Miamians push local Chinese hub
Johnson Ng has published a Chinese newspaper in South Florida for about 15 years. This year Mr. Ng opened an Asian community center in Miami Gardens, and in less than six months the center drew about 150 members.
Born in Hong Kong, Mr. Ng arrived in Miami in 1992. The difference between South Florida and New York and California, Mr. Ng said, is New York City and Los Angeles are both saturated with centers such as his.
In Miami, he said, there is room for opportunity.
A membership fee of $30 a year and a daily $1 lunch fee fund the Miami Garden center’s $100,000 budget. In about four months Mr. Ng plans to launch a bus service to connect members spread about the county to his resource center.
Chinese businesses are starting to catch on to Miami’s favorable geographic location. And Miami’s business community is keen on promoting the city as a Latin American hub for Chinese investors. The county and the City of Miami are pushing for nonstop flight service to China, promoting the EB-5 Visa investment program, setting up Asian outreach committees and launching trade missions abroad, all with the aim of securing stronger Miami-China ties.
Some critics say Miami lacks crucial Chinese infrastructure, and that’s why it lags behind New York City or LA. They call for a Chinese consulate and a Chinese bank.
However, Miami is already home to a growing Chinese community. Mr. Ng’s pursuit is on the local level.
About 1.7% of Miami-Dade County’s population reported Asian as their single race, according to the latest US Census data. That would equate to about 45,000 Asians. But there might be far more.
“I believe the population of Asian Americans in this county is grossly underestimated,” said Mohammad Shakir, program officer and director for the county’s Asian-American Advisory Board.
He estimated that 200,000 to 250,000 Asian-Americans in the county – Chinese Americans being one of the largest groups.
“The numbers are much higher than what it used to be,” said Manny Wong, who is a Cuban Chinese board member representing the Chinese American community. “Miami is unique in the sense that there’s a fresh arrival of immigrants from mainland [China] as well as from the Latin American countries.”
There’s no particular area they all live in, Mr. Wong said; they’re integrated into mainstream society.
The first group of Chinese immigrants arrived in South Florida to do railroad work, Mr. Wong said. The first group that fled to Miami for political reasons were the Cuban Chinese during the late 1950s. Then came the second- and third-generation Chinese immigrants from Central and South America, or those whose families had made an earlier jump into the Western Hemisphere. In the 1970s, the Jamaican Chinese arrived. When the Taiwanese arrived, they were already looking at Miami as a hub to link China and Latin America.
Today, Mr. Wong said, a lot of Chinese individuals are migrating to Miami from China itself.
“The Chinese dream is to come over here and [give] your kids a better education and a better life,” said Nina Wong, a Chinese American who was born here.
But the means and desires of migrating Chinese individuals are changing, Mr. Wong said. Chinese individuals are now seeking a better life for themselves, not just their children.
“Before they came with [one] suitcase to make a new life here,” he said. “People coming today have got some dollars behind them.”
A common topic among business groups looking to attract more investors here is the creation of a Chinatown.
But can such an attraction or business hub be created?
“My parents actually were one of the ones here in beginning,” Ms. Wong said. “They tried doing a Chinatown down on Flagler Street, without success unfortunately. They wanted us kids to go into that.”
It’s proven difficult, she said, to find volunteers to get a full-scale Asian – not just Chinese – center off the ground.
“A Chinatown would do fine, but it would discourage the emerging communities to really come wholeheartedly and become part of it,” Mr. Shakir said. “We need some [type of] Asian convention center – a facility that would be the go-to point for visitors and the businesses.”
Miami could serve as a showroom for both Chinese and South American businesses, he said. It’d be the central hub – a midpoint – between the two markets.
Local organizations catering to South Florida’s Asian community do exist.
In North Miami there’s the National Alliance to Nurture the Aged and the Youth, an Asian American community center started by a Philippine family. The Taipei Economic & Cultural Office has helped facilitate Taiwanese travel and business in Miami. There’s a Chinese language newspaper. There are several Chinese churches.
“It’s big,” Ms. Wong said about Miami’s Chinese community. “It’s huge actually, but it’s so spread out.”
Ms. Wong is the administrative secretary at Chinese Baptist Church of Miami, the oldest Chinese church here. Offering services in Cantonese and Mandarin, the church at 595 SW 124th Ave. has 350 active members and has branched out to Coral Springs and Orlando, she said.
The church’s local attendance sheet was huge, she said, and then it shrank. It’s now growing again.