Bensonhurst becomes Brooklyn's second Chinatown

Updated: 2014-06-30 22:48

By ELIZABETH WU in New York(China Daily USA)

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With about 2.6 million people, it's the most populated of New York City's five boroughs, and now Brooklyn is home to a growing second Chinatown — Bensonhurst.

It's the birthplace of longtime US TV personality Lawrence Leibel Harvey Zeiger, otherwise known as Larry King, but King wouldn't recognize it today.

In the 1980s, Sunset Park became Brooklyn's first Chinatown. Now the heart of Bensonhurst, between 64th and 86th Streets on 18th Avenue and Cristofo Colombo, an area that was predominantly Italian, is mostly Chinese.

"I grew up in the neighborhood. I used to eat pizza. Now there's only one pizzeria left," said Warren Chan, who said he has lived in the area for 20 years.

Unlike Manhattan's Chinatown or Flushing's Chinatown, 18th Avenue doesn't have crowds of people and noisy street vendors. Store signs are still in English, though they depict Chinese venues.

There are Chinese grocery stores, restaurants, nail/hair salons, auto repair shops, daycare centers, community centers for the elderly, medical clinics, Chinese Christian Churches, a Salvation Army that offers prayers in Cantonese and even a Chinese crystal shop.

Bensonhurst's population also includes Italians, Russians and Puerto Ricans. The Asian population increased by 57 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 151,000, of which 31,000 were born in China, according to Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York (CUNY).

Karen Sit, a 53 year-old, dress-pattern maker from Guangdong, China, has lived in Bensonhurst for 20 years.

"All the foreigners (Caucasians) moved out and now it's mostly just us," she said. "I like it around here. It's not like Flushing where you have Japanese, Koreans and Indians. Here you just have us Chinese."

Sit said that about 10 to 20 years ago Chinese immigrants from Guangdong moved in to Bensonhurts, and recently there has been more immigration from the Chinese mainland, from places like Wenzhou and Fuzhou, "where people are rich", she says.

"They come and buy houses and cars. There are also immigrants of Fujian origin, who work very hard. This is a nice neighborhood; the families around here are middle-class," said Sit.

There are single houses, condos and cooperatives for sale in Bensonhurst. John Wu, a broker at Exit Realty Best in Bensonhurst, said the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment along 18th Avenue is $1,000, and $1,500 for two bedrooms, with the average cost of a home in the about $100,000.

One Italian American resident who has not left the area is Agostino, who goes by the name Oggie and asked that his last name not be used. He has owned Caffe Italia for more than 15 years and seen the influx of Chinese and their businesses. "Chinese people are the friendliest people," he said.

According to Chan, the Chinese population in Bensonhurst is mainly of Taishan origin. He said he believes immigrants from Fuzhou and Wenzhou on the mainland are mostly in Sunset Park. "There's a huge gap between Bensonhurst and Flushing.There are many more Chinese people here," he says.

Chan opened three senior centers over the last three years in Bensonhurst where he offers a variety of social services, including English classes.

Many new Chinese residents in Bensonhurst said they didn't realize that it has become Brooklyn's second Chinatown. Jianjun Ling came to Bensonhurst two and a half years ago from Guangdon, and works at a medical office.

When asked about Bensonhurst being Brooklyn' new Chinatown, he said, "It isn't really Chinatown. It's still America."