Asian Pacific American Heritage

Since 1990, the Asian Pacific popula- tion in the metropolitan area has grown 56 percent, faster than any other ethnic group in the city. Although widely per- ceived as a single, homogenous group, Asian Pacific Americans represent more than 24 ethnic groups who speak a wide array of languages and dialects. Some are recent newcomers to the United States; others come from families that have lived in this country for as long as six genera- tions. Though Asian Pacific Islanders com- prise only 3.3 percent of the city’s popu- lation, there are many attractions and events that reflect Asian Pacific Heritage.

In addition, Chinatown is one of Washington, D.C.’s most popular neigh- borhoods, with its many restaurants, nightclubs, and cultural attractions. Chinatown History Chinatown was originally located around 4th and Pennsylvania Ave., NW, on land where the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art stands today. In the late 1920s, federal government con- struction plans forced the recent Chinese immigrants who lived in the neighbor- hood to move -- along with the city’s Italian, and Greek communities. Little Italy and Little Greece, as they were known at the time, disappeared. Chinatown survived.

In 1935, during the height of the Great Depression, the whole neighborhood packed up and moved. Chinese elders, unable to purchase real estate independently, found a real estate agent and bought a cluster of buildings on H St., NW, between 6th and 7th Sts. An annual Chinese New Year Parade was soon started, bringing people into the neighborhood from around the city. This celebration still takes place every year. After the Washington Convention Center was built in the late 1970s two blocks west of Chinatown, the city estab- lished voluntary architectural guidelines to preserve the neighborhood.

Street signs and store windows are bilingual. The walls of the CVS drugstore, for exam- ple, bear Chinese proverbs. The jewel of Chinatown is its spectac- ular Friendship Arch, designed by Alfred Liu, a Hong Kong-born architect who owns a Washington, D.C. firm. The arch, with its traditional Chinese motifs in bright gold, green, blue, and red, spans H Street just east of 7th St., NW. Other major additions to the neigh- borhood include the MCI Center and the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro.

The Metro has brought increased visibility to the area while Chinatown continues to attract both local residents and visitors. Arts and Cultural Attractions From special events to museums, the Washington, D.C., area offers many cul- tural opportunities that reflect Asian Pacific heritage. Perhaps the best-known event is the National Cherry Blossom Festival, held every spring to commemo- rate the cherry trees given to Washington, D.C., by the mayor of Tokyo as a symbol of international friendship. The festival is timed to coincide with the blooming of the trees. The 1999 festival is com- prised of more than 40 events, including many that highlight Japanese culture.

The Sakura Matsuri, for example, is a Japanese-style cherry blossom festival spon- sored by the Japan- America society of Washington, D.C. The free outdoor event provides people of all ages with a fun immersion into Japanese culture through performances, exhibits, and activities. The Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art are both dedicated to pro- moting public interest and scholarship in the art and culture of Asia. The Sackler, opened in 1987, uses innovative approach- es to stimulate interest in Asia. The permanent col- lection spans the period from Neolithic times to the present.

The Freer Gallery of Art houses Asian collections that span Neolithic times to the early 20th century and are both known internationally for their quality. The Sackler offers many events and a popular series of free films; arrive early for tickets because they tend to run out quickly. For more information on other pop- ular Smithsonian exhibits, including the National Museum of American History’s permanent exhibit, “A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution.”

The skyrocking number of new ethnic eateries within the past twenty years has elevated Washington DC to one of the most diverse and influential restaurant cities in the United States. So, whether it is Afghan, Brazilian, Malaysian, Salvadoran, Vietnamese or African American cuisine you seek, welcome to Washington DC–you have come to the right town! With so many tempting dining expe- riences to choose from in Washington, D.C., the hardest question remains, ‘where should we eat tonight?’ Why not try Spanish Tapas ; small, appetizer-size portions of fragrant delicacies that allow one to sample several dishes at a time, without over eating or over spending.

In Chinatown on a Sunday afternoon, Dim Sum, a mobile smorgasbord of delec- table Far-East offerings, is a savory, chaotic alternative to a typical Sunday brunch. When dining Ethiopian style in Adams Morgan, never dine alone. It is much too fun with everyone sitting around a colorful, flat basket, eating sans utensils, and sharing generous por- tions of lamb, chicken and vegetables. Instead of forks, a sponge-like bread called Injera is used to scoop up your food. Today’s trends in African American, African, and Caribbean restaurants reflect memorable meals of yesteryear while taking on both the challenges of the approaching millennium and the consumer orientation of modern busi- ness.

The success of Nouvelle Soul Food as a response to these trends is confirmed by the recent opening of sev- eral major restaurants featuring this exciting new–old cuisine. Though their offerings include dishes we grew up with, their culinary presentation is more artis- tic, their dining environment’s more upscale, and their wait-service, often, more commanding. At an average price of $18 a plate, is it worth it? Oh yeah! Even with these new entries to the forever changing restaurant scene, old favorites like Ben’s Chili Bowl and Florida Avenue Grill have survived over 40 years of social change. Do yourself a favor and stop in to say hello to Virginia Ali, proprietor of the legendary Ben’s Chili Bowl. Ms. Ali will graciously tell you stories of segregated DC, the rise, fall and resurrection of the U Street corridor and the many celebrities who consider Ben’s half-smokes one of their favorite indulgences.

Lacey Wilson con- tinues to greet his loyal regulars daily from behind the counter of Florida Avenue Grill, arguably the most famous Soul Food restaurant in the district. The small luncheonette serves a terrific breakfast of pork chops and scrambled eggs, just as it has done since 1944. Thank goodness some things never change! Here is a list of restaurants popular with locals, Capitol Hill politicians, and culinary connoisseurs alike. If you hunger for a plate of home-style cookin’, take-out for eating-in curled up in front of the TV, or to treat yourself to an evening made in gastronomic heaven, Washington, D.C. offers a plethora of dining experiences. Enjoy!

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