Booming culture defines Chinatown

By Sheila Raghavendran

Chicago’s Chinatown is a contemporary community steeped in ancient Chinese culture.

Chinatown is located on Cermak and Wentworth Avenues on the South Side Chicago, with the Chicago River to the north, 26th Street to the south, Clark Street to the east, and Halsted Avenue to the west.

Language, food and history are parts of Chinatown culture.

Chinatown acts as a home-away-from-home for approximately 7,254 residents, according to the 2010 United States Census Bureau.

Chinatown is an accurate mini-China because the cultures of different cities are highlighted, according to Rui Ma, a 25 year-old employee at Lao Sze Chuan who has been living in Chicago for three months.

“There are many different types of Chinese food offered in Chinatown…” Ma said. “We’re all from very different kinds of foods, different cities… Sze Chuan-style food [is the] most spicy food.”

While Ma said that cuisine is a major part of Chinatown, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce docent Rahsaan Liddell said that Chinese-American history functions as part of Chinatown’s definition.

When the Gold Rush struck in 1849, Chinese immigrants flocked to the United States as laborers who worked to build the Transcontinental Railroad, Liddell said. He said that the railroad passed through Chicago and brought livestock for slaughtering, storing, processing, and shipping.

“It’s very significant to have the railroads coming through this area,”Liddell said. “And that’s how Chicago became famous for its meat-packing  and the center of meat-packing for the United States.”

The Phoenix, a Chinatown restaurant specializing in the dim sum cuisine, is a hot-spot Cantonese location, Liddell said. He said that the Nine Dragon Wall and Chinatown mural are significant historical tourist sites.

According to Ma, Chinatown is becoming increasingly diverse, and more like China.

“Right now there are more and more Chinese people [in Chinatown],” Ma said. “They’re from different cities [and are] very diverse.”

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