The summer festivals Clevelanders look forward to all year have been cancelled. Those festivals give us a chance to explore different neighborhoods and cultures. Already this month, the Cleveland Asian Festival in AsiaTown and Rooms to Let CLE in Slavic Village were wiped from the calendar, as was the annual Memorial Day Tremont Greek Festival, one of the area’s oldest ethnic church festivals.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t explore some of Cleveland’s neighborhoods on your own, minus the crowds. For instance, although the Cleveland Asian Festival, which would have been celebrating its 11th year, isn’t happening, you can still take a drive around AsiaTown and learn about how the area has grown from a tiny community to a sprawling area east of downtown that has welcomed people from Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia and many other Asian countries and cultures.
The Western Reserve Historical Society has created a virtual tour of AsiaTown, one of a series featuring the city’s many cultures. To put it together, they worked with a well-known organizer in the Asian community, filmmaker Johnny Wu, who helped them share the history of the earlier Asians to come to Cleveland all the way through some of today’s multiplying landmarks in AsiaTown.
You can take the tour in your imagination, following the script posted online — or you can drive/walk past the landmarks, starting near Public Square, where a small congregation of Chinese and Japanese lived in 1880. You’ll move east to the historic Chinatown, once a single block of Rockwell between East 21st and East 22nd, where the monthly Night Markets would be taking place if it weren’t for this #*%^$ pandemic. You’ll visit the two major shopping centers, Asia Plaza and Asian Town Center, and see Asian churches, groceries, restaurants and other small businesses.
Download the tour, grab a family member, and head off to see the locations. The big advantage is that you can stop at one of the area’s multitude of restaurants and get some food to fuel your trip. Almost all are doing carryout. AsiaTown’s website has a list.