Though King of the Yees brings audiences through the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown, Chicago’s own Chinatown has also had a major influence on the production. Not only does leading lady Stephenie Soohyun Park live in the neighborhood, playwright Lauren Yee recently joined the cast for a field trip to Chinatown’s Yee Fung Toy, a family association for members of the community with a shared ancestry. While King of the Yees touches on the general decline of San Francisco’s Chinatown and that of other Chinatowns across the country, the opposite seems to be happening in Chicago’s Chinatown. “Chinatown is booming,” according to a 2016 Chicago Tribune report.
“At a time when traditional urban Chinatowns in Manhattan, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia are fading due to gentrification and changing cultural landscapes, Chicago’s Chinatown is growing larger — becoming what experts say could be a model for Chinatown survival in the U.S.,” according to the article. “In Chicago, where several neighborhoods are no longer defined by the immigrant or ethnic groups that once occupied them, Chinatown is an exception, having anchored the area centered around Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue since 1912. Local leaders say it has avoided gentrification because Chinese-Americans value a sense of belonging and choose to stay in the neighborhood.”
While the neighborhood offers a variety of great restaurants and other tourist destinations, local government and citizens are also consistently working to enhance everyday life inside the community. Most businesses operate bilingually, as many residents speak some form of a Chinese dialect and 65% immigrated to the U.S.
“Recognizing the national decline of other Chinatowns, city planners and local organizations are committed to investing in it, which could be why the neighborhood is thriving,” the report continues. “In 2013, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning announced a plan to preserve Chinatown’s cultural identity by improving public education and elderly care, bolstering transportation infrastructure and creating more public parks. And in August, the city opened a two-story, $19.1 million branch of the Chicago Public Library on South Wentworth. The building, with a steel and glass frame that forms a vessel of natural light, has both an architectural and civic presence, and has attracted about 1,500 people a day.”
Have you visited Chicago’s Chinatown yet? If not, get out there and cross it off your Chicago bucket list! The neighborhood is home to a number of attractions including the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, Chinatown Square (featuring designs inspired by the Chines Imperial Court), the Pui Tak Center (the first piece of traditional Chinese architecture built in the neighborhood) and Ping Tom Memorial and Sun Yat-Sen Parks. Plenty of Instagram opportunities await!
Read more about the growth of Chicago’s Chinatown on the Chicago Tribune website.
Buy tickets and learn more about King of the Yees here. Tickets start at just $10!