Museum Exhibit: Mohegan Sun and Connecticut's Asian Population
A new art exhibit at the Lyman Allyn Museum in Connecticut underlines an undeniable, yet controversial, demographic change in the region of Montville, just north of Uncasville. Since the Mohegan Sun Casino opened in 1996, the Asian population in southeastern Connecticut has increased threefold, from 1.9 percent in 2000 to approximately 6.5 percent in 2010. Chinese American Stephen Fan curates the exhibit, which he titled “Sub Urbanisms: Casino Company Town/Chinatown.” Fan says he is fascinated with Montville's demographic change from nearly all-white neighborhood to “Chinatown.”
What is Chinatown?
When people think of the word Chinatown, they often picture a bustling suburb of Asian people situated on the outskirts of a larger city, like Chicago or New York. Americans seeking authentic Asian food, groceries, and trinkets might make a road trip to a nearby Chinatown to get a cultural fix from their ethnic neighbors. Chinatown does not always look like this, however. Fan says that plenty of “non-urban Chinatowns” exist as well, like the Asian community cluster found in Monterey Park, California. The Asian community situated in Montville, near the Mohegan Sun, is another example of a non-urban Chinatown.
About Mohegan Sun
Mohegan Sun, located in Uncasville, is one of the states' largest casinos. Patrons enjoy a multitude of slots and table games, including baccarat, a Chinese favorite. Bettors also wager money on live horse and greyhound races at Mohegan Sun. The business is owned by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and employs over 10,000 locals, many of whom are of Asian descent.
Why Connecticut Demographics Are Changing
Sociologists have questioned how and why the opening of the Mohegan Sun correlates with a larger local Asian population. Fan attempts to answer this question by exploring the following theories in his exhibit:
1. Gambling is More Socially Acceptable Among Asians.
According to Fan, there is “less stigma” in most Asian cultures when it comes to gambling. The booming casino metropolis of Macau, China is a prime example of this. While Macau is the top Asian gaming destination in the world, Singapore comes in second. The Philippines' successful Solaire Casino and Resort, which opened on Manila Bay in 2013, has proved the island nation to be the third most popular Asian gambling destination in the world.
2. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks Caused Many Chinese to Seek New Jobs
After the terrorist attacks of 2001, many Chinese garment and restaurant workers in Manhattan lost their jobs. This downsizing, based largely on social alarm and human fear, sent many Chinese immigrants on a hunt for new employment. At the same time, the Mohegan Sun was hiring. Already comfortable with the cultural aspects of gambling, many Asian Americans then decided to embark upon a new career in the gambling industry.
Change in Demographics, Change in Lifestyle
The increased Asian population in Connecticut has changed the way the once-white neighborhood of Montville looks and feels. Fan explores the following changes in his museum display:
1. More Multi-family Households.
While most traditional Americans prefer to live with only one family per household, Asian cultures tend to accept multi-family households as normal and economical. Some of the homes in Montville that once housed single American families now house multiple generations of Asian people. Fan's exhibit illustrates this through photographs of subdivided properties and houses.
2. All-Hours Foot Traffic.
Because the Mohegan Sun operates 24 hours per day, Asian employees without cars can be seen walking to work at all hours of the day and night. A trail from Chinatown to the casino has, in fact, been dubbed the Ho Chi Minh Trail by some Americans who want to poke fun of the Asian workers. Interestingly, the original Ho Chi Minh was actually a leader of Vietnamese descent.
3. Different Yard Decor.
Some Asian families in Connecticut have planted vegetable gardens in their front yards. Others hang laundry and fish to dry in the sun in front of their houses. Because many do not own cars, they often use their driveways for gardening purposes and their garages as living space. Whereas the Chinese feel they are using their outdoor space in a practical way, some Americans have expressed distaste in the way these yards look.
4. More Ethnic Businesses.
Because the Asian population is greater, the demand for authentic Asian food is higher. As a result, more Asian grocery stores operate in the Montville area than ever before. Chinese restaurants are more likely to serve authentic Chinese food than the “Americanized” version of Chinese food many U.S. citizens are used to. Other businesses, like the local Home Depot and the Mohegan Sun, display their signs in both English and Mandarin.
Lack of Cultural Understanding Yields Hostility
Some Connecticut citizens have not embraced this demographic change in a positive way. Fan's display includes quotes from Montville residents who have said things like, “My community is littered with Chinese," and "They are rude; they overcrowd nice homes." Fan says he wants people to stop viewing the demographic change as “neighborhood blight.” He hopes his museum exhibit will help promote understanding and respect of the Chinese culture in Connecticut. He wants the white Americans of Montville to see their Chinese neighbors in a way they haven't before.
Change is Inevitable
The U.S. is moving, as a country, toward an era of more gambling, not less. As such, Americans can expect to see continuous demographic changes in casino areas. Jason Vincent, a community developer, acknowledges that the population change in Montville has been “challenging for everybody." He adds, however, that casino-related changes are going to happen whether Americans fully support them or not.