The United States is a multicultural nation. Immigrants moved to America not to give up their culture and heritage, but to enjoy the economic, religious, and political freedom to practice their homeland’s traditions while learning the ins and outs of their adoptive country. While many cities have a Chinatown or a Little Italy, you’ve merely scratched the surface if those are the only ethnic enclaves you’ve seen. From Los Angeles to New York, lesser-known communities from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas can be discovered. They serve as centers of support, resources, and cultural links for those who have given up all in pursuit of the American dream. But they’re also one of the country’s most distinctive districts, with distinct gastronomic, musical, and cultural traditions that allow visitors to tour the world without leaving home.
1. Little Mogadishu in Minneapolis
Every Tuesday at 6 p.m., KFAI studios in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside district broadcast the country’s sole English-language Somali program. This program is one of many cultural, religious, and business ventures that constitute Little Mogadishu, the United States’ largest Somali community. Little Mogadishu has developed into a home away from home since the arrival of the first civil war refugees in 1991, with a flourishing art and music scene that attracts Somalis from all over the world (including iconic performers like Aar Maanta) to venues like the Cedar Cultural Center. At eateries like the fast-casual Safari Express and the indoor Somali marketplace Karmel Mall, the Cedar Avenue corridor is also the core of the Somali food scene, with delicacies including goat curry, flatbreads, and basbaas (a fiery sauce made with green chiles, cilantro, garlic, and onion).
2. Chindianapolis in Indianapolis
In barely twenty years, Indianapolis’ southside went from being a predominantly white area to being home to one of the world’s largest Burmese Chin communities outside of Myanmar. The Chin, a predominantly Christian minority in their predominantly Buddhist nation, first arrived in the city as refugees seeking safety from religious and ethnic persecution. They have now formed Chindianapolis, a 20,000-person enclave. Chin enterprises thrive near the intersection of Madison Avenue and Southport Road, and immigrants frequently start their lives at the Indiana Chin Center. Since 2010, chefs at the adjacent Chin Brothers Restaurant and Grocery have been giving a taste of home with meals like vok ril, a Chin pork blood sausage, and sabuti, meat, and ground corn soup, regularly.
3. Little Saigon in San Jose
Temples consecrated to the adoration of ancestors and animist spirits emerge from the city’s east side’s residential streets and urban strip malls, a testament to San Jose’s almost 200,000 Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American people. Little Saigon, the world’s largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, is the focus of Silicon Valley’s Tet (Lunar New Year) celebration every January, with lion dancers, DJs, and fireworks that light up the night. Little Saigon’s restaurants, tea shops, marketplaces, and bakeries are open for business the rest of the year, with the majority of them centered at Grand Century Mall and Vietnam Town on Story Road. The Museum of the Boat People & the Republic of Vietnam, located near History San Jose, is dedicated to the immigrant experience.
4. Little Albania in The Bronx
The Bronx has historically been an ethnic melting pot, with immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Dominican Republic seeking safety. However, in recent decades, the borough has attracted thousands of ethnic Albanians from their birthplace in Southeastern Europe, particularly in the historically Italian district around Pelham Parkway. New York City today has a population of over 100,000 people. Albanian markets, businesses, and restaurants in the Bronx, like as Sofra and ka Ka Qllu, cater to the increasing community, selling staples such as dried ribs, filo pastry, ajvar (a red pepper sauce), and tave dheu tironse (beef stew in a clay dish). The Albanian Festival, the largest Albanian festival in the United States, is held in the neighborhood every November.
5. Little Ethiopia in Washington, D.C.
The neighborhood around 9th and U Streets in Washington, D.C., was not the city’s first Ethiopian enclave. The first Ethiopian immigrants arrived in the 1970s and resided in the Adams Morgan neighborhood until the 1990s when gentrification and escalating rents forced them to relocate. Nonetheless, the Ethiopian community is a formidable force, with an approximate population of 300,000 to 500,000 people, the largest outside of Africa. They’re such a prized enclave in the city that the mayor declared July 28 Ethiopia Day in 2018. There are around 1,200 Ethiopian-owned businesses, restaurants, and markets in the D.C. metro region. With a multitude of eateries ranging from sophisticated to fast-casual, food is a cultural touchstone for the community (along with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has eight churches in the metro region).