Long Island City is home to New York’s fastest growing Asian population

Yumpling, a Taiwanese restaurant, opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant in August 2020, as New York City was in a difficult void between waves of the coronavirus. Dining inside was still prohibited, but landlords had signed the lease just before the pandemic and could not continue paying rent on an empty storefront.

To their surprise, they sold food within three hours of opening their doors in Long Island City, Queens. A line of Asian Americans waited around the block for beef noodle soup and pork dumplings.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Yumpling, who had operated a food truck in Manhattan, is one of at least 15 Asian businesses – including a Mandarin daycare and a barber shop – that have opened in the neighborhood since March 2020.

“The whole increase in the Asian American population has been crazy,” said Chris Yu, 30, part-owner and from Taiwan.

Long Island City, nestled in the western corner of Queens overlooking the Manhattan waterfront, is a microcosm of radical demographic change: a booming Asian population that has become the fastest growing racial group in the world. country and its most populous city.

Asian residents have been responsible for an unexpected 7.7% increase in New York City’s overall population since 2010, according to Census Bureau data released in August, reversing predictions by demographers that the the city’s population was shrinking.

Across the country, people who identify as Asians – a sprawling group of nearly 20 million people who have their roots in more than 20 countries – are settling in big cities like Los Angeles and Houston, but are also thriving. quickly in states like North Dakota and Indiana. In West Virginia, the Asian population has grown even as the state’s overall population has shrunk.

Census data also showed that among New York City neighborhoods, Long Island City has seen the fastest growth in the number of residents who identified as Asian, a five-fold increase since 2010. The nearly 11 000 Asians who live in the neighborhood represent about 34% of its population.

The rise in the number of Asian residents has transformed neighborhoods – from Bensonhurst in Brooklyn to Parkchester in the Bronx – with the potential to dramatically reshape New York’s housing market, small business, and political representation. In June, a record six Asian American applicants won their Democratic primaries for city council, including the seat representing Long Island City.

New York City’s Asian population has jumped by more than 345,000 since 2010 to represent 15.6% of the city’s population, according to census data, accounting for more than half of the city’s overall population increase over the past decade. Asians were the only major racial group whose population grew in the five wards.

In recent years, Long Island City has grown from a sprawling industrial area – a long-standing haven for Italian artists and immigrants – to a sea of ​​luxury apartment towers. It became a center of international attention in 2019 after Amazon announced and then abandoned plans to set up its second headquarters there.

Part of the population growth is due to students and recent graduates from China and Korea, a very different profile than restaurant workers and home health aides who have lived for decades in enclaves like Chinatown. Manhattan and are now stimulating the growth of New Chinatowns across southern Brooklyn.

Young newcomers to Long Island City are drawn to luxury apartment buildings, which are a subway stop from Midtown Manhattan, but cost less.

“I moved here and never regretted it,” said Jike Zhang, a 28-year-old software engineer who immigrated to upstate New York from China in 2015 to pursue higher education.

Ms. Zhang moved to Long Island City in 2018 after looking for a rental property with a basketball court. She played basketball several times a week, a way to befriend other Chinese millennials in the building, and recently bought a one-bedroom condo nearby.

Among Long Island City residents who identify as Asian, the three largest ethnic groups are Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, according to 2019 census data.

Long Island City has also attracted a growing number of second and third generation Asian Americans looking to raise young families in a quiet waterfront neighborhood. The influx of families has fueled a shortage of places in schools and made education a hot political topic.

David Oh, 43, moved to Long Island City in 2010 from Manhattan, where he works in finance, because he was getting married and wanted more space. Like many parents in the area, Mr. Oh grew up in Queens, where his mother still lives. He wanted a neighborhood where his children, ages 5 and 8, could easily visit Chinatown in Flushing.

“They don’t grow up being ashamed of their origins or feeling inferior or un-American,” said Mr. Oh, who is Korean and Chinese-American.

Local businesses are racing to meet the demands of changing demographics. Along Jackson Avenue, a main shopping corridor, signs on the fronts of vacant stores announce the upcoming opening of new businesses: Dun Huang, a chain of hand-drawn Chinese noodles; Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery chain; and Mito, a sushi lounge.

