The Student News Site of University of Texas at Arlington (Department of Communication)

Lone Star Sentinel

The Student News Site of University of Texas at Arlington (Department of Communication)

Lone Star Sentinel

The Student News Site of University of Texas at Arlington (Department of Communication)

Lone Star Sentinel

Local Asian community preserves roots, hopes to build bridge of understanding

Replacing ignorance by sharing cultural traditions
A+lion+dancer+interacts+with+Lunar+New+Year+attendees+at+Asia+Times+Square.+Various+lion+dance+groups+performed+throughout+the+celebration.
Christine Vo
A lion dancer interacts with Lunar New Year attendees at Asia Times Square. Various lion dance groups performed throughout the celebration.

ARLINGTON, Texas—Grilled skewers char on outdoor fires, red and gold decorations sway as rhythmic lion dancers make their way through the packed crowds, and cultural Asian hubs come to life for their Lunar New Year celebrations.

Hubs of culture can be found throughout the Metroplex, from local markets selling cultural staples to entertainment venues featuring songs sung in different languages. This is where Johnathan Tran, president of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, found a community.

Immigration trade-offs

His father was a refugee from Vietnam and sponsored Tran’s mother. He knows countless similar stories from his peers and some who are immigrants themselves.

“Everyone who immigrated did so in search of a better life, but of course, in doing so, they give up a little part of their culture and their heritage,” Tran said.

His parents, ethnically Chinese, grew up in Vietnam. That intersection became a diverse upbringing for Tran, or Chen translated to Cantonese.

“At first glance, you may think, ‘Oh, well, Chinese and Vietnamese are totally different.’ But, in reality, they have a ton of similarities that most people wouldn’t even think of,” Tran said.

And that sentiment goes for countless other Asian countries.

“Vietnamese and Chinese aren’t the only immigrant stories, the only cultures that may be forgotten or not represented enough in America,” Tran said.

While Asian people were more prevalent in schools Tran attended when he was younger, walking the halls of Arlington’s Martin High School, Tran had to look to the city for representation.
According to US & News World Report, Martin High School’s white student population sits at 43%, while Asian students sit below 8.8%. The district-wide percentage of Asian students is 5.3%.
Culture in the community

Tran found clusters of Asian stores in and around Arlington to turn to, such as Asia Times Square in Grand Prairie, Texas.

What began in 1985 as a 2,000-square-foot grocery store has evolved to become intertwined with culture and celebration. Matthew Loh, Asia Times Square CEO, grew up in Arlington with his parents who owned a Hong Kong marketplace.

“I decided that it cannot just be a grocery store, it’s gotta be bigger than a grocery store,” Loh said.

Now the Grand Prairie plaza serves the Metroplex a taste of home for many.

“As I grew up, the Asian population continued to grow,” Loh said. “The reason why Asia Times Square is what it is is because I felt there was a need to have a facility that our Asian community can be very proud of, but at the same time, something that we can encourage or educate or bring in more non-Asians, to understand our cultures and our tradition a little bit more.”

A vendor juices sugar cane at Asia Times Square. During celebrations, many vendors line the plaza selling food, drinks and snacks.

The grocery store is much more than a business; it’s about “preserving tradition and promoting culture,” and the company’s mission statement is geared toward creating a destination that connects culture with the community, Loh said.

“We want to bring that atmosphere, that same type of celebration here for them so they could relive their childhood memories,” Loh said. “And not only that, to continue the tradition of celebrating those important holidays, for the younger generation, for my generation and for my children, so that they don’t lose their roots.”

Street sign topper honors Gen. Dao

Throughout Arlington, 17 honorary street sign toppers honor historical leaders and community members. Among them is 13th Century Vietnamese Gen. Trần Hưng Đạo, commander-in-chief of the Vietnamese armed forces, chosen by the Vietnamese community as part of the International Corridor. The International Corridor Effort Report, adopted in 2023, developed a plan to celebrate and promote the diverse cultures of Arlington. The corridor runs through Pioneer Parkway between Center Street and the eastern city limits.

On April 12, 2019, the city installed the sign topper where Pioneer Parkway intersects with Browning Boulevard and New York Avenue near Ben Thanh Plaza, which holds a privately owned honorary statue of Gen. Dao.

