association is headquartered on East 38th Street near Superior Ave in the heart of Asiatown.

The Vietnamese community of Cleveland also grew following a war as millions of refugees fled both the politics of the communists in the north and the heavy fighting initiated by the United States in the south. By 1980, Cleveland had 486 Vietnamese living in the city, most of whom lived the Westside. By 2000, however many Vietnamese-Americans had made their way to the Asiatown area and began setting up restaurants. These businesses helped expand Asiatown eastward, as the unofficial boundaries extended out from East 30th to East 40th. With this expansion, conflict with more older and underdeveloped communities has often resulted.

In 2010, the birth of the Cleveland Asian Festival has brought the AsiaTown community to the greater Cleveland, as well as being recognized as the hidden jam of Northeast Ohio. In it’s 7th year (May 21-22, 2016), with over 48,800 has attended and over 40% of the visitors has expressed the desire to visit AsiaTown throughout the year.

Source:  Encyclopedia of Cleveland History



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