New York City - Brooklyn

“Moon Festival” by Joe Mazzola via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

“Moon Festival” by Joe Mazzola via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

How to get there:

Brooklyn holds amazing ethnic and religious diversity in its vast area, not just across the borough, but also within each of its dozens of neighborhoods. This is great for artistic, cultural, and economic development – but also makes it confusing for a visitor to stop in one place and try to get a complete picture.

Nine neighborhoods in the southwest corner of Brooklyn are experiencing the strongest growth in Asian population, but to narrow it down for travelers, the main concentrations are in Sunset Park along the 8th Avenue corridor, Bensonhurst along 86th Street, Marine Park in the Sheepshead Bay Road stretch, and Sheepshead Bay in the eastern end of Avenue U.

Click for full MTA subway map

Click for full MTA subway map

MTA stations and trains that put travelers in easy walking range of these four corridors are:

8th Avenue – served by the N, Q, and W

in Bensonhurst, the 18th Avenue, 20th Avenue, and Bay Parkway stops – served by the D

Sheepshead Bay Road – served by the B and Q

Avenue U – served by the Q and the B3 bus line

Depending on the length of your stay, a multi-ride MetroCard from the MTA can represent a great bargain, and makes New York City very easy to get around.

Manhattan’s Chinatown links directly with Brooklyn’s – the Canal Street station serves both the N and the Q, and the Grand Street station serves the B and the D trains.

Click to open Google Maps

Click to open Google Maps

Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census. 

Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census. 

A brief history:

When New York City’s renaissance finally happened in the Clinton years, Manhattan’s rents increased radically without a corresponding increase in the stock of housing and commercial space. Residents of Chinatown and newcomers from East Asia figured out that Brooklyn’s real estate (in the 1990s and 2000s) was a comparative bargain, and the 20-30 minute train ride meant they didn’t have to give up ties with the original neighborhood and the Financial District.

Much as migrants from Taiwan and Northern China decided to settle in Queens where the Mandarin dialect was common, instead of Manhattan’s Cantonese-dialect dominance, immigrants from Eastern China’s Fuzhou Province and nearby areas (speaking Hakka, Wenzhounese, Fujianese, and Shanghainese dialects) in the 2000s also bypassed Manhattan. Sunset Park is sometimes called “Little Fuzhou” in reference to this.

Image by Bcaspirit via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Bcaspirit via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

But also, Cantonese-speakers continue to arrive; some spurred on by the increasing Mainland domination of Hong Kong, others seeking security and education for their children, and others to park their money in America. They too have done the math and determined that Brooklyn is a good place; some Cantonese-influenced areas are now known as “Little Hong Kong”. Overall, the foreign-born Chinese population in Brooklyn increased from 86,000 in 2000 to 128,000 in 2013.

Image by Mark Chang via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Mark Chang via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

What to see and do:

Despite the impressive population and business growth, the Brooklyn Chinese neighborhoods are still building up; there are still significant Russian, Jewish, African-American, and Hispanic elements interspersed – and it really wouldn’t be New York City without them; the diverse mix and unexpected mashups of culture are what make NYC and America truly great.

But, with development spread out over so many miles, the critical mass has not yet been achieved to have significant shopping malls or temples built that would be a natural draw for cultural tourism.

Image by MusikAnimal via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by MusikAnimal via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

So, in the 2010s, the best place to get the “Brooklyn Chinatown” experience is on 8th Avenue. 8 is a lucky number in Asian cultures, and “8th Avenue” can be translated to “Road to Prosperity.” The MTA stop is open-air but below street level, and the bulk of Chinese businesses are between 6 blocks south and 20 blocks north of the station (62nd Street).

For several years there has been talk and tentative financing, but apparently no authorization, for a traditional Chinese entrance archway to be built over 8th Ave. between 64th-65th Streets. (Or perhaps 60th-61st.) If the arch is ever built, that would be the natural photo opportunity – however – for now the six blocks north of the train station hold the strongest concentration of small shops, cafes, and everyday service businesses for the local Chinese community. The low two- and three-story buildings give the neighborhood plenty of sun, and wide sidewalks are pleasant for a walk with the family.

Image by Jchan84442 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Jchan84442 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

If it’s a small-town getaway you’re looking for after spending time among the skyscrapers of Manhattan, this is the place to go for an hour’s stroll, a nosh at a café and some picnic shopping before heading onward to other attractions in Brooklyn.

Where family travelers can stay:

Near the Union Street station, serving the N, R, W, and D lines, are the Holiday Inn Express-Brooklyn, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Brooklyn, and the Union Hotel.

Near the 36th Street station, serving the N, Q, R, W, and D lines, is the Wyndham Garden Brooklyn Sunset Park hotel.

In Bay Ridge, the Best Western Gregory Hotel on 4th Avenue is within walking distance of the 86th Street station on the R train.

In the Marine Park / Sheepshead Bay area, the Best Western Plus Brooklyn Bay Hotel and Comfort Inn are both conveniently located on Emmons Avenue, with access to the B and Q trains.

What other family travel attractions are nearby?

Image by acidpolly via Flickr, CC 2.0 license  

Image by acidpolly via Flickr, CC 2.0 license  

Coney Island (with easy access on the F and Q lines) has been a classic family getaway for New Yorkers for generations – the Boardwalk, Luna Park, and Steeplechase Park are iconic attractions, and the NY Aquarium is also steps away.

