Association for Asian American Studies Conference
Building Solidarity: The Role of Business in Building Interethnic & Racial Understanding
Date: Saturday, March 31, 2018     Time: 1:15PM to 2:45PM

Place: The Westin St. Francis - Yorkshire Room
San Francisco, CA



Although New York City is known for its diversity, it still remains largely segregated by race and ethnicity from one neighborhood to another. Sometimes the boundaries between ethnic and racial neighborhoods is separated by as little as one street. There is little day to day interaction among the different groups. Given this reality, how can we expect Asian American communities to “show up” in support of social issues of concern to others, and visa-versa?

Qualitative and quantitative data collected over the course of four months of research from a densely concentrated commercial strip in downtown Flushing, New York City, raises some critical questions about the role that Asian businesses play in inter-ethnic c
ommunity relations.

Flushing has a large Asian population, with an older white and African American population as well as a large Latino community. It is also a major transportation hub through which many from northeast Queens and Long Island travel.

The subject of the study, was a commercial strip that runs between Main Street and Union Street along Roosevelt Avenue. It is said to experience the second most foot traffic in New York City followed by Times Square in Manhattan. Downtown Flushing contains a uniquely diverse mix of land uses including commercial, residential, institutional, recreational and industrial uses. The downtown area is a vibrant center of retail and commercial activities that contain enormous varieties of retail stores, food establishments, convenience stores, and neighborhood services, in addition to the dozens of bus lines, Long Island Railroad and major subway line which runs through it.

Although Flushing is one of the largest and most diverse neighborhoods in New York City, it remains highly segregated and divided along racial-ethnic lines. Given the siloed nature of these communities, the point of interethnic and interracial interactions take place in spaces such as grocery stores, restaurants, corner stores, and small retail “malls.” With the density of development and transit options in downtown Flushing, we embarked on a study of this particular urban area in order to uncover the extent to which businesses shape and inform community relations and cross-cultural understanding. Through in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations, our research seeks to better understand how racial attitudes and ideologies are constructed and informed through interethnic encounters between business proprietors and patrons.

Historically there have been instances where race relations between Asian communities and others have played out with businesses at its center, such as the 1992 LA Uprising conflict between Korean merchants and the African American residents in south central LA and the boycott of Korean owned green grocers in New York City. Cultural and linguistic differences produced a deep divide and misunderstanding between the two communities where the interactions were limited only to commercial transactions.

Ultimately, through this examination, we hope to contribute to the conversation as well as critically assess the ways in which communities of color can build bridges that will lead to the kind of collective understanding of mutual concerns from which they can work effectively towards solidarity.


Claire Chun, Research Intern, AAARI-CUNY

Joyce Moy, Executive Director, AAARI-CUNY

Young-min Seo, Social Science, LaGuardia Community College/CUNY

Mitchel Wu, Asian American Studies, Hunter College/CUNY






Asian American / Asian Research Institute 2018

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