Welcome to Flushing, Queens
The rhythmic beat of music bounces down Main Street as you pass markets with signs advertising, "Lunar New Year Sale!" and "新年快乐! 恭喜发财!" - "Happy New Year!" The street is crowded with people and aglow with red paper lanterns, hanging from storefronts. With a drum beat ringing in your ears, you hear pieces of conversations in Mandarin as the scent of sweet, warm boroh bao, a type of sweet bun, fills the air. At the end of the street is the source of the music - the Chinese New Year parade, complete with dancers dressed in red and a golden dragon, held high dozens of by paraders.
You are in the heart of downtown Flushing, a neighborhood of New York City's borough of Queens. With a total population of 72,000 (2010), the ethnic enclave clocks in with an Asian majority of 67.3%, 48,456 people. Of the Asian population, over 40% are ethnically Chinese (including ethnically Chinese from Taiwan). Flushing's Korean population is also quite prominent . Since they first immigrated to the area, these two ethnic groups, particularly the Chinese group, have had a profound influence on Flushing's culture, landscape, and overall diversity of the neighborhood, from food, restaurants, and novelty stores to languages, banks, and the formation of a downtown Chinatown.
Motivation and Migration
Presently, the majority of Flushing's population identifies as Asian, and the greater borough of Queens is known to be the most diverse county in the United States. However, the area was not always an ethnic enclave, and it did not always feature the ethnic and racial diversity that it does today. During the 1960s, Flushing was predominantly non-Hispanic white.
Photo: Main Street, 1960s-70s.
The decade that followed saw large influxes of Asian immigrants, with ethnically Chinese migrants from Taiwan and some South Koreans first establishing their homes in the neighborhood, which soon became dubbed as "Little Taipei." Many of these immigrants came to find new employment opportunities in New York City, and, in the case of ethnically Chinese Taiwanese immigrants, to escape Chinese Communism. In the years that followed, the Taiwanese population began to grow, with some of Manhattan Chinatown's Taiwanese population migrating into Queens due to Manhattan's more dominant, less-educated Cantonese population. Since then, Flushing has also become a home to more ethnically Chinese groups. The dominance of the Chinese has led to the creation of Flushing's Chinatown, which is now a hub of Chinese culture that comprises much of Flushing's downtown.
Asian Influence on Flushing's Downtown
While Flushing’s landscape, like many other cities', features a few recognizable American brands, such as Target, Starbucks, and Dunkin' Donuts, these storefronts pale in comparison to the hundreds of bright signs and bold Mandarin characters that line streets and windows. On Main Street, banners advertise insurance companies, restaurants, banks, and salons, catering to eastern Asian audiences. Ever-changing posters advertise Asian cell phone services and new music from Chinese-Pop and Korean-Pop stars, who are widely popular in China, Taiwan, and Korea.
However, the large Chinese population does not just influence the appearance of Flushing’s downtown; it affects restaurants and eateries as well. The Queens neighborhood is home to many popular chain restaurants, such as Coco Bubble Tea, a well-known Taiwanese snack cafe; Little Sheep, a Mongolian hot-pot eatery; and Paris Baguette, a South Korean bakery. Beyond restaurants, banks and stores such as Bank of China and H-Mart, a Korean grocery chain that sells imported food and Asian delicacies, also show Chinese prominence. The presence and visibility of these stores and cafes differentiate Flushing's landscape from those of Manhattan, Jackson Heights, and other surrounding areas.
Asian Acculturation to the Greater New York City Area
While Flushing's Chinese community has shaped the area's downtown appearance and landscape with the presence of Mandarin characters, Asian restaurants, and Asian grocery stores, the neighborhood and its population have also acculturated to their New York City surroundings. The architecture of Flushing's commercial and residential buildings would not seem out of place in Manhattan or another American urban area. Flushing residents also dress in similar fashions to many Americans, in terms of clothing style; some may wear more apparel by Asian brands, but the general style of dress is similar between Flushing and the areas surrounding the enclave.
However, although Flushing's population has acquired some qualities from its surrounding areas, residents have not left behind their original cultures completely. Flushing has retained cultural aspects such as the popularity of Mandarin, the prominence of Asian bakeries and stores, and the celebrations of annual Chinese events and festivals such as Autumn Festival. For instance, on Chinese New Year, schoolchildren in Flushing do not have school so that they can observe the holiday. As part of their acculturation to their surrounding areas, the people of Flushing and the enclave itself have gained some of New York City's cultural aspects, but they have also held onto their values and beliefs, making the neighborhood a unique combination of Western and Eastern cultures.
WHY LIVE IN AN ETHNIC ENCLAVE?
American ethnic enclaves help immigrants transition into to life in the United States, a country that is often very different from their places of origins. These communities provide a place where they can communicate in their native language, share similar cultural values with their neighbors, and access many aspects of life that they left behind in their home countries, such as groceries, products, and banks present in the enclave. By living in an ethnic enclave such as Flushing, Queens, immigrants can also acquire and adjust to their new country's values while retaining a sense of ethnic community and culture within their neighborhood. While people can still retain strong cultural identities when living outside of an enclave, these communities provide a relatable atmosphere and easier transition into American lifestyle.