Chinese week: Building Chinese American community through Festivity in Metropolitan Phoenix

Wei Zeng, Wei Li

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This chapter documents the building of contemporary Chinese American identity and community in metropolitan Phoenix through Phoenix Chinese Week, an annual celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Due to its geographical proximity to California, and its role as one of the major settlement centers in Arizona, Phoenix has been a somewhat small-scale magnet for Chinese immigrants since the late nineteenth century. Chinese immigrants were involved in building railroads from California to Arizona in the 1870s, as well as in silver mining and grocery store and restaurant businesses. Despite this long settlement history, however, its traditional ethnic enclave-a downtown Chinatown-was wiped out several times. The last Chinatown, where the current US Airways Center resides, was demolished in the late nineteenth century though some physical remnants remained until the mid-twentieth century. The fate of the last remnant of this historical Chinatown, the Sun Mercantile Building, built by the Chinese immigrant Tang Shing in 1929 and once the largest produce warehouse in Arizona, is at the center of the debate surrounding a major downtown development project at the end of 2005 that is widely publicized both in and beyond the state. The Chinese American population in metro Phoenix has continued to grow in terms of population and socioeconomic status as a result of generations of American-born Chinese and, more recently, increasingly heterogeneous Chinese immigrants. The number of Chinese immigrants has grown most since the 1965 Immigration Act, when changes to U.S. immigration policy resulted in a dramatic increase in the proportion and absolute number of non-European immigrants arriving in the United States. Chinese immigration has also burgeoned since the area developed a reputation as the "Silicon Desert" in the last two decades. Metropolitan Phoenix continues to be the second-ranking metropolitan area in the nation in terms of overall population growth. Concomitantly, a thriving ethnic economic sector has begun to draw a more heterogeneous Chinese immigrant workforce. Historical and contemporary Chinese American community development has resulted in growing numbers of influential and important Chinese professional and community organizations. Many of the immigrants live in suburban neighborhoods where native-born, non-Hispanic whites form the large majority and minority groups a significant minority. As of 2000, the Chinese American population reached 15,156 in the Phoenix-Mesa Metropolitan Statistical Area (which is the same as Maricopa County). Despite the rapid growth, however, the current Chinese population has yet to reach enough critical mass to form an enclave, or "ethnoburb." None of the known spatial models-invasion/succession, downtown versus uptown, or ethnoburb-fits the current situation of the Chinese American community. Rather, Chinese Americans in Phoenix are largely a community without geographical propinquity, that is, they maintain their culture and identity through social networks and community events. This community resembles a "cultural community" or "invisiburb," two newly developed concepts, and takes a "heterolocal" spatial form. This chapter, therefore, will examine how the organizational efforts of the annual Chinese Week event serve to unite the contemporary Chinese American community across class, nationality, and nativity boundaries in order to re-create a Chinese American identity. We use Chinese Week and the perspective of the organizers in particular to examine how Chinese American ethnicity has been "defined and promoted, and how its meanings and practices have been challenged and resisted." As a result, this ethnic festival is examined as a venue for understanding Chinese American culture and identity formation through which the "cultural" or "invisible" Chinese American community is constructed. The findings presented in this chapter are based primarily on indepth interviews with ten Chinese Week organizers by the first author in 2004, our participation in Chinese Week events since 2002, and document analysis. We argue that because of prior Chinese immigration and existing Chinese American community structures, rapid growth in the high-tech industry, the diverse Chinese populations and their businesses, and the rapid emergence of multiethnic suburbs, what we found in this chapter may resonate with those areas with similar characteristics of minority and immigrant community formation and mobilization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAsian America
Subtitle of host publicationForming New Communities, Expanding Boundaries
PublisherTemple University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9781439905166
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Chinese week: Building Chinese American community through Festivity in Metropolitan Phoenix'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this