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he restaurant business has largely driven the growth of the Asian
population in Miami, a tourism boomtown. When hundreds of Chinese from
Hong Kong and Taiwan began relocating to Miami in the late 1980s, many
invested in Chinese restaurants, believing the city's healthy tourist and
retirement economy would generate a free-spending lifestyle. To upstage
competitors, many hired well-known chefs and managers from New York's
Chinatown. Problem was, says Karl Ching, owner of the Florida Chinese News,
an 8,000-circulation Chinese-language weekly, the managers would soon
leave to open their own competing restaurants.
"Now most of the owners of the big Chinese restaurants are from New
York," Ching says, "and they bring their family, relatives, friends and
colleagues." These relocated New Yorkers now comprise at least a quarter of
Miami's Asian community.
"This might upset a man who has been shopping there for a
million years and now can't find a barber who speaks English."
Miami has also seen a large influx of mainland Chinese migrating from
South America, where they found success in the import/export business.
Well-off and financially savvy, these former mainlanders will visit Miami
under a business pretext, then dissolve with their families into the city's
Chinese community, later operating businesses from behind a facade of
falsified documents. Naturally, they aren't counted by the census.
nti-Asian sentiment was subtle before Asians established their very
visible presence in the South. The Asian migration boom has brought the
racism to the surface.
"It depends a lot on what part of town you're in," says one Atlanta
Chinese American. "If you're downtown, in the African American section, you
have to be careful. If you're in a corporation, it's more subtle."
It's also common to hear Asians in the South refer to the "redneck
element," Whites with an outdated, provincial perspective on their new
neighbors. When the Dekalb Chamber of Commerce held a community
meeting to announce plans for the International Village, the rednecks came
out in force. They denounced the development as favoring "newcomers" over
"old timers." Even Doraville's white mayor decried the International Village
as an erosion of the old timers' lifestyle.
Such complaints typically follow changes in neighborhood demographics,
and Asian American leaders expect them. "For those provincially minded
folk, it's difficult because it disrupts their established patterns of life," says
Houston Chinese American business owner Joe. "Maybe their local shopping
mall has been bought by some Hong Kong tycoon, and soon all its
shopkeepers are Asians who don't speak much English. This might upset a
man who has been shopping there for a million years and now can't find a
barber who speaks English."
Eventually, neighborhoods cope with demographic change, but the
South's Asians have found that challenges to political power can trigger fierce
slugfests. Traditionally, the South's Black community constituted the largest
and strongest ethnic group. With the rise of the Asian and Hispanic
populations, however, Blacks are watching their power decline. "There is a
siege mentality in the African American community about what this portends
for their established power base in the city government," says Joe.
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