The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

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The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

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Chinatown prospers, pushes past lockdown

David Li
Smiling for smoothies. At Matcha En in Chinatown, a customer takes his receipt after ordering a drink. The popular spot in the plaza was busy on Wednesday, April 10, with both locals and tourists. The dessert and drink shop opened its Chinatown location in 2022 after the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Afternoons are a busy time in Chicago’s Chinatown. People stroll through the square plaza, glancing at the stone sculptures, traditional Chinese roofs and signs written in Mandarin. Businesses line every street: restaurants, cafés, candy stores and souvenir shops. 

Lines are getting longer, parking spots are gone, and more and more people fill the brick sidewalks. Business is booming, but it hasn’t always been.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many Chinatown businesses suffered greatly from the lack of customers as well as anti-Asian sentiment across the country. Despite these challenges, Chinatown has prevailed as a connected community in which Chinese Americans have opportunities to succeed.

Austin Lok, a Taiwanese American ninth grader, visits Chinatown often with his family and friends.

“I think COVID really hit Chinatown extremely hard, especially their business rates, which forced a lot of restaurants and other stores to close,” Austin said.

Sophomore Rachel Xiang, who is Chinese American, shared this observation, but thinks the neighborhood is now prospering.

“I do know that a lot of old restaurants have closed down since the pandemic — and a lot of new ones have popped up, but I do think that it is still pretty thriving,” Rachel said. “I see a lot of people there often. I think, mostly, it’s gone back to how it was before.”

Darryl Tom, chair and secretary of the Chinatown Community Foundation, and a commissioner for Chinatown’s Special Service Area, thinks that businesses have overcome the effects of COVID-19. 

“I would probably say that businesses are pretty much back to normal compared to pre-pandemic levels. I mean, Chinatown is pretty busy,” Mr. Tom said. “I think that COVID is no longer impacting businesses in Chinatown.”

Despite an increase in hate crimes toward Asian Americans in recent years, the bonds built on shared culture remain strong.

“I think [Asians] have always been kind of marginalized, but after COVID, a lot of Chinese people and other Asian people have gotten together more,” Rachel said.

Chinatown has also become a place where people of all backgrounds can explore the neighborhood and appreciate Chinese culture.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve been going to Chinatown, and I think it’s a really great way for me to experience my culture and share it with other diverse people,” Austin said. “I think it’s a great place to hang out, and other people should definitely go.”

Tourism is also good for Chinatown residents and business owners, and is important to the neighborhood’s economy.

“Chinatown is a tourist destination, but it also supports a lot of Chinese people who live and work there,” Mr. Tom said. “Supporting the restaurants, helping the businesses, also helps the people that live there.”

As the sun begins to set, larger crowds swarm the sidewalks, restaurants reach their busiest hours, and lighthearted conversations fill the air. Neon signs, in English and Mandarin, light up windows and walls. 

Tourists and residents alike are enjoying the food, drinks, and culture. Cars fill up the bustling streets as even more people arrive to explore the community. Chinatown is finally thriving again.

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About the Contributor
David Li
David Li, Reporter
David Li is a member of the Class of 2027 and serves as a reporter. His favorite part of journalism is meeting and working with new people. Outside of journalism, David enjoys playing tennis, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.

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