Many local business owners are young immigrants like Nigel Huang, 27, who opened a bubble tea store called Teazzi on the ground floor of the building where he lives in the penthouse apartment.

Mr. Huang, who grew up in China before attending college and graduate school in the United States, noticed a need for more Asian dining establishments, saying he and his friends often chose to wait until two o’clock for Chinese food delivery from Flushing. .

“Why do more and more Asians want to do business here? Mr. Huang said. “It’s because they see the potential of this developing area.

Yet the neighborhood’s peak Asian population is not just a story of upward mobility. It also reflects the great economic disparity among Asian New Yorkers, who have the largest income gaps of any racial group.

The Asian population is growing in another part of Long Island City, inside Queensbridge Houses, the country’s largest public housing complex. In 2019, Asians made up 11% of tenants in the building complex, according to a recent court case.

Immigrants from China, Korea and Bangladesh moved in after they could no longer afford to live in neighborhoods like Lower Manhattan or Astoria in Queens, according to tenant advocates.

“Our Asian working-class tenant leaders fought against the kind of luxury development that gentrified them out of their previous homes,” said Alina Shen, organizer for Asian tenants in Queensbridge.

The challenge of representing such a large constituency will likely fall on Julie Won, a Liberal Democratic candidate who is set to win the seat on the city council that represents Long Island City – as well as Astoria, Sunnyside and Woodside in Queens next month.

Ms Won, a 31-year-old technology consultant, said she was consciously trying to avoid perpetuating model minority stereotypes about Asian Americans during the election campaign. She told voters she immigrated from South Korea as a child and grew up in poverty in Queens, watching her mother rub other people’s feet in nail salons.

After Ms Won’s primary victory in June, she found she had gained a solid base of white voters, as well as Tibetan, Nepalese and Bengali voters, after recruiting organizers focused on those communities. But his support among Chinese and Korean voters was weaker than expected.

She said that encouraging civic engagement will require, for example, hiring a speaker fluent in Mandarin to raise awareness among local Chinese-owned businesses.

“At the end of the day, if they don’t trust you, they won’t interact with you,” Ms. Won said.

Elliot Park, a Korean-born US resident who voted for Ms Won, said anti-Asian attacks across the city have become a force for new political activism. Although a handful of attacks have taken place in Long Island City, the large Asian population has provided a sense of security, said Mr. Park, whose family business, Shine Electronics Co., has been operating in the area since 1984. .

“There really wasn’t any hateful anti-Asian stuff around us except on the subway,” said Mr. Park, 43. “But in the street? Forget that. There are going to be 10 other Asians behind you.

In addition to public safety, education has also become a hotly contested political issue in the region. With the influx of new families, the local public primary school had waiting lists for years to enter kindergarten.

Natsuko Ikegami, a real estate broker, moved to Long Island City in 2017 from East Harlem because she believed it was a safer community. Her Asian American clients often choose Long Island City, she said, to send their children to a high-performing public school, instead of paying for a private school.

“For many Asian parents, education is so important,” said Ms. Ikegami, who immigrated from Japan to the United States in the 1990s. “There is a saying in my language that says the first three years of a child’s life determine a lifetime. “

The neighborhood emptied during the pandemic when many international students returned home and families moved to the suburbs, prompting some buildings to offer four months of free rent. Rental prices in Long Island City are now returning to pre-pandemic levels, in part because international students have returned to school.

Their return has been a relief for April Jiang, 29, a Chinese immigrant who plans to open an Asian-inspired fried chicken restaurant in the area next month.

His other Long Island City restaurant, Yin Traditional Hot Pot, struggled last year without Chinese students. When the restaurant opened in early 2020, she focused on authentic Sichuan flavors, regardless of whether the broth would be too spicy or the pork intestines too off-putting.

“We wondered if we should balance the flavors for Americans to come here, but we really don’t need to,” Ms. Jiang said, citing the high demand from international students. “Our kitchen, they just can’t handle it.”

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