Cleveland Asian Festival Shines Spotlight on Growing Area, Population

This year’s fest is May 21 and 22

By Laura DeMarco

The Cleveland Asian Festival is back — in person, this weekend. After two years of COVID protocols, the festival celebrating one of Northeast Ohio’s fastest growing populations has returned with a weekend of food, fun and cultural heritage. Taking place around Asia Plaza at East 27th Street and Payne Avenue from 11 a.m. — 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the fest highlights the growth of population and businesses in Asia Town, and throughout Northeast Ohio. More than 100 Asian restaurants, vendors and performers will be featured.

Held in May in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the festival shines a spotlight on a growing Northeast Ohio community. The 2020 census counted an estimated 38,471 people identifying as Asian in Cuyahoga County. Among that group, the largest population was Asian-Indian, 34%; followed by Chinese, 26.1%; other Asian, 15.3%; and Filipino, 9%. Overall, the state of Ohio is 2.9% Asian according to the census. In the United States overall, approximately 19.9 million people (6% of all respondents) identified as Asian alone in 2020, up from 14.7 million people (4.8%) in 2010. The Asian alone population grew by 35.5% between 2010 and 2020. Ohio topped national trends, with a 55.3 % increase in the Asian alone category, including a population growth of 34 % in Cuyahoga County. Today, Asian-Americans live throughout the county, with the highest populations in Pepper Pike (15.6%), Solon (15.2%), Beachwood (13.2%) and Middleburg Heights (10.3%).

This is quite a change from the 1960s and ’70s, when the community was centered around old Chinatown on Rockwell Avenue between East 21st and East 24th streets. Home to Asian immigrants since the 1930s — after the original 1860s Chinatown at West Third and Ontario was demolished — the Rockwell area was largely abandoned by 2006, with the community migrating to the suburbs, and east towards the Asia Plaza downtown. As the Asian population diversified, the name changed from China Town to the more inclusive AsiaTown, now home to a thriving community, including two malls, three supermarkets, a health center, shops, cafes and restaurants: Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and more. Nationwide, Asian-Americans make up nearly 10 percent of all business owners according to the census, a fact seen in action in Cleveland.

This weekend, these venues, as well as numerous artists and performers, will welcome Clevelanders back to explore, be entertained and have a bite to eat (or two) at the Cleveland Asian Festival. In addition to traditional dim sum at classic Li Wah and other restaurants, options range from boba to Ball Ball Waffles and much more. Entertainment includes Chinese acrobatic, Indian dance, Japanese martial arts and even walking tours. For a full schedule, see: https://clevelandasianfestival.org/

Photo: The Kwan Family Lion Dance will open Cleveland Asian Festival at 11:30 a.m., Saturday, May 21. (Pictured at Li Wah in 2016)


Business Spotlight

In honor of the festival, Greater Cleveland Partnership is spotlighting one of the Cleveland Asian community’s most successful and inspirational members (and COSE member since 1980), attorney Margaret W. Wong.

A native of Hong Kong, Margaret moved to the United States in 1969. After earning her J.D. at the University at Buffalo Law School, she moved to Cleveland in 1977. One year later, she opened her own firm, focusing on immigration law. Today Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC, has more than 60 employees and offices in nine cities, with a headquarters at 3150 Chester Avenue.

Margaret is an adjunct professor of immigration law at CWRU and the author of several books, including “The Immigrant’s Way.” She is a tireless supporter of Cleveland, immigrants and the local Asian community. This weekend, her firm is associate sponsor of the 2022 Cleveland Asian Festival.