Sunday, May 20, 2012

Where are Atlanta's Ethnic Enclaves?

Posted by Elizabeth Avent, LAWRENCEVILLE, GA -- Ethnic enclaves like the Chinatowns of New York City and San Francisco are well known, attracting tourists from all over the world. After living in Atlanta for almost four years, I began to wonder why Atlanta didn't seem to have anything like those places. Atlanta is known as the Black Mecca, and Georgia State University has consistently been ranked one of the most ethnically diverse higher education institutions in the country , boasting a student population of African Americans, Africans, North and Southeast Asians, ethnic whites, and a growing number of Latinos. But once you leave GSUs campus, the urban core of Atlanta doesn't seem very diverse at all. Sure, there are plenty of Black and White communities but nothing like a Chinatown, Little India, or Koreatown. In fact, besides some really great soul food restaurants there's really no place you can go in the city to get inexpensive, 'real' ethnic eats. To find such places you have to leave the city and head for the suburbs.

Take Lawrenceville, a northeastern suburb, for example. A friend of mine and I happened upon an ethnic enclave of sorts up there. It was a plaza with Asian businesses, and Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese restaurants, Korean BBQs as well as a large Asian supermarket. The names of the businesses were in both English and various Asian characters. The supermarket sold only authentic Asian foods and fresh vegetables, fruits, and seafood, and most of the fish and shellfish were still alive. There were aisles full of huge bags of rice and noodles. Many tables were set up inside with people offering samples of the Asian cuisine they had just prepared. There were also smaller shops inside that sold floral arrangements, small housewares, and other things besides food. The supermarket even offered Asian newspapers.

The atmosphere of the plaza was not an exclusive one. I was one of very few people who weren’t Asian, and my friend and I were the only African Americans. But everybody was courteous and didn't make us feel out of place.  This was the closest thing to an ethnic enclave that I have found in the Atlanta area. It may not have the vastness of other cities' Chinatowns, but it does share the characteristic of being marked by cultural distinctiveness.

Elizabeth Avent is a Sociology major at Georgia State University with a focus on race and urban issues. She can be reached at

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