CHINATOWN — The Chinatown Summer Fair is returning with an in-person celebration — and new highlights to welcome more people back to Chinatown, organizers said.
Last year’s event was called off because of the coronavirus pandemic, but this year the celebration is back. And the Chinatown Summer Fair will be even bigger, lasting two days — July 31-Aug. 1 at 2200 S. Wentworth Ave. — instead of the usual one.
The event regularly attracts more than 40,000 visitors, making it one of the largest Asian American heritage celebrations in the Midwest.
“It’s a welcome opportunity to bring back the Chinatown Summer Fair, which promotes the businesses, the culture, the traditions of our community and other Asian ethnic groups that participate,” said Gene Lee, the founder of Chicago Chinatown Special Events. “Since things are returning back to normal, [the fair] gives a chance for the community to highlight our customs and traditions.”
The fair is family-friendly and free. It will have a children’s area with inflatables, as well as gift shops, a taste of Chinatown’s restaurants and cultural performances. The opening ceremony kicks off 12:30 p.m. July 31 with a dragon and lion dance procession.
The fair will also feature short tours of Chinatown, covering landmarks like the Chinese American Veterans Memorial, Ping Tom Memorial Park, Nine Dragon Wall and the Chinatown Public Library.
Dozens of vendors will be at the event, with half coming from the neighborhood. Organizers are collaborating with Hip Hop in Chinatown for entertainment.
“That is pretty radical for us,” Lee said. “But this is a two-day event, and we are willing to try something new.”
Shifa Zhong, founder of Tian Represent, which is marketing the event, founded youth festival Hip Hop in Chinatown in 2019.
“I’m trying to bring hip hop to Chinatown so we can [have] normalization of the hip hop culture in Chinatown, which I think can be a really big empowerment for the youth …,” Zhong said. “It’s going to be a very, very different vibe.”
Like other Asian-American neighborhoods — including Uptown’s Asia on Argyle district — Chinatown was hit especially hard during the past 18 months because of racist reactions to the pandemic.
“People were scared to come to Chinatown,” which hurt revenue for local businesses, Zhong said. “We are relying on those businesses to survive. Otherwise, Chinatown would not be Chinatown. For almost two years now … the businesses are suffering.”
Making the event happen was a struggle at times. Zhong said they did not have enough sponsors, so he launched a GoFundMe to help organizers cover some of the costs of hosting entertainment at the fair. It has raised more than $7,000 of its $25,000 goal.
“This event is a monument for Chicago’s Chinatown community,” Zhong said.
Francis Almeda, owner of Side Practice Coffee, said there will be 60-70 vendors at the fair. The North Side café collaborated with organizers to bring “in artists and vendors for the summer fair.”
Almeda said he is “looking forward to a new kind of look” at the Chinatown fair “while still keeping the traditions alive, but also bringing in new people who probably haven’t really experienced Chinatown this way.”
The fair is open noon-10 p.m. July 31 and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 1. Attendees are encouraged to wear masks. A local nonprofit will be there, encouraging people to get tested for and vaccinated against coronavirus.
The eastbound lanes of Cermak Road between Princeton and Wentworth avenues will be closed for the fair. Vendors will be set up on Wentworth from Cermak Road to 24th Street.
Outside of the fair, Lee wants Chicagoans to visit the neighborhood to see the businesses that have opened since the pandemic started.
“We’re very excited to see people visiting Chinatown because Chinatown has always been known as a destination for visitors and tourists,” Lee said. “It is a great opportunity for our community to once again have the festival because thousands and thousands of people come down here. Not only to eat and see the entertainment, but they’re walking around. They’re shopping, they’re visiting, touring. We love the fact that people want to come down.”
The Chinatown Fair is organized by volunteers from the Chicago Chinatown Community Foundation, Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and Chicago Chinatown Special Events.
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