Koreatown A little slice of Seoul


New York City has been, and continues to be the epicenter of America's 'Melting Pot'. As much as there is cultural "blending" if you will, there is also an aspect of cultures retaining distinctive sectors and areas of NYC. These cultural and ethnic hubs are known as Ethnic Enclaves. One enclave of Manhattan lies (mainly) on West 32nd street and has been hailed, "Koreatown".

Where Did you come from, whEre did you go?

A brief history

The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953 and America's support of South Korea at that time promoted Korean-American ties. However, it wasn't until the passing of the US's Hart-Cellar Immigtaion Act in 1965 that large numbers of Korean immigrants came to the US. The Immigration act revoked all past quotas on international immigration and instead allowed up to 30,000 immigrants per county to come to the United States. Pushed from their country by a decrease in job opportunity paired with in increasing fear of political unrest, many young, working age Koreans came to America. By 1960 there were 11,200 Koreans living in the US and by 1970, there were 38,700 though the growth continued and by 1990 there were 568,400 Koreans living in the US.

Especially during the 1970s and 1980s there were some severe push factors that contributed to the rise in immigration from Korea. In 1970, the per capita income in South Korea was $251, and with that came a low standard of living. Additionally, from the 60s to the 80s, there was fear of military dictatorship due to a lack of political freedom.

Another push factor was the seeking of higher education. Extreme competition in admittance for Korean Universities coupled with high tuition, led many to seek educational opportunities for themselves, and their children in the United States.

In 1995, West 32nd Street was also named "Korea Way" due to the commercial Korean presence and culture.

AfTer all these years...

Why Koreatown isn't as well known as Chinatown or Little Italy

While you may have never heard of Koreatown due to its small area and its location in chaotic midtown, K-Town has been a "secret" hotspot for food, culture and a roaring nightlife.

NY Times contributer Deborah Baldwin writes:

"...West 32nd Street turns into a neon-lighted playground for clobbers and nowhere, and you may wonder where it has been hiding all these years..."

And the reality is that it hasn't been hiding at all!

Setting up shoP

Koreatown was just beginning to establish itself in the 1970's when immigrants were looking for work in Manhattan. Many Koreans came to America in search of job opportunity but due to the language barrier, many had to take small jobs like grocers, clothing factory workers, or convenient store employees. While there was never any formal plan to create K-Town, as small Korean business began to open up, a commercial and retail little bubble began to form.

A classic Korean doorway as seen in a K-Town restaurant; but also a great analogy to the opening doorway of culture that West 32nd street has become.

The re-development of West 32nd street began largely due to its prime location. Located right by Penn Station, the Empire State Building, Herald Square, the Garnment District and the Meatpacking District, K-Town is in the hub of Manhattan's industry. Technically, K-Town runs from 5th and 6th avenue (of the Americas) , from 30th to 36th street. While Koreatown is a hustling hub of Korean culture its residential makeup is only about 12% Korean.

Well We're Living Here in...Flushing?

The most interesting part of Manhattan's Koreatown is that it isn't residential. West 32nd street is almost entirely a commercial enclave. In fact, most NYC Korean residents live in Flushing, Queens. However, K-Town is Manhattan's densest area of Korean business.

32nd Street strip. Note the "Stanford Hotel" on the left; one of K-Town's four hotels.

Culture, Culture Everywhere!

As Gina Pace of New York Daily News says:

"Once seen as a touristy alternative to more authentic Korean food scenes in Queens, the Midtown enclave is now being taken seriously as a dining destination."

The amount of culture in K-Town is practically overwhelming. Filled to the brim with restaurants, spas, clubs, bars, and shops, Koreatown resembles it's namesake's origin in more ways than one. K-Town's physical landscape resembles Seoul in the way that the storefronts are stacked on top of eachother, as they are in Seoul. Little hints of Korean culture are also present. In Korea, food presentation is very important and in K-Town examples of this are seen in bakeries were there is a great emphasis placed on the presentation of the baked goods.

Food for thought

Personally, I have been to Koreatown many times (my aunt works just a few blocks away in Murray Hill) and I have to recommend a small restaurant called Mandoo (on West 32nd street). It is home to what I swear is NYC's best dumplings! I also suggest visiting K-Town's original establishments, such as Tom Kang and Koryo Books.

K-Town is Killin' It!

While confined to a relatively small area in Midtown, Koreatown is filled with music, food, clothing, and people who all share a connection and passion for Korean culture. Perhaps its most uncommon feature (it's removal from Korea's residential hubs) alos makes it the most unique. K-Town enjoys the cultural exchange that Manhattan part takes in, while also retaining an element of Korean social workings that attract Koreans and non-Koreans to this ethnic enclave! For the Korean population specifically though, having not only a physical landscape of shops and business that represent home, but also food and clothing that do as well, provides a sense of comfort and stability. For those who may have recently immigrated, or perhaps for those studying abroad here in the US, Manhattan's Koreatown offers a little taste of home that can help in a time of cultural transition.

Sources Referenced:

Baldwin, Deborah. "Exotic Flavor, Beyond Just the Food." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Oct. 2008. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

Pace, Gina. "Koreatown Is Being Taken More Seriously by Discerning Diners." NY Daily News. N.p., 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

Galante, Meredith. "An Insider's Tour Of Koreatown, A Slice Of Seoul In The Middle Of Manhattan." Business Insider. Business Insider, 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 16 Jan. 2017. (Note: This is where my pictures were taken from).

"Korean Immigrants in the United States." Migrationpolicy.org. N.p., 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

"The Peopling of New York ยป The History of Koreatown." The Peopling of New York RSS. City University of New York, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.