How Chinese Are America’s Chinatowns?

D.C.’s Chinatown isn’t, well, the most authentic Chinatown around. Only about 500 Chinese immigrants remain in the neighborhood, and because of D.C. regulations, businesses have to display signs with Chinese characters.

But the Associated Press reports that what has happened in the District is no anomaly. Across the country, Chinatowns have lost their Chinese populations. Yet, many retain their neighborhood names and are serving as tourist attractions.

Shifts also are under way in Los Angeles, Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle, where shiny new “satellite Chinatowns” in the suburbs and outer city limits rival if not overshadow the originals.

“The traditional Chinatown is changing, and in most cities it is no longer the residential, political and cultural center of Asian-American life that it once was,” said Wei Li, an Arizona State University professor who chairs the Census Bureau’s advisory committee on the Asian population.

She explained that urban Chinatowns continue to serve a role for newly arrived immigrants with less education or lower skills who seek entry-level work, as well as for elderly residents with poor English skills who cannot drive. But middle-class families are almost nowhere to be found, and in many cities, rising downtown property costs and urban gentrification threaten their traditional existence.

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  • Anonymous

    having been to DC’s “China Town” I must admit it is quite embarrassing and pretty symbolic of how many things in the US have become ‘in-name’ only.

  • Mark

    Wei Li is correct. The Rockville and Potomac areas of Montgomery County have become the suburbs Chinese families and middle class are heading to.