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Oklahoma City's Asia District, also known as the Asian District, is the center of Asian culture and International cuisine and commerce in the state of Oklahoma. It contains the largest population of Asian Americans and descendants from Asia in the state.
Anchored by the Gold Dome and Classen buildings at the intersection of Northwest 23rd Street and Classen Boulevard, and bordered by Oklahoma City University to the west and the Paseo Arts District to the east, the Asian district runs north along Classen Boulevard in central Oklahoma City from roughly Northwest 22nd Street up to Northwest 30th Street.
The famous landmark "Milk Bottle Building" (built in 1910) is situated on Classen Boulevard and unofficially marks the entrance to the district. Scores of restaurants, travel outlets, international video stores, retail boutiques, nightclubs, supermarkets, and Asian-oriented service outlets appeal to Oklahoma City's large Asian populace and tourists alike.
"Little Saigon," tucked in the heart of barbecue and cowboy country, was born in 1975 when thousands of Vietnamese refugees came to Oklahoma City after the fall of Saigon.
The Vietnamese population has continued to grow since the first wave of immigrants were dropped just across the state line in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Relatives and friends have joined them in Oklahoma City as stories of success had reached the homeland in Vietnam, causing the population to explode.
The original refugees made Oklahoma City their home thanks to a handful of activists who brought hundreds out of the camp. Each refugee had to have an American sponsor before leaving the Arkansas barracks.
The first refugees, most of whom did not speak English, left professional and military careers in Vietnam to become laborers -- brick makers, builders and warehouse workers in Oklahoma City. In time, they became lawyers, doctors and engineers, sent their children to American colleges and started businesses in the Little Saigon portion of Asia District. They opened dental and chiropractor offices, nail salons and insurance agencies.
Immigrants also created a local chapter of the Vietnamese-American Association and the Vietnamese Buddhist Association, which recently broke ground on a new temple in Asia District.
The Little Saigon-influenced Asia District in North Central OKC is not the first Asian-enclave in the central Oklahoma area, since Oklahoma City once had an original historic Chinatown in downtown.
Artifacts were discovered when excavation occurred for the Myriad Convention Center in 1969. Chinatown consisted of a tunnel system underneath buildings and streets centered in the vicinity of Main and Sheridan Streets, Broadway and Robinson Avenues, but the extent of which is unknown and likely lost forever.
In the last 25 years the Vietnamese, Chinese, and other Asian American cultures have transformed the strip along N.W. 23rd Street and Classen Boulevard into a quite lively International neighborhood. In 1975, there were just three Asian restaurants and no Asian markets in the north central city area, when the first refugees arrived after the fall of Saigon. Revitalization of Asia District is sustaining momentum but at a rather slow, but steady, pace as of late.
One should note that other Chinatown-like areas have sprung up throughout the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area in various old strip malls, most notably in the Southside and Westside sections of the city along with the suburb of Edmond in the north. This phenomenon is possibly contributing to the slower pace of revitalization of the traditional district, as some immigrants have become more affluent and have pushed their businesses out of the inner city. Nevertheless, Asia District remains the center of a bustling economy in the heart of the city.
Today Oklahoma City is considered to be somewhat of an Asian oasis in the South-Central U.S., as there are multitudes of authentic restaurants, nightclubs, shops, Asian supermarkets and grocery stores concentrated in the area; traditional Hong Kong dim sum and Taiwanese bubble tea are no longer hard to find as they predominate Asia District and the metro area.