“Gen. Dao promoted national unity and service to the country and fellow citizens. His treatise on national unity has become a classic in Vietnamese literature and he is honored in many Vietnamese communities and homes around the world,” according to the city of Arlington website.

With three of the 17 sign toppers being part of the International Corridor, 10 banners were placed on light poles in the medians of Pioneer Parkway between Center and SH 360 in September 2023. Each showcases the word “welcome” in a different language.

In hopes of highlighting and celebrating Arlington’s diversity, the city of Arlington created video segments. The American Dream Story includes stories of community members such as Vivian Nguyen, a Martin High School graduate named Forbes 6 Teens Who Make the World A Better Place, and David Dang, the owner of Ben Thanh Plaza.

Arlington Eats showcases local restaurants in the area, which include Kintaro Ramen and Kung Fu Tea, both located at 101 E. Abram St.

7.3% of Arlington’s population consists of Asian individuals as of 2023, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“A lot of the Asian population in DFW are built off of immigrant families,” Tran said.

With the prevalence of Asian culture hubs in Arlington, those who have been forced to assimilate into American life can still preserve and remember where they came from, he said.

Confronting hate

The Asian community is currently facing issues within society, which Loh said boils down to ignorance.

“For whatever reason, we’re becoming a little bit more divisive than a true united community,” Loh said.

In 2020, the Stop AAPI Hate movement gained traction after a rise in attacks against Asian individuals. Community organizers from Asian organizations worked together to document the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes related to COVID-19 and advocate for community investments, civil rights protections and education equity, according to its website.

“We need to be proactive, we need to take a step forward and prevent stuff like that from happening,” Loh said.

This inspired Asia Times Square to host the 5K Race to Replace Hate on May 18 during AANHPI Heritage Month. The event is part of its Asian Heritage Fest, which began post-pandemic in response to the rise of Asian hate and has grown into an annual event to highlight the contributions and culture of the Asian community. All proceeds will be donated to the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association. The festival is scheduled to run from May 17 through May 19, and is slated to feature live performances and food vendors.

Separately, the Texas Rangers will host an Asian Heritage Night presented by Asia Times Square on June 7 where attendees can purchase a Community Night ticket to receive a Year of the Dragon-themed jersey.

Finding community

When Tran first came to the University of Texas at Arlington for summer orientation as a freshman, he found SASE, an organization dedicated to the advancement of Asian heritage scientists and engineers, according to its website. As an Asian engineering student himself, he resonated with the group’s message. The club stood out and as he began to get more involved in leadership, he came to love the community and sense of family.

“A lot of my friend groups now are just from SASE,” Tran said. “It shaped my entire undergraduate degree. And honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without it.”
Within the organization, various ethnicities are represented to celebrate and recognize everyone no matter their background, he said.

Loh is Chinese, born in Vietnam, and married to a Korean. He said he understands culture and how prideful Asians can be.

A spotlight for every Asian culture

But he didn’t want that pride to jeopardize what Asia Times Square could become—a spotlight for every Asian culture. Asia Times Square is a play on New York City’s Times Square. Loh uses the word Asia and not Asian because it is open to all, he said.

Through its partnerships, Arlington and Grand Prairie are embracing and supporting the Asian community, and Loh said he hopes to “keep the ball rolling.”

Throughout UTA’s campus, cultural student organizations create a safe space for Asian students from the Filipino Student Association to the Thai, Lao and Cambodian Associations and many more. UTA has combated recent DEI bans by opening new resources for students through its Intercultural Student Engagement Center.

With a significant Asian population in Arlington, the initiatives and representation in the city can always improve to further recognize its culture. But Tran said never has he felt silenced.

Amid the lemongrass marinades to the tangy fish sauce, confetti flutters across a diverse crowd celebrating not only the start of a new year but the intertwining of community. Asia Times Square hopes to replace ignorance with acceptance, and to do that Loh invites everybody to better understand each other through its cultural events.

“I think at the core we are very much alike than different,” Loh said. “And so celebrating cultures, preserving tradition is probably how we felt is the best way to replace ignorance.”

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