Image by gigi_nyc via Flickr, CC 2.0 license    

Image by gigi_nyc via Flickr, CC 2.0 license    

Floyd Bennett Field (Q35 bus from the Brooklyn College/Flatbush Ave station on the 2 and 5 lines) is a long-abandoned airport that has been converted into sports, arts, and nature uses and is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

Image by Eli Mergel via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Eli Mergel via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Prospect Park (15th Street-Prospect Park station on the F and G lines for the west side; Prospect Park station on the B, Q, and S lines for the east side) is Brooklyn’s largest tract of parkland, with miles and miles of hiking trails around hills and lakes, programs for kids at the Audubon Center, skating and boating at the LeFrak Center, and includes attractions such as the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, (part of the broader Brooklyn Botanic Garden), and the Prospect Park Zoo.

And of course, easy subway access makes all of Lower Manhattan’s attractions convenient to visit.

See also:

Our Pinterest folder for New York City

And other interesting resources can be found at:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatowns_in_Brooklyn

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/16/nyregion/influx-of-chinese-immigrants-is-reshaping-large-parts-of-brooklyn.html?_r=0

http://www.nydailynews.com/changing-chinatowns-move-manhattan-sunset-park-home-chinese-nyc-article-1.948028

http://www.borrowedculture.com/2011/05/10/brooklyn-8th-avenue-chinatown/

New York City - Flushing

How to get there:

The 7 subway is the easiest way to reach downtown Flushing, as the line terminates right in the middle of the shopping district. The Long Island Rail Road is another option for travelers coming from Manhattan’s Penn Station; the LIRR station literally empties onto Main Street.

Click to open the full MTA subway map

Click to open the full MTA subway map

From LaGuardia Airport, the Q48 local bus also routes directly into downtown Flushing.

Depending on the length of your stay, a multi-ride MetroCard from the MTA can represent a great bargain, and makes New York City very easy to get around.

Click to open in Google Maps

Click to open in Google Maps

CLICK TO OPEN THE FASCINATING UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA COOPER CENTER MAP PROJECT TO VISUALIZE ETHNIC PATTERNS FROM THE 2010 CENSUS.

CLICK TO OPEN THE FASCINATING UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA COOPER CENTER MAP PROJECT TO VISUALIZE ETHNIC PATTERNS FROM THE 2010 CENSUS.

A brief history:

The economic malaise of the 1970s hit New York City particularly hard. As factories left for southern states and corporate headquarters followed, jobs disappeared for the poor, middle-class, and upper class all at the same time. As workers started leaving the city to try to find employment elsewhere, the first big wave of retirees started moving away to the Sunbelt. These two outbound migrations brought property values down across the city – remember, at this time even Manhattan still had block after block of abandoned tenements and warehouses.

Flushing, the community on the eastern border of Queens borough and prime example of a commuter suburb, was triply affected because of its proximity to LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports: those jobs also saw sustained cuts in the late 70s and early 80s. The Greek and Italian families who had built the town could no longer afford to stay, or wanted to leave for warmer weather – and they left, regardless of the price they could get.

The people who stayed were the nucleus of a small Japanese community and a few Chinese who had sought a better place to live than the overcrowded, crime-infested Chinatown in Manhattan. These were also Mandarin-speakers, a minority in the largely Cantonese enclave in the City.

By the late 1970s, Taiwan’s economy and civil society had started its recovery, and thousands emigrated to America for even more freedom and opportunity. These people were native Mandarin-speakers and also quite comfortable dealing with Japanese – and they found Flushing quite hospitable.  As these newcomers told their families and friends and business associates about the pleasant setting and bargain property prices, the population boomed: by the mid-1980s Flushing was called “Little Taipei”.

With the proliferation of Mandarin-speakers and the shops and businesses they started in the 1980s, Chinese from other northern provinces, newly able to leave the People’s Republic, were attracted to Flushing, too. Even a sizeable Korean population found its way there (although its ongoing development would lead to “Long Island Koreatown” taking shape along Northern Boulevard just to the east of Flushing’s downtown.)

By the time of the economic boom of the Clinton years of the 1990s, then, Flushing was very well-positioned with convenient airport and ocean access for international trade, strong banking connections, a well-educated workforce, and prime position on key commuter rail lines into Manhattan’s heart. In-migration has continued, adding Southeast Asian and South Asian/Subcontinent ties and flavors to the dynamic mix. Walking up out of the subway station, on a summer’s day, you will feel as if you’ve been teleported into an Asian city – but make no mistake, there’s nowhere else this could have happened but in America!

What to see and do:

Downtown Flushing is compact- from the subway station or LIRR stop, all the key attractions and hotels (below) are within a quarter-mile radius. But, your family can easily spend a half-day or more wandering the neighborhood. Just keep an empty stomach before arriving!

The intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue is where transit drops a traveler off and it is the pulsing heart of downtown.  Most of the southeast block is taken up by the New World Mall, a three-story shopping center with clothing, electronics, children’s gear, cosmetics and beauty, media, and jewelry stores. Its lower-level food court is legendary: over 30 shops with specialties from across Asia, including several franchisees of chains from Taiwan. There’s also a Macy’s just to the east, and a J-Mart full-sized supermarket tied into the mall.

Walking south along Main and under the LIRR tracks, Kissena Boulevard splits off at an angle to frame the modern architecture of the Queens Public Library, notable for its international language collections – over 15 languages are supported with current periodicals, reference materials, and over 50,000 books!

Look for the giant red bowl above the "Red Bowl Noodle Shop" in the middle of the picture...

