Lunar New Year celebrations spread to suburbs

January 24, 2012 6:19:24 PM PST
Lunar New Year celebrations are no longer limited to just a few major U.S. cities. A population shift is now bringing the festivities to suburbs that used to lack cultural offerings.

One Chinese language pre-school is located in Millbrae -- a once predominately white suburb where the population is now nearly half Asian. Downtown banners celebrate the Lunar New Year along with Chinese-owned businesses, including a candy shop selling New Year rice cakes and traditional red gift envelopes.

The store's manager moved his family here from San Francisco six years ago for the same reasons many leave the city.

"It safe and very convenient and also very quiet. Most of the people that live here are middle class. We find everything very good here," said Christopher Chan, the shop manager.

New census data shows 62 percent of Asian-Americans now live in the suburbs -- that's up from 54 percent 20 years ago. They're now the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S. that is now more likely than any other minority group to live in the suburbs. However, that means a decline in traditional urban neighborhoods like Chinatown.

San Francisco State political science instructor David Lee grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown, but later moved to the city's Richmond District, a so-called "satellite Chinatown."

"The Chinese community in Chinatown now heavily senior and elderly and this is a dramatic change from the Chinatown that I grew up in which was largely families and young people working in and around Chinatown," said Lee.

San Francisco's Chinatown has essentially become a tourist attraction, with some housing left for seniors and new immigrants.

You can walk through Washington D.C.'s Chinatown without even seeing people of Chinese descent.

"Here you have the Chinese restaurants and some of the Chinese businesses, but you don't really see the Chinese population per se," said Washington D.C. resident Tom Howard.

New York's Chinatown is no longer home to the city's largest Chinese population, but the neighborhood councilwoman, Margaret Chin, says Chinatown remains an important cultural center.

"The culture, the history, the roots are here, and the people no matter where they move to, they always manage to come back here," said Chin.

The population shift means more areas of the country are celebrating the year of the dragon than ever before.