“Cleveland is a very welcoming city for Asian Americans. People are understanding about different cultures, and curious. They want to get to know Asian Americans better.”
So says Johnny Wu, Vice President of Communications at the OCA Greater Cleveland Chapter – which has been providing advocacy and assistance to the growing Asian Pacific American community since 1983 – and a founder of the Cleveland Asian Festival.
This May, Clevelanders will have the chance to get to know the local Asian American community much better, most visibly at the 14th annual festival in AsiaTown, May 20-21. Begun by Wu, Lisa Wong and Vi Huyn, the festival has survived and thrived for more than a decade and through the challenges of Covid. It is held every May – American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI) – in Cleveland’s AsiaTown.
From the beginning, the goal was exposure – and community building.
The three founders had been working on programming about, and for, the local Asian community on the TV20 Public Access channel.
“We wanted to do to something much more interesting, and decided that was to do a festival,” says Wu.
“Exposure was the big thing.”
The festival grew quickly, from 10,000 that first year to more than 20,000 over two days in recent years. Attendees can expect to see everything from the Kwan Family Lion Dance to Korean singing, South Indian classical dance and much more. Food options range from traditional dim sum at Li Wah to boba, Ball Ball Waffles, Hibachi, Himalayan food, Korean BBQ, Szechuan hot pot and other options from vendors. For a full schedule, see: https://clevelandasianfestival.org/
But exposure goes beyond these two days, or even May.
“People come and explore the neighborhood and keep coming back,” says Wu.
Not only for dim sum or boba, or visit the remarkable Koko Bakery or Park to Shop grocery, which regularly attracts 5,000 shoppers from across the region per weekend day.
“It’s a great way for entrepreneurs to see the neighborhood and its potential for businesses,” says Wu. “We’ve had people open businesses after attending the festival.”
That’s where OCA comes in. In addition to providing community services such as translation and legal help, OCA can connect potential business with the CDCs and “help to develop a course that gets you get where you are going.” They can also assist people seeking to move to the neighborhood.
“Just this last year, Mango Mango opened following the last festival,” says Wu. “We know there are Asian businesses opening throughout the whole city, which is great. But for many businesspeople, they are drawn to the support and sense of community here. This is a place where they feel comfortable. This is an area where Asian community members participate and go shopping. There is a sense of opportunity.
Asian Community Growth
Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing population groups in America, including in Greater Cleveland. They also represent an increasing segment of the business community. Some facts:
- Cleveland’s Asian population is growing. According to the 2022 census, 2.5 % of Clevelanders identify as Asian (alone) and 3.5 % of Cuyahoga County. The census counted an estimated 43,000 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.
- Ohio topped national trends, with a 55.3 % increase in the Asian alone category, including a population growth of 34 % in Cuyahoga County. 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%). The Asian alone population grew by 35.5% between 2010 and 2020.
- Nationwide, Asian-Americans make up 7 % of the population, but 10% of of all business owners according to the census.
- In 2022, there were an estimated 577,835 Asian-owned businesses with about 24.5% (141,746) in the Accommodation and Food Services sector. Asian-owned businesses had the largest estimated receipts ($863.3 billion) among minority groups.
- Cleveland’s AsiaTown neighborhood – east of Downtown Cleveland, between I-90 and E. 55th, Perkins to St. Clair, as well as Old Chinatown on Rockwell Avenue – is home to around 2,000 residents, up from 1,200 in 2011.
Cleveland Asian History
Today, Asian-Americans live throughout Greater Cleveland – achange 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, five groceries, a health center, shops, cafes and restaurants: Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and more.
Want to learn more? Johnny Wu is will be releasing a documentary on the history of the local community in May – stay tuned for more news.
*All photos courtesy of Cleveland Asian Festival.
Home – Cleveland Asian Festival
OCA Greater Cleveland Chapter – Embracing the hopes and aspirations of Asian Pacific Americans in Northeast Ohio (ocagc.org)
Additional Links – OCA Greater Cleveland Chapter (ocagc.org)
Welcome to Asiatown | Destination Cleveland | Cleveland, OH | This Is Cleveland
USPAACC | Largest, Most Established Asian American Business…
U.S. Census Bureau Releases Key Stats in Honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month | U.S. Department of Commerce
Spotlight on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States – New American Economy Research Fund
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