Look for the giant red bowl above the "Red Bowl Noodle Shop" in the middle of the picture...

Restaurants and karaoke joints, bakeries and banks line the street southbound for several blocks beyond the library before residential buildings become more common.

Heading west from the Main-Roosevelt intersection are more specialty shops, restaurants and KTVs, a block of housing towers, and then the massive Flushing Mall, where you’ll find a Target, Marshalls, and Best Buy; pretty standard suburban fare but there is a hotpot restaurant and an Asian grocery inside…

North of the Main-Roosevelt intersection is the St. George’s Episcopal Church, over 300 years old, and opposite it, Queens Crossing, the ‘upscale’ mall in Flushing with interior design and furniture stores, and a two-story food court / restaurant complex.

Two more blocks northbound are filled with still more local services and specialty stores, ending at the busy thoroughfare of Northern Boulevard and the transition into Long Island Koreatown.

East of the Main-Roosevelt intersection are even more shops and cafes, especially bubble tea places, and a Sanrio store that’s always fun with kids.

Eater NY has a brilliant interactive map of their recommended restaurants in Flushing, and here’s an article on About.com with recommendations dining and shopping.

Where family travelers can stay:

Several family-friendly hotels are located within blocks of downtown and the Metro station – and considering how close they are to LaGuardia Airport, these are also great alternatives to staying on Manhattan:

Best Western Queens Court Hotel

Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel

Hyatt Place Flushing/LaGuardia Airport Hotel

The Parc Hotel

What other family travel attractions are nearby?

Image by jschauma via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by jschauma via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

One stop east on the 7 or LIRR drops travelers off at the Mets-Willis Point station, entrance to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, home of the 1964 World’s Fair, and also the Queens Zoo, NY Hall of Sciences, and the Queens Museum for Visual Arts (where they have a model of every building in New York City!)

In season of course, the same train station serves Citi Field, home of the New York Mets and a fun ballpark to visit regardless of how well the team is playing…

A half-mile south on Main Street from downtown is the Queens Botanical Garden, which offers events and programs year-round.

And of course, between the 7 and the LIRR, all of Midtown Manhattan’s attractions are just a short ride away. Grand Central Station is worth a visit just to witness its stunning restoration, as well as to watch the steady flow of commuters (and eat at its excellent underground food court...)

See also:

Our Pinterest folder for New York City

And other interesting resources can be found at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatowns_in_Queens

http://nypost.com/2016/08/06/the-best-new-eateries-in-flushings-chinatown/

http://www.nycgo.com/articles/must-see-flushing-slideshow

http://freshnyc.com/blog/chinatown-new-york-city-manhattan-brooklyn-and-flushing-queens

 

New York City - Manhattan Chinatown

How to get there:

This neighborhood has been pushing its boundaries east and north in the 21st Century, but the traditional entrance is still a classic: the Canal Street subway station, served by the 6 (local and express), and the 4, J, R, and Z trains.

Other stations that put you inside or in easy walking range are Grand Street, on the B and D lines, and also the Bowery Station, served by the J and Z.

Click to open the full MTA subway map

Click to open the full MTA subway map

Depending on the length of your stay, a multi-ride MetroCard from the MTA can represent a great bargain, and makes New York City very easy to get around.

Click to open in Google Maps

Click to open in Google Maps

CLICK TO OPEN THE FASCINATING UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA COOPER CENTER MAP PROJECT TO VISUALIZE ETHNIC PATTERNS FROM THE 2010 CENSUS..

CLICK TO OPEN THE FASCINATING UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA COOPER CENTER MAP PROJECT TO VISUALIZE ETHNIC PATTERNS FROM THE 2010 CENSUS..

A brief history:

By the 1870s, declining job prospects in California (after the Gold Rush and railroad booms had faded) and growing anti-Chinese actions there pushed first-generation migrants ever eastward, first to Chicago and then to New York.

The southeast corner of Manhattan then was slum territory – overcrowded, under-policed, a waiting firetrap with cigar shops, garment factories, and warehouses willing to pay next-to-nothing to those desperate for work. Mott Street was where the newcomers first found places to stay, and stay they did. When the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted in 1882, there were about 2,000 Chinese in the Lower East Side – that population tripled by 1900 but was almost entirely male, as women largely did not participate in the waves of emigration until after World War II.

Fierce anti-Asian bigotry from the other immigrant groups in New York hemmed the Chinese population into just a few ridiculously cramped city blocks, and coupled with the absence of women – and thus families – the men created tribal gangs to find work, look after each other, and claim scarce resources… which meant crime and violence were rampant in the ghetto. This situation held all the way up to the 1960s, when finally fresh immigration brought the gender ratio into something more balanced.

Even while Chinatown’s population was booming in the 1970s and 1980s, housing was still substandard and many buildings in the Bowery and Lower East Side were derelict. Drugs, street gangs, and violence were pervasive – this was not a neighborhood people wanted to visit, eat in, or live in – it was the embodiment of the stereotype of lawless New York City, notably filled with non-white criminals and poor, as seen in countless movies and TV shows of the era. New York’s renaissance had not yet begun.

