Asian population booming in suburbs

Monty Sayed didn't need the census to show him how his community has changed; he can tell by their tastes.

The recently released Census 2010 numbers show a big increase in the number of Asians living in Chicago's suburbs, with especially heavy concentrations in a few of the West and Northwest suburbs.

Sayed's seen the change with his own eyes. Four months ago, he and his wife opened up Pita and Kabobz, a restaurant that features Indian, Pakistani and Afghan food, in a strip mall in Schaumburg near Golf and Higgins roads.

A native of India, Sayed said a decade ago the population may not have been able to support a restaurant that sells kebabs.

“Ten years ago, you had to educate these people; now kebabs are so commonplace,” the Roselle resident said. “Now they're mainstream.”

Sayed also has tweaked the concept to embrace western tastes. A bottle of Tabasco sauce sits next to the other condiments at the chutney station.

In the past 10 years, the Asian population in Illinois jumped 38.6 percent, growing even faster than the state's Hispanic population, though Asians still make up just 4.6 percent of the population, compared to 15.8 percent for Hispanics.

In the Northwest suburbs, Asians now make up 12.7 percent of the population. They make up 10.1 percent of the population in DuPage County, and 6.3 percent of the population in Lake County.

The latest census data do not break down those numbers by ethnicity; Asians would include Chinese, Japanese and Pakistanis, among others.

Asians may initially have been drawn to the suburbs by schools, housing and work opportunities, just like other groups. Increasingly, religious institutions, ethnic businesses and entertainment also are a draw.

Sayed charted his own demographics, and in response to the heavy concentration of South Asians in the area, he's used the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates to host Indian-themed concerts. Last year, he brought in Grammy and Oscar winner A.R. Rahman, who scored the music for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Despite the growing Asian population, Sayed said, he wouldn't continue to book shows at the Sears Centre without the enthusiasm from Hoffman Estates elected officials.

“You get a lot of support here; you want to do business where you know people,” Sayed said.

The area around Sayed's restaurant saw jumps in the Asian population, up 37.1 percent in Schaumburg and 57.6 percent in Hoffman Estates.

Coincidentally, next to Sayed's restaurant sits a Korean restaurant, as South Asians aren't the only ones contributing to the increase.

Stores, schools draw

Many Koreans are drawn to the area around Golf Road and Milwaukee Avenue, near Niles and Super H Mart, a Korean grocery chain that also has a location in Naperville, said Chunho Park, who lives in Arlington Heights.

“If you ask me where the main Koreatown is in the suburbs, I cannot say one place,” he adds, though. “It's really spread out.”

Park is a senior reporter for the Korean News, which has offices in Elk Grove Village. He came to the U.S. in 2000 after graduating college in South Korea. Though he does not have children, Park said one of the perks of living in the suburbs is strong schools, which is why his sister's family lives there. The Korean Cultural Center of Chicago in Wheeling is another draw.

Nationwide, more people are living in suburbs, and the growing suburban Asian population matches the trend, said Northwestern University Assistant Professor Christine Percheski, who focuses on demographics.

Percheski hesitates to draw further conclusions because the census data released so far are relatively limited.

“We don't know the age and the marital status of all the people,” she said.

Once that information is released, researchers will be able to track, for example, if there are more families moving to the suburbs or if it's younger people, or both.

What is clear from the data is the size of the change.

Vernon Hills, for example, saw its Asian population more than double in the decade to 4,858 — almost 20 percent of the village's population.

And yet that change has not led to any marked changes in Vernon Hills' business landscape.

“We haven't seen a specific increase in Asian-oriented types of businesses, and I haven't noticed in any significant way changes in what businesses are carrying,” Village Manager John Kalmar said.

Worship places draw

In Bartlett, though, where the Asian population more than doubled to 5,918, growth could be traced to construction of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple off Route 59.

Dr. Khalid Sami, who attends services at the Midwest Islamic Center in Schaumburg, agrees with the theory that houses of worship draw immigrants.

“I see the growth by gauging the number of attendees at the Friday services,” he said. “It used to be that the parking lot was full most of the time, but now it's over-filled; you cannot find a place unless you come early.”

