Asian American Enclaves: Is being Americanized bad?

There is a discourse that Asian American enclaves are only for people who are a part of the ethnic group that the area represents. When there are businesses like Starbucks in these areas it is as if the area is becoming too Americanized and losing its purpose, much like the Chinatown in DC. From what I heard in class, people seem to think that the Americanization of these areas means that it no longer stands as an ethnic enclave. Now it is just a part of America that looks Asian but lacks the authentically that would make it fully Asian, much like the food chop suey. Becoming a true substitute for the country these enclaves represent would mean leaving out things that are American, such as mainstream American businesses. These enclaves are important for all Americans because they give us exposure to other languages and cultures. They can also be intimidating because of the need to become more like a mini country separate from the U.S. In this blog post I hope to shed some light on how being Americanized in some aspects is not that bad.

Asian ethnic enclaves in the United States are important not only for Asian Americans but for all Americans. Living in or visiting an Asian ethnic enclave helps to get closer to the authentic lifestyle people from Asian countries experience without leaving the United States. Although not all ethnic enclaves can provide people with the authentic lifestyles of the countries they represent, it is still a good experience to visit. They also provide a place for people from specific ethnic backgrounds to live so they have a feeling of closeness to the homeland of their ancestors and so they can build a community that will allow them to feel comfortable in the United States.

Having Americanized businesses in these areas can be seen as a way of integrating people of different ethnic backgrounds into the area. It eliminates the intimidation one might feel when living there or just visiting and it introduces familiarity. While in Koreatown in Annandale, Virginia I noticed that there was a CVS Pharmacy and a Dollar Tree. Seeing this surprised me and I actually felt less intimidated by what I would find in the surrounding stores. At first I thought that because this area is an Asian American enclave I would not see people who are not Asian inside the stores. I felt that the demographics of Koreatown would be similar to the demographics of South Korea; lacking diversity of ethnic groups other than Korean. Interestingly enough I saw a variety of ethnicities in the stores throughout Koreatown. Especially in Hmart—a grocery store with mostly Korean goods—I saw African Americans, Caucasians, Chinese and of course Korean people.

The other places that I went inside had significantly less diversity but for understandable reasons. These places include the health store and one of the clothing stores. This could be because it was Sunday afternoon but it could also be because these areas were run by native Koreans who often spoke Korean to their customers. As we walked into the health store and the clothing store we heard the cashiers speaking Korean to their customers. When they spoke to us we could hear a thick Korean accent, with the cashier from the clothing store being the most difficult to understand for my sister because she is not used to hearing a person speaking English with a thick Korean accent. It should also be noted that the items in these stores mostly had Hangul, Korean characters, on them. A possible language barrier and also an atmosphere that seems more directed toward Korean people would cause non-Koreans to steer clear of these places.

As we heard from the presentation for the topic of Asian American Spaces, the Chinatown in Philadelphia is mostly made up of Chinese residents and most of them speak little to no English. Although this allows people of and not of Chinese descent access to the Chinese language outside of China, it also creates a bubble. The Chinese residents would not be likely to travel to other parts of the United States because it will almost seem like they have stepped into another country. Also just like how it would be intimidating to go to a store because of a language barrier, ethnic enclaves live the Philadelphia Chinatown might have fewer tourists. People will not get to fully enjoy all that it has to offer because they do not understand the people who live there. I do not think this is a reason to completely Americanize Asian American ethnic enclaves but it is a reason to reevaluate whether having a few American shops would be bad for an ethnic enclave or not.

Asian American enclaves should have a balance between being Asian and being American because this allows all Americans to enjoy the cultures and understand the community better.


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