Yet even in this bleak situation, Chinese kept moving in – instead of Cantonese groups who had been the mainstay of Chinatown from the 1880s onward, however, these were Fujianese, Taiwanese, and northern Mandarin-speakers. Reinvestment, residential rent controls, community-oriented policing, better economic conditions in general, and more trade with Asian countries all helped stabilize Chinatown as the 1990s started. As the city started its redevelopment, and commercial rent pressures grew, residents and immigrants started populating and building businesses in other parts of the city, like Flushing in Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Well over a half-million people of Chinese descent now live in NYC proper, and another quarter-million in the surrounding Tri-State Area, making this the biggest urban concentration of Chinese outside Asia.

What to see and do:

Chinatown is compact and easily walkable for grownups and kids. Canal Street is the main thoroughfare and was also traditionally the place to go for designer knockoffs of bags, watches, and clothing – this has become gradually less so each year, partly due to stricter enforcement, but more so to soaring rents: banks and restaurants are taking over spaces that used to be inexpensive hawker stalls.

More-interesting shopping for families can be found up and down Mulberry, Mort, and Elizabeth Streets for the block south of Canal – miniature shopping malls for clothing, anime and toys, and arts and crafts line the area. Stationers, home and kitchen-supply stores, electronics merchants, grocery stores, and serious art galleries are also abundant. Hunting this area could easily consume a couple hours.

Image by Marina on Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by Marina on Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Bounding these blocks to the southwest is Columbus Park; green space well-used and loved by local residents. Watch for people meditating and practicing tai chi; live music events are often held there.

Image by Dmitri Robert via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by Dmitri Robert via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

The southeast corner of the neighborhood is Chatham Square, where Bowery, Worth, and East Broadway intersect – East Broadway is a “newer” part of Chinatown, where Fujianese have settled since the 1990s.  To the north, walk up Doyers Street for a “Diagon Alley”-feeling: this narrow, twisted lane holds many colorful shops.

Image by Henning Klokkeråsen via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by Henning Klokkeråsen via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

At the intersection of Bowery and Canal is Confucius Plaza and the entrance to Manhattan Bridge.

Restaurants abound through the entire district; fast food and bubble-tea counters to casual eateries to high-end productions. Please don’t think with a family that you’ll have to settle for food-court fare or McDonald’s to eat affordably – it’s actually quite possible that the most reasonably-priced dining in all Manhattan can be found in Chinatown! For instance, I’ve had an amazing and satisfying meal at New York Noodletown; enough for leftovers; for well under $10. 

A few dining reference guides to check out include the New York Eater Chinatown newsfeed; this guide from Thrillist; and a concise listing from Grub Street.  Or you could just wander around and see which places are getting good foot traffic; that’s where you want to go.

Image by Monica Wong via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by Monica Wong via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

The Museum of Chinese in America, (admission $10 adult/$5 for kids) on the north end of the neighborhood at 215 Centre Street, holds at least two rotating exhibits, offers educational and artistic activities for children, and also offers neighborhood tours (at extra charge). They also house a reconstructed general store and artifacts from old Chinatown.

Where family travelers can stay:

While there aren’t many family-compatible hotels in the neighborhood itself (the Best Western Bowery Hanbee, the Wyndham Garden Chinatown, and the independent Hotel Mulberry would be three to look at, plus the Sheraton Tribeca New York and the Hilton Garden Inn Tribeca are only a couple blocks west on Canal); the convenience of the subway network opens up other lodging options, such as in Lower Manhattan:

Holiday Inn Financial District (by the Rector Street station on the R train)

Holiday Inn Wall Street (Fulton Street station on the J and Z lines)

Residence Inn Downtown Manhattan (also the Fulton Street station)

On the East Side:

Holiday Inn – Lower East Side (Essex Street station on the J and Z)

And in Midtown:

Hyatt Union Square (at the Union Square station, with the 6 and R lines)

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Metropolitan (51st Street station on the 4 and 6)

Best Western Plus Hospitality House (also the 51st St. station)

Image by Erin Johnson via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by Erin Johnson via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

What other family travel attractions are nearby?

At this point, Chinatown has virtually encapsulated Little Italy and it’s easy to walk right past it: the few blocks on Baxter and Mulberry between Canal on the south and Broome on the north still hold iconic restaurants and street scenes you’ll recognize from the movies.

Canal Street west of Chinatown is the Tribeca neighborhood, an easy walk, and a rich ground for visual art galleries and museums.

The Cortlandt Street and Fulton Street stations south of Chinatown are the closest to the World Trade Center and its memorial museum, Zuccotti Park of protest history, and Wall Street. The site of the Twin Towers is profoundly moving for those of us who were adults at 9/11, and truly a must-visit place for children on a trip to New York City: reading the names of the victims and the fallen rescuers, and seeing the faces of the families, friends, and citizens who have come to pay respect, make a powerful lesson about how deep America’s multicultural and multiracial identity has become, and that everyone has a place in this city and country.

See also:

Our Pinterest folder for New York City

And other interesting resources can be found at:

http://www.explorechinatown.com/ for news and events

https://www.walksofnewyork.com/blog/ny-chinatown

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatown,_Manhattan

Saint Paul - Little Mekong

How to get there:

The Metro Transit Green Line light rail, running along University Avenue, connects this neighborhood to downtown St. Paul (15 minutes); the University of Minnesota (15 minutes); and downtown Minneapolis (25 minutes). It is literally in the heart of the Twin Cities metro area and is less than 45 minutes’ drive from nearly any point in the combined city.

Interstate 94 parallels University Avenue between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, with numerous cross streets providing quick access, with Dale Street and Marion Avenue as the easiest exits from the freeway. 

