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.

Chinatown: Ellis Taylor

Chinatown is a small community that is full of rich Chinese culture, language and history.

Chinatown can be found on the South Side of Chicago at Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue. The exact boundaries of Chinatown are: Chicago River to the north, 26th Street to the south, Clark Street to the east, and Halsted Avenue to the west.

Chinatown currently houses about 7,254 people and about 6,447 of these are Chinese.

As visitors walk into the main entrance of Chinatown, they will see a large red gate that is based on a wall located in Beijing. This entrance is the gateway to the authentic Chinese experience.

Chinatown is well known for its delicious and exotic Chinese restaurants that serve food from many different cities in China.

“If you like spicy food, you are bound to try here, yeah this one is the best one in Chicago”, said Rui Ma, 25, a hostess of the Lal Szechuan Restaurant which houses some of the best spicy Chinese food in Chicago.

Chinatown also has a number of wonderful attractions and festivals that make it a joy to visit. One of the more famous attraction is the Nine Dragon Wall.

“One of the first things that most people say when they think of China is ‘dragons,’” said Rahsaan Liddell, a docent for the Chinese Chamber of Commence.

In Chinese culture, dragons are sacred and believed to have magical powers like the number nine, signifying the significance of the Nine Dragon Wall.

These beautiful attractions come from a troubled history of Chinese in America. Chinese immigrated to America in order to build the Transcontinental Railroad. After the completion of the railroad, the Chinese immigrants remaining in America began to experience discrimination and violence. Chinese began to migrate to Chicago, eventually developing their own land, now known as Chinatown.

The people of Chinatown are not only friendly to their fellow immigrants, but also to any visitors from the outside.

“Chinatown in Chicago is very friendly” Ma said. “Everyone gets along together.”

Chinatown: Nitin Clement Sekar

Within the broad borders of the metropolis of Chicago, there is a tight knit community of Chinese Americans who live together in their version of homeland China: Chinatown.

“There are many things to do in Chinatown that relate to our culture so well, “said Rui Ma, a hostess of Lao Sze Chuan, a popular Cantonese restaurant.

In Chinatown, there are locations, architecture and artistic elements that are unique to the place many Chinese Americans call home.

The neighborhood is located within the boundaries of the Chicago River to the north, 26th Street to the south, Clark Street to the east, and Halsted Avenue to the west. It also has a population of approximately 7,254 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

There are approximately 60 restaurants located in Chinatown, two schools, a public library, along with multiple specialty shops and community centers.

When you reach Chinatown, a red gate welcomes you.

In the many shops that fill the streets of the oriental community, many different pieces of handcrafted arts are sold such as vases, statuettes of Bruce Lee, Buddha figurines and much more.

Chinatown also houses many restaurants within its gates; some have even won multiple awards in the years, such as the “Best of Chicago” culinary award and many others.

“We come here to enjoy the food,” Peter Dang said, a Vietnamese visitor from around the Chinatown area.

The restaurants serve authentic Chinese cuisine, much different than the American-ized versions of Chinese counterparts that we eat on a constant basis.

The bustling neighborhood also houses its own “City Hall” known as the Pui Tak Center.

Built in 1927 as the On Leong Merchants Association Building, it has been renovated into a local hall, providing various Chinese Americans to obtain literacy training or immigration to the United States.

There are also many different pieces of art in Chinatown, such as the Nine Dragon Wall.

“When most people think of China,” said Rahsaan Liddell, a docent for the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. “They think about Dragons.”

Chinatown retains its state as one of the most popular, and most unique centers of culture for the Chinese community and tourists alike.

“In Chinatown Chicago, everyone is friendly,” Ma said. “Everyone gets along together.”


By Taylor Telford

For Chinese Americans, home is thousands of miles across the ocean.

However, a community has developed in Southside Chicago that recreates the home they left behind.

Bounded by the Chicago River to the north, 26th street to the south, Clark Street to the east and Halstead Avenue to the west, Chinatown is primarily located on Cermak and Wentworth Avenue, and is home to approximately 6,447 Chinese Americans according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Rashaan Liddell, docent for the Chinese Chamber of Commerce said that Chinatown is a tight knit community that carries on the traditions of its homeland, including its cardinal values.

“One of the most important things in Chinese culture is filial piety, the absolute loyalty to the family,” Liddell said. “This has been adopted completely in China and has carried over here, to Chinatown.”

Both for its residents and visitors, Chinatown houses dozens of restaurants and shops that are representative of the area’s culture. Restaurants provide visitors a taste of authentic Chinese cuisine from a variety of Chinese subcultures and provinces, including
Lao Sze Chuan, winner of Culinary Awards such as “Best of Chicago” by the Chicago Tribune as well as multiple Bib Gourmand awards from the Michelin Guide.

The streets are lined with local landmarks such as the Nine Dragon Wall, a three-part wall originally built in China and then shipped to the U.S. Other landmarks include Zodiac Square, a pavilion in the center of Chinatown with Chinese Zodiac statues
and Chinatown Mural, a 100,000-piece mural constructed with hand painted tiles depicting the journey and lives of Chinese immigrants in America.

According to Liddell, Chinese immigrants built Chinatown to foster a feeling of comfort and familiarity for themselves in a new country.

“The residents of Chinatown built it to resemble home,” Liddell said.

This tight-knit community is friendly and diverse and provides a home for any

Chinese American who seeks one, according to Rui Ma, hostess at Lao Sze Chuan.

“It’s very diverse […] People are gathered here from many different cities,” Ma said. “For me, Chinatown Chicago is very friendly and everyone gets along.”

Chinatown offers opportunity, entertainment

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.