May 13, 2022 | Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! | By: Marta Olmos, Communications Coordinator for Main Street America |
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! AAPI people live in, work in, and visit Main Street districts across the nation, and their cultures and history enrich our communities. This month, we are highlighting five Main Street districts with rich and fascinating AAPI populations and stories. We encourage you to visit them, or their virtual spaces, this month!
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Located in the Bay Area, this city was originally part of the 1797 Mission San Jose, and it was incorporated as its own town in 1956. Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Fremont took in a significant number of Afghan refugees, making it home to the largest concentration of Afghan Americans in the nation. The downtown has been built and designed as "a central gathering point for the entire Fremont community and beyond and a place for residents to live, work, and play." The City is currently in the process of building The Downtown Event Center, which will provide space for community events and activities, including active games/sports, food trucks, concerts, maker fairs, markets, and more. Fremont is home to a population that is 63% AAPI.
Unsurprisingly, Chinatown Main Streets is next on our list! Home to a population that is 55% AAPI, this unique district is rich with culture and history. Chinese immigrants began arriving in New England in the mid-19th century, mostly as temporary merchants and laborers. This movement changed suddenly under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which placed severe restrictions on Chinese immigration. Nevertheless, immigrants found their way to Boston and established a vibrant community. The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese women from entering the United States, so for many years, Chinatown was predominately male. "These men often worked hard and lived lonely lives, and the establishment of a community base helped provide them with services and a sense of home," said the National Park Service. Today, the district remains visibly Chinese, from the signs on stores to the goods sold within them. It is a welcoming refuge for new immigrants and a warm home for generations of Chinese-Americans.
Fields Corner is one of Boston's largest Main Street districts. It is located in the heart of Dorchester, home to a diverse mix of Vietnamese, African-American, Cape Verdean, Irish and Latino businesses, and residents. The district has a population that is 46% AAPI. A deeply historic place, the district is named for the Field family, prominent colonists who arrived in the 1630s and owned many properties in the district throughout the 18th century, including the Isaac Newsome Field House. Today, it is widely known for its excellent Vietnamese restaurants, the best in Boston.
Ellicott City, originally Ellicott Mills, was founded by John, Andrew, and Joseph Ellicott, who purchased the land in 1772 and built one of the largest milling and manufacturing towns in the East. It is home to the oldest surviving passenger train station in the country, built in 1830. Today, it is home to a large Koreatown with numerous Korean-owned businesses and restaurants. In fact, over 13% of small businesses are Korean-owned. Ellicott City's Koreatown has received national recognition for its revitalization efforts, and the city has welcomed them in return. "When your main corridor changes to this extent, to where almost every sign is in Korean, and to accept that as something that's good rather than something you're fearful of and suspicious of is a very unique thing about Howard County," said Charlie Sung to CNN. 31% of the district is of AAPI ancestry.
Suwanee's historic old town boasts buildings dating from the 1870s through the 1960s. It sits along the Norfolk Southern railroad corridor and has always has strong ties to the railroad network. Much like Ellicott City, it is home to a thriving Korean population. The city has a rich Korean business ecosystem, including shops, restaurants, doctors, real estate agencies, accountants, pharmacies, lawyers, and even TV stations and newspapers. Korean residents are able to access these services in Korean and English, creating a welcoming environment for new immigrants. The county that Suwanee is located within, Gwinnett County, is known is the Seoul of the South, and draws in tourism and business from Korean Americans across the region. The district is home to a population that is 23% AAPI.