This emerging neighborhood is spread out, however, and extends several miles to the east along the Pennsylvania and Phalen Avenue corridor, so there is no adequate central point to park and explore the whole area – a Metro Transit GoTo Card is useful, if you aren’t driving.

Click to open in Google Maps

Click to open in Google Maps

Interstate 94 west of downtown St. Paul cracked apart the formerly-vibrant Black community in what used to be the Rondo neighborhood. Today, Asian families have largely supplanted the formerly African-American neighborhoods west, north, and east of downtown. Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census..

Interstate 94 west of downtown St. Paul cracked apart the formerly-vibrant Black community in what used to be the Rondo neighborhood. Today, Asian families have largely supplanted the formerly African-American neighborhoods west, north, and east of downtown. Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census..

A brief history:

The Twin Cities’ Asian population was slow to develop – its multiple rail links to the Pacific were completed after the Chinese Exclusion Act came into play, so only a relative handful of merchants and tradespeople made their way North until after World War II.

Notably, Minnesotans adopted children from East and Southeast Asia after the war at high rates – Minnesota’s Korean adoptee population is the largest in the U.S. – but these people were scattered across the state in white, middle-class families with no neighborhoods or cultural institutions to call their own until much, much later.

It wasn’t until the 1970s when Minnesota’s growing technology and medical industries , and companies like 3M, Cargill, and Northwest Airlines, influenced significant immigration from Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and China to take place. These settlers were highly-skilled and found homes across the metro area, again dispersed around the cities and suburbs so that no ‘ethnic Asian’ neighborhoods emerged.

But in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, much larger populations arrived from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam – in particular, the Hmong ethnic group – and many of these people were refugees fleeing the wars and persecution in Southeast Asia. They were farmers and laborers from the tropics, with no English-language skills, arriving in the North at a time of farming and manufacturing decline. The arrival did not go smoothly; unemployment, crime, and social tension were high through the 1980s.

Families who had been settled a few at a time in different places around the U.S. started to find each other and coalesce in the 1990s; they needed bigger housing for grandparents and grandchildren so they pooled resources to buy in distressed neighborhoods where big houses could be had for cheap: North Minneapolis, the East Side of St. Paul, the Frogtown neighborhood in central St. Paul, and the northwestern suburb of Brooklyn Park.

Two generations later, it’s clear the Southeast Asian groups have become more Americanized – just as other immigrant groups have in American history: while poverty is still high, it is coming down and more small businesses are being formed. Millennial Hmong are as fluent in English and technology as their peers in any other city, they’ve become politically active, and they’re re-building their neighborhoods. They are becoming a new face of Minnesota with traditional Minnesotan and Asian values: industriousness, education, and social involvement. And – the Twin Cities have become the global capital of the Hmong diaspora.

Now in the mid-to-late 2010s, the Twin Cities are attracting even more Asian immigration: the most recent to arrive are Tibetans and the Karen from the Burmese/Thai borderland. Also, the University of Minnesota, with campuses in both cities, has become a significant destination for Chinese overseas students.

What to see and do:

The area now called Little Mekong is also known as Frogtown (named in the 1860s for its swamps, now long gone), but for the first half of the 20th Century was known as Rondo, and it was the Twin Cities’ thriving center of African-American housing, commerce, and culture. The neighborhood was wiped out in the early 1960s to build Interstate 94; the people were scattered, and commerce in the central Midway district suffered for another 50 years.

There are still some historically Black churches, community organizations, and restaurants in the University Avenue corridor with a small supporting population, but the neighborhood went through waves of resettlement, including Mexican and Central American, Somali and East African, Ethiopian, and West African peoples. Since the mid-2000s, Chinese and Southeast Asian influence has become the leading driver in the district’s redevelopment, and we’re calling it an emerging Asian District – but by no means a “traditional Chinatown.”

IMG_1829.JPG

The starting point for any visit is the corner of University Avenue and Western Avenue (Western Avenue station on the Green Line); this is the heart of Little Mekong – on the southwest, the "pocket park" of Little Mekong Plaza; southeast – the former Old Home Dairy is being converted into an arts and business incubator plus housing; northeast – more restaurants, the Hmong Cultural Center, and popular Ha Tien Market; northwest – bakeries and community businesses. [Here's a great article about Ericka Trinh, owner of the excellent Silhouette Bakery, and her efforts to build business on this corner.] This is also the site of popular Night Markets in the summertime, where traffic is blocked off and dozens of food and merchandise stalls, and several stages, draw thousands to mingle and have fun.

For another mile west along University Avenue / Green Line, you’ll find Asian restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, merchants, and community organizations (Dale Street and Victoria Street stations.) The next four miles are witness to massive urban redevelopment brought about by the Green Line: new and renovated shopping centers, residential towers, pocket parks, and community centers are taking the place of rundown abandoned factories and warehouses, bringing thousands of new jobs and housing back into the center of the metro. The key crossroads of University and Snelling Avenues is also being redeveloped to include a Major League Soccer stadium (Minnesota United FC) set to open in 2018.

This long-read article in Politico from March 2017 gives a well-researched and balanced look at how the Green Line came to be and how the communities along the route fought for the changes that have resulted in its success and the re-birth of Little Mekong.

The University of Minnesota’s Stadium Village neighborhood is home to many excellent Asian restaurants, and the East Bank stop is close to the Weisman Art Museum, which contains a notable permanent collection of contemporary Korean works.

