by: Katie Weber
When shop owner Yat Wont, 53, walks through Chicago’s Chinatown, he feels quite different than the awe-stricken tourists that fill the sidewalks. Wont, a resident of Chinatown for 30 years, experiences a sense of comfort in this neighborhood.
“For the Chinese, you feel at home in Chinatown when you first come into America,” Wont said.
Wont is not alone in his sentiments. According to the Census Bureau, Chinatown’s population grew by 24 percent to 7,254 from 2000-2010.
This is a dramatic change for a community that formed under desperate circumstances; Chinatown originally formed when anti-Chinese sentiments led to persecution of Chinese immigrants in the West.
The modern community bound by the Chicago River, Clark Street, 26th Street and Halsted Avenue is not only a comforting enclave for its Chinese residents but also a hotspot for tourists.
Chinatown visitors are treated with traditional Chinese architecture as they walk by the terracotta Pui Tak Center and admire the traditional lion statues that seem to guard Zodiac Square.
These pieces, such as the Nine Dragons mural, have a deep cultural meaning.
“The Chinese would actually worship dragons,” said Rahsaan Liddell, a docent for the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. “As a result, they would often pray to dragons…The Chinese belief in dragons was so much that the emperors would say that they were dragons.”
For tourists who wish to further emerge themselves in Chinese culture, Chinatown’s many restaurants offer dishes from many different regions.
The Phoenix restaurant offers traditional Cantonese dishes, while the area’s Sichuan restaurants offer tourists spicier dishes.
Despite its many attractions, Chinatown’s true magnificence continues to lie in its residents’ simple desire to better their future.
“I think it’s a place of opportunity,” Wont said.