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

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Yumpling, a Taiwanese restaurant, opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant in August 2020, when New York was in difficult limbo between waves of the coronavirus. Indoor dining was still banned, but the landlords had signed the lease just before the pandemic hit and couldn’t keep paying the rent for an empty storefront.

To their surprise, they sold out 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, which operated a food truck in Manhattan, is one of at least 15 Asian businesses — including a childcare center and a Mandarin hair salon — that have opened in the neighborhood since March 2020.

“The whole rise of the Asian American population has been crazy,” said Chris Yu, 30, co-owner and Taiwan native.

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

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

Across the country, people who identify as Asian — a sprawling group of nearly 20 million people with roots in more than 20 countries — are settling in big cities like Los Angeles and Houston, but also expanding. quickly in states like North Dakota and Indiana. In West Virginia, the Asian population grew even as the state’s overall population declined.

Census data also showed that among New York City neighborhoods, Long Island City has seen the fastest growth in the number of residents who identify as Asian, a fivefold increase since 2010. The nearly 11,000 Asians who live in the district represent approximately 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 businesses and political representation. In June, a record six Asian American candidates won their Democratic primaries for City Council, including the seat representing Long Island City.

New York’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 all five boroughs.

In recent years, Long Island City has transformed from a sprawling industrial area — a longtime haven for artists and Italian immigrants — to a sea of ​​luxury apartment towers. It became a center of international attention in 2019 after Amazon announced and then backtracked on plans to move its second headquarters there.

Some of the population growth has been driven by students and recent graduates from China and Korea, a much different profile than restaurant workers and home health aides who have lived for decades in enclaves like Manhattan’s Chinatown and are now driving the growth of new Chinatowns across South Brooklyn.

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

“I moved here and I’ve never regretted it,” said Jike Zhang, a 28-year-old software engineer who immigrated to upstate New York from China in 2015 for graduate school.

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 purchased a one-bedroom condo nearby.

Among Long Island City residents who identify as Asian, the top three ethnic groups are Chinese, Japanese and Korean, 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 school places and made education a hot political issue.

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 feeling ashamed of where they come from 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 in vacant storefronts announce the upcoming opening of new businesses: Dun Huang, a chain of hand-pulled Chinese noodles; Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery chain; and Mito, a sushi bar.

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

Mr Huang, who grew up in China before going to college and graduate school in the United States, noticed a need for more Asian food and drink establishments, saying he and his friends often choose to wait up to two hours for Chinese food delivery from Flushing. .

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

Yet the neighborhood’s spike in Asian population isn’t just a story of upward mobility. It also reflects the wide economic disparity among Asian New Yorkers, who have the widest income gaps of any racial group.

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

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, tenant advocates say.

“Our Asian working class tenant leaders have fought against the kind of luxury development that has gentrified them out of their old 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 expected to win the city council seat next month that represents Long Island City – as well as Astoria, Sunnyside and Woodside in Queens.

Ms Won, a 31-year-old technology consultant, said she consciously tried 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 poor in Queens, watching her mother scrub 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, Nepali and Bengali voters, after recruiting organizers focused on those communities. But his support among Chinese and Korean voters has been weaker than expected.

She said encouraging civic engagement would, for example, involve hiring a fluent Mandarin speaker to do outreach with 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-American resident who voted for Ms Won, said the 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 operated in the neighborhood since 1984. .

“There really wasn’t any anti-Asian hate 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 elementary school had waiting lists for years to get into kindergarten.

Natsuko Ikegami, a real estate broker, moved to Long Island City in 2017 from East Harlem in part because she thought it was a more family-friendly community. Her Asian American customers 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 to the United States from Japan in the 1990s. “There’s a saying in my language that the first three years of a child’s life determine a life.”

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

Their return was 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, not worrying about whether the broth would be too spicy or the pork intestines too off-putting.

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

Robert Gebeloff and Denise Lu contributed research.

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