Traveling just a few minutes’ drive from University-Western, one of the Twin Cities’ most beloved attractions is Como Park: home of the metro area’s first zoo (still open year-round, with free admission), a kiddie amusement park open in the summer, an exquisite botanical conservatory (featuring an Asian wing), a traditional Japanese garden (home to a popular autumn lantern ceremony), outdoor pool, Lake Como with its restored pavilion, athletic fields (home to the annual Hmong Freedom Festival games), and extensive picnic grounds.

"Hmong Village" by Liren Chen via Flickr. CC 2.0 license.

"Hmong Village" by Liren Chen via Flickr. CC 2.0 license.

Heading northeast from University-Western are two well-used and growing community hubs: Hmongtown Marketplace at the intersection of Marion Street, Como Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue; and about 3-1/2 miles further on along Phalen Boulevard, the Hmong Village Shopping Center. These two complexes are part year-round farmers’ market, part shopping mall and food court, all locally-owned small-business incubators, with pharmacies and social service centers mixed in. They’ve become the “anchors” for the re-birth of St. Paul’s East Side – and either is great for a one-stop afternoon visit of tasty food and fun shopping.

Phalen Boulevard ends at another massive park and Lake Phalen, home to the metro area’s annual Dragonboat races – there is a boathouse where the craft are kept and maintained year-round, so that in the warm months teams can get regular practice in! A traditional Chinese garden is under construction there, too.

It will be interesting and exciting to see how this roughly 10-mile-long corridor develops as transit-led redevelopment and Asian-American economic and social growth converge!

Where family travelers can stay:

Access to the Green Line and nearby activities and affordable restaurants are key selling points for these hotels:

  • The Doubletree by Hilton in Downtown St. Paul, one block from Central Station
  • A brand-new Hyatt Place, next door to the beautifully-restored Union Depot in Lowertown St. Paul. The new St. Paul Saints baseball stadium, Farmers Market, Mears Park, and Mississippi River overlooks are just blocks away.
  • A brand-new Hampton Inn on University Avenue in the Prospect Park neighborhood, just up-hill from Stadium Village and the University of Minnesota.
  • The Commons Hotel, on-campus at the University of Minnesota and across the street from the East Bank Station. The Stadium Village and Dinkytown neighborhoods are immediately adjacent, both with excellent Asian food options (and all the usual college-town specialties).
  • Courtyard Minneapolis Downtown, two blocks from the West Bank Station, in the Seven Corners neighborhood.
  • Aloft Minneapolis, four blocks from the Downtown East Station and the new U.S. Bank Stadium. The Guthrie Theater, Mill Ruins Park, and the Stone Arch Bridge are only steps away.
  • The Westin Minneapolis, in the middle of the Downtown Skyway system, and at the Nicollet Mall Station. Easy access to shopping along Nicollet Mall, plus the Target Field and Target Center sports complexes, theaters along Hennepin Avenue, and Orchestra Hall.

What other family travel attractions are nearby?

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (known locally as “Mia”) is home to the largest collections of Chinese and Japanese artworks and artifacts outside Asia, and is a world-respected center of research. Their Asian wing could easily take half a day to examine; plus another half-day for their photography, Modern, African, and European exhibits - fortunately there’s both a restaurant and café on-site. The Children’s Theatre Company is attached, check the schedule and you could make a full day’s outing in one stop.

Downtown St. Paul holds a number of family-friendly attractions: tours of the State Capitol, the Minnesota History Center, the Minnesota Children’s Museum, the Science Museum of Minnesota, the St. Paul Farmers’ Market, and CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints baseball club.

In defiance of winter – and in celebration of the state’s beautiful spring, summer, and fall – Twin Citians love to play outdoors: the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, Minnehaha Falls, Como Lake, the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center, and the full length of the Mississippi River are all well-suited for family fun.

Minnesota’s biggest tourist attraction is the Mall of America, next to the airport at the southern end of the Blue Line. It holds three levels of shopping, each a mile around, plus a Nickelodeon amusement park, a large aquarium, the Crayola Experience, a massive Lego store, two giant food courts, and a year-round schedule of special events to keep a family entertained for the whole day.

See also:

http://www.minnesotahistorycenter.org/exhibits/we-are-hmong-minnesota

http://www.hmongcc.org

http://www.hmonghistorycenter.org

http://www.littlemekong.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Hmong_in_Minneapolis–Saint_Paul

https://www.chineseheritagefoundation.org/

http://chinacenter.umn.edu/

 

Our Pinterest folder for Minneapolis/St. Paul

Our family-travel guide to Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport

Lahaina - Historic District

How to get there:

There is frequent public bus service to downtown Lahaina from the resort center of Ka’anapali, but most travelers will arrive by car. Downtown is spread out along the waterfront, so any parking lot or street space is as good as any other.  It’s about a 10-15 minute drive from Ka’anapali and Kapalua; 40-70 minutes from Kahului or Wailea, depending on traffic on the beautiful but frequently-congested Honoapiliani Highway.

Click to open Google Maps

Click to open Google Maps

Unlike most of the neighborhoods in this series, Lahaina town is clearly a majority Asian-Native-Multiracial area, as is Maui's main population center of Kahului. Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census.

Unlike most of the neighborhoods in this series, Lahaina town is clearly a majority Asian-Native-Multiracial area, as is Maui's main population center of Kahului. Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census.

