A Tale of Two Cultures

By Natalie Watts

As visitors walk through Chinatown, they see a blend of two cultures. Chinese and English are both written and spoken, the merchandise in shops is sold in American coinage, and restaurants sell Americanized versions of Chinese food.

“In Chinatown Chicago, everyone is friendly,” Rui Ma, 25, a hostess at Lao Szechwan said, “Everyone gets along together.”

Chinatown is located on the near South Side of Chicago with boundaries of the Chicago River to the north, 26th Street to the south, Halsted to the west, and Clark Street to the east. It has a population of 7,254 people, 6,447 of whom are Chinese, making it the second largest Chinatown in the U.S.

The area houses banks, restaurants, shops, grocery and medicine stores, and it offers Chinese cultural services for its residents – some of whom emigrated from China, while others are multiple generations in.

Though the people of Chinatown have these close cultural ties, Chinatown’s restaurants have adopted a tourist-friendly menu, which includes “Chinese” dishes that you would have a difficult time finding in China. But it also encompasses the food of other cultures.

Michelle Leung, early 50s, gave examples of the other types of food she offers at her family-run restaurant, Hing Kee,: “We have…pasta, Japanese food, and Vietnamese food,” though she said, “dumplings and ramen noodles, this our specialty.”

Yet, the tourist catering doesn’t ruin the unique vibe Chinatown receives from its look as well as its feel. Most of the buildings were made to look Chinese in design, beautiful statues and mosaics adorn arches and parks, Chinese is heard in conversations between residents, and the neighborhood hosts many cultural events throughout the year – all of which help to give a trip to Chinatown a more immersed feel.

This mix of American life and Chinese culture is shown in the 100,000 hand-painted piece mosaic located near the Chicago River.

“This mosaic kind of tells you the story of the Chinese immigration and their story of their life upon arrival in the United States, how they came here, and what their life has been like,” said Rashaan Liddell, 45, a docent for the Chinatown Board of Commerce.

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