Chinatown & Little Italy

Two adjacent ethnic neighborhoods located in the heart of Manhattan, both famous for their authentic restorants. Chinatown is home to one of the largest Chinese communities in the Western hemisphere and one of the oldest outside of Asia.

Little Italy was once known for its large population of Italians. Today much of the neighborhood has been absorbed by Chinatown, as immigrants from China moved to the area, and the neighborhood of Little Italy consists mostly of Italian stores and restaurants, but with few Italian residents.

Little Italy, New York
Mulberry Street, Little Italy
Chinatown, New York
Pell Street, Chinatown


Mott Street
Mott Street around 1900

Manhattan's Chinatown is one of the oldest ethnic Chinese enclaves outside of Asia. Faced with increasing discrimination and new laws which prevented participation in many occupations on the West Coast, some Chinese immigrants moved to the East Coast cities in search of employment. Early businesses in these cities included hand laundries and restaurants. Chinatown started on Mott Street, Park, Pell and Doyers streets, east of the notorious Five Points District. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 prohibited laborers and their families from entering America and immigrants already in the country from obtaining citizenships. It was the first and only racially based legislation in U.S. history. The Exclusion Act was repealed 60 years later in 1943 when China and the U.S. became allies in World War II.

Due to limited opportunities some Chinese merchants began to encourage tourism in Chinatown - if they could not get jobs outside of Chinatown, they started to bring outsiders into the community. Chinatown, therefore, not only served as the center of immigrant social, cultural, and recreational activity, but in this manner, the segregated ghetto, became a tourist attraction.

Mulberry Street
Mulberry Street around 1900

Unemployment and poverty in Italy in the late 1800s forced many Italians to emigrate and start a new life in America. The earliest Italian immigrants to the United States were northern Italians, who became prominent as fruit merchants in New York and wine growers in California. Between 1860 and 1880, 68,500 Italians moved to New York and by 1920, 391,000 Italians lived in the city. By the 1890s, the area was known for several food businesses (cheese shops for making ricotta and mozzarella).

The Immigration Act of 1924 had limited severely the number of Italian immigrants allowed –southern and eastern Europeans were restricted while northern Europeans were favored. By the early 1930s, Italians made up an estimated 98% 0f households in Little Italy. By 1940, Little Italy became a tourist attraction, and each street in Little Italy was populated by particular regional groups-Napolitani, Calabrese, Sicilani, and Basilcanti, although today the neighborhood is identified with broader "Italian" culture—an Italian-American culture, rather than the regional cultures that predominated during the period of the great migration.