A brief history:

As Europeans and Americans began to colonize Maui in the early 1800s, whaling, industrialized agriculture, and trans-Pacific trade gradually developed. In fact, sugar refining from cane was an old Chinese process, and the Hungtai Company, formed by businessmen from China, started Maui's first sugar mill in 1828. By the 1850s, the labor supply was getting tight and there weren’t enough people moving over from North America, or many remaining Native Hawaiians, who were willing to do the hard and dangerous agricultural and whaling work at low wages. Unsurprisingly, company owners went overseas for cheap labor. In 1852 the first Chinese workers arrived, followed by Japanese workers in 1868. Later on, Korean and Filipino contingents were also brought over to work.

Each of these groups maintained cultural, family, and financial ties to their home countries, but the high debt the workers took on to come to Hawaii, coupled with the low pay rates, caused many of the Asian workers to either move back home, or press on to California and beyond. But there were still thousands of Asians who decided to stay on, create new families, and become part of Island culture.

Lahaina was the chief port on Maui at the time, and much of the “downtown” along the waterfront was built by and for its Asian community. After two World Wars and waves of displacement and resettlement, the loss of mass agriculture on West Maui and building of a bigger port in central Kahului, little remains of a classic “Chinatown”. But this shouldn’t be seen as the loss of the Asian community; it has evolved and intermingled with Native Hawaiian, American, and South Pacific peoples to become a truly Pan-Pacific culture! And what was Chinatown is now called Lahaina’s Historic District.

What to see and do:

There isn’t much left of Asian settlement or commercial buildings, but there are two key places to visit:

The Wo Hing Museum, at 858 Front Street, will provide an interesting 30 to 60 minutes of exploration with hundreds of artifacts from Chinese migrants and even historic films by Thomas Edison, shot across 1898-1906.

The building’s international importance comes from the Chinese leader Sun Yat-Sen, who traveled to Maui six times during 1879-1910 and spent considerable time in Hawaii planning the Revolution of 1911, including many meetings here. Sun’s older brother ran a cattle ranch on Maui, so the family connection was deep. Many tourists from Taiwan and the People’s Republic make a special stop here.

The main two-story building, constructed in 1912, was a fraternal-order social meeting hall which served a similar purpose to VFW posts or Elks lodges. The downstairs holds a small gift shop and multiple historic exhibits of clothing, money, tools, documents, and photos; the upstairs is the meeting hall, decorated in period detail and ready for use as it was in the old days. There is also a separate building on the property that functioned as a community kitchen; the stoves and cookpots and woks are enormous! Admission is $7 for adults; kids 12 and under are free.

After leaving the Wo Hing complex, look carefully at the older shops along Front Street; some of these have been around nearly a century and built for the Chinese and Japanese families and merchants.

Temple at Jodo Mission by Judd Hall via Flickr.

Temple at Jodo Mission by Judd Hall via Flickr.

Not quite a mile north on Front Street, at the turnoff for the Mala Boat Ramp is tiny Ala Moana Street, and on it the Lahaina Jodo Mission. This is an active Buddhist temple with landscaped grounds, and a 90-foot-tall pagoda and bell tower. In the summer they put on the largest Obon Festival on the island, and every night at 8 pm, the temple bell is rung eleven times. The most notable part of the complex, however, is the 12-foot tall seated Amida Buddha bronze statue: built in 1968 and the largest of its kind outside Japan. Admission is free.

Statue of Buddha at Jodo Mission by Matthew Simpson via Flickr.

Statue of Buddha at Jodo Mission by Matthew Simpson via Flickr.

Where family travelers can stay:

The many resorts in Ka’anapali, Napili, and Kapalua give families plenty of choices to match their taste in activities and budget. Some of the more familiar names at ‘reasonable’ prices for this area would include:

The Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa

The Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa

Marriott Maui Resort and Ocean Club

Further north in Napili, the Kahana Beach Resort and Napili Kai Resort are also well-reviewed.

What else:

Maui’s reputation as a vacation paradise is well-deserved, with outdoor activities to match any enthusiasm. Some of the bigger resorts in Ka’anapali and Wailea have substantial family programs and often incorporate elements to teach about ecological and Native Hawaiian themes.

The Hawaiian culture was formed by voyagers from several distinct island chains, so from the start it was a blend, and every group of people who have arrived since have added to the mix. Because of this, there are social elements in traditional culture which North Americans should be able to grasp quickly. Since you’re already on the island, and in Lahaina – the original capital of the Hawaiian Islands – why not learn a bit more?

The Lahaina Restoration Foundation has the task of preserving historic structures and telling the stories of the people who’ve lived on Maui.  They run seven museums, including the Wo Hing Museum, plus manage additional heritage buildings and the public spaces in the Historic District, particularly the famous Banyan Tree Park. Their Baldwin Home Museum is a great first stop to learn about the island’s history.

Maui Nei is an organization that conducts two-hour guided walking tours of Lahaina, and also offers a three-hour cultural arts program. If your kids are up to walking around for that time, listening and participating, they’re more than welcome.

Another entertaining and delicious way to learn more about local culture is to attend one of the big luau dinner theaters; there are several in the Lahaina-Ka’anapali area. The biggest and closest to downtown is the Old Lahaina Luau, where you’ll experience a professional two-hour show by an amazing dance troupe.

Boston - Chinatown

How to get there:

Less than 15 minutes’ walk from South Station, Chinatown also has its own stop on the Orange Line, one stop south of Downtown Crossing, where you can connect to the Red and Green Lines – and just 2 stops south of State, to connect to the Blue Line.