Streamwood also saw an increase in the number of Asian residents, up 90 percent to 5,978. Muslims began worshipping at a mosque there after workers finished construction in 2004.

Sami said part of the draw to the Northwest suburbs is that Asians feel welcome.

For example, he says, he attended an event at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights, where a crowd of about 175 people listened to a talk to educate churchgoers about Islam. Sami was impressed by the lack of bigotry.

“The speakers gave such a beautiful talk about Islam,” he said.

Sami helps organize an interfaith outreach dinner to mark the end of the Islamic fast of Ramadan. That event and the one at the church are ways that help establish a comfortable climate of tolerance.

Sami lives in Roselle and enjoys the convenience of a short drive to Schaumburg to worship.

But with space at a premium, Muslims are looking to build new houses of worship elsewhere. In DuPage County, plans for a new mosque have drawn fire from residents who say they are worried about traffic and size.

Sami says that whatever the reasons for such resistance, he passionately defends his right to worship. He said there's no place for dangerous stereotypes, and he wants to tell media figures like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly that he and his friends mean no harm.

“We don't want to convert you; we're not here to convert you,” Sami said.

New faces in sports

Diversity is showing up in unexpected places, and that includes the ice rink.

Thanks to increased interest in skating, in part due to the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup run, the Hoffman Estates Park District has seen more interest in youth ice hockey programs.

More new faces are grabbing hockey sticks, and instructors are seeing more and more Asian children learning a sport that traditionally mostly drew whites.

And it's meant the growth of sports not traditionally found in most suburbs. With Asians making up 22.7 percent of Hoffman Estates' residents, the park district is working on a long-awaited cricket field, which will officially open this year.

Sohali Bari, a member of the Glendale Heights plan commission, knows about cricket. The Pakistan native plays at the town's two cricket fields, which draw players from all over the suburbs.

Glendale Heights has had a large Asian population for many years. Bari credits affordable housing as a draw. He also said the village and its police are friendlier to Asians than some. Cultural events showcase culture, and word-of-mouth helps, with friends and family moving nearby to be close to their loved ones.

In Arlington Heights, it's the Japanese community that has long found a home. Cultural amenities include Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese-owned shopping center that opened about 20 years ago, and Chicago Futabakai Japanese School.

Many Japanese companies have made Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates their North American headquarters.

“Arlington Heights is a very convenient location, and Japanese people in the business environment know it's a nice location surrounding O'Hare airport,” said Jay Shimotake, president of the Mid America Japanese Club based in Arlington Heights.

It's nice to have restaurants and stores nearby, but there's still one void Asians need to do more to fill, said Perry Moy. He's run his McHenry Chinese restaurant — Plum Garden — for more than 35 years.

Moy won election to the McHenry County Board in 2002, even though the county has the lowest percentage of Asians of any in the Chicago area. He wants more to follow his footsteps.

“I reached out and was accepted and successful,” Moy said. “And other Asians could do the same.”

Ÿ Daily Herald staff reporter Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.

  Women make a design out of flower petals for the opening of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Bartlett. Mark Black/ August 2004
Traditional Japanese Taiko drummers make music at the Bon-Dancing festival at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights. Courtesy Mitsuwa Marketplace
Former McHenry County Board member Perry Moy was one of the few elected officials with an Asian heritage.
  Monty Sayed, owner of Pita and Kabobz restaurant in Schaumburg, also has staged South Asian music concerts at the Sears Centre in response to the area’s growing Asian population. Mark Black/
  The food at Pita and Kabobz in Schaumburg features Afghan, Indian and Pakistani flavors, catering to the diversity in the suburbs. Mark Black/
  The increased diversity of the Hoffman Estates Park District’s youth ice hockey programs reflects 2010 census data showing a surging suburban Asian population. Hockey, a sport that traditionally struggles with drawing minorities, now draws players like 10-year-old K.J. Choy of Hoffman Estates and his teammates, who listen to their coach during practice at the Triphahn Center. Bob Chwedyk/

Asian population in suburbs

These are the 10 suburbs with the biggest percentage Asian population