By car, northbound I-93 enters the “Big Dig” tunnel here; South Station’s parking garage off Lincoln Street has plenty of capacity, and the walk over gives the best first-impression of the neighborhood. In any case, *why* would you be driving in Boston? Park somewhere in the suburbs and take the train in…

Click to open Google Maps

Click to open Google Maps

THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS QUITE DISTINCT IN THE CENSUS DATA. CLICK TO OPEN THE FASCINATING UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA COOPER CENTER MAP PROJECT TO VISUALIZE ETHNIC PATTERNS FROM THE 2010 CENSUS.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS QUITE DISTINCT IN THE CENSUS DATA. CLICK TO OPEN THE FASCINATING UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA COOPER CENTER MAP PROJECT TO VISUALIZE ETHNIC PATTERNS FROM THE 2010 CENSUS.

A brief history:

While there was some shipping trade between New England and East Asia during Colonial and early Independence times, there was no organized migration until the 1870s, well after California and Chicago were settled. No thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, growth in Boston’s Chinatown in the early 1900s came only from other U.S. cities.

It was not until after World War II that New England saw sustained Asian in-migration, tied especially to labor in textile factories: Boston’s current neighborhood was directly adjacent to a garment district. There were also small Chinatowns in Providence, Rhode Island and Portland, Maine; these disappeared as textile production moved to the South after the 1950s and then ultimately overseas.

Boston’s resident Asian population was large enough to maintain a neighborhood-based ecosystem of banks, groceries, service businesses, and restaurants through the 1960s. As the city became an international center for higher education and electronics, new arrivals in the 1970s from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, and finally the PRC in the 1980s settled in areas all over the metropolitan area like Cambridge, Quincy, and Malden – but used the centrally-located historic Chinatown for community, shopping, and services.

In the 2010s the neighborhood is experiencing redevelopment on a massive scale as skyscrapers go up in former garment factories and tenements. You will see when walking around that some of them sport the names and logos of Chinese financial concerns. There are also residential and manufacturing developments in and around the district led by the city and community associations. Being so close to Downtown and the Back Bay, with easy access to transit, long-distance trains, and Logan Airport, Chinatown has become an attractive place to live for every ethnicity.

Beach Street still retains its vintage charm and smaller-scale buildings, however, and is still a working neighborhood with florists, real estate agencies, print shops and a plethora of food options.

What to see and do:

The Paifang on the eastern end of the neighborhood, on Beach Street at the Kennedy Greenway is the natural starting point for a visit. Bring your appetite and plan on visiting at different times of the day.

In the morning, Beach Street is a busy farmers’ market (Chung Wah Hong) and the neighborhood’s several bakeries are doing a brisk business. At mid-day, over 200 restaurants are filled with locals and workers from downtown and other neighborhoods enjoying lunch. There’s not just Chinese cuisine – you’ll find great Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean options and more. And in the evening, many of those restaurants stay open well through the night into the early morning hours. Here’s a recent Boston Globe article with some favorites. (Our personal #1 is the Gourmet Dumpling House!)

Be sure to pay close attention to shop windows and note the diversity of businesses; there are still some craft supply stores and general merchandise shops offering interesting gifts, home-goods, and fashion accessories.

Chinatown’s compact size means wandering around doesn’t take too long, but you might miss interesting details. The Asian Community Development Corporation offers a 90-minute guided tour for a fee depending on the size of your group. This tour shows the origins of the neighborhood, its historic struggles, and what everyday life is like there now, and the fee supports the ACDC’s youth program. Plus, you get to talk and ask questions with a local who knows and loves the area!

Even the local McDonald's uses traditional script and ornamentation

Even the local McDonald's uses traditional script and ornamentation

Seasonal festivals and street markets are a staple of Chinatowns, of course. At Lunar New Year, there is a traditional parade which essentially fills the entire quarter, and in February, the New Year Cultural Village at the China Trade Building (corner of Boylston & Washington) has activities, food and street shopping. Early July sees the Main Street Cultural Festival, and in late September, the Main Street Lantern Festival.

Where family travelers can stay:

Boston’s transit system makes it easy to access Chinatown from all over the city, and many downtown hotels are built and priced for the business traveler. However, nearby neighborhoods offer some family-friendly options from familiar brands:

DoubleTree by Hilton has a location at the corner of Oak and Washington, just south of Tufts Medical Center, about 3 blocks south of Chinatown.

Courtyard by Marriott has a location on Tremont Street, just west of the Tufts complex.

The Copley Place shopping / convention / entertainment complex about 1 mile west of Chinatown also has a Courtyard, and a standard Marriott, plus a Sheraton. These hotels are on the Orange Line (Back Bay station), one stop past Chinatown.

IMG_3887.JPG

What else:

Boston’s History Trail and harborfront are an easy walk or quick subway ride just to the north, with their many attractions and museums. And just to the northwest of Chinatown is Boston Common Park with its vast gardens.

Cambridge, home to Harvard University and its many museums, is about 20 minutes’ ride northwest on the Red Line.  There are a great many Chinese students now attending there and restaurants are beginning to pop up to appeal to them – plus, Harvard Square has unique shops and a vibe both upscale and scruffy.

Less than 5 minutes’ ride west on the Orange Line is Copley Place for shopping and the Prudential Tower skydeck and immigration museum. Fenway Park is another mile beyond for historic baseball action.

See also:

http://boston-chinatown.info

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatown,_Boston

Chinatown Main Street Initiative

http://archive.boston.com/travel/boston/articles/2008/07/27/a_sense_of_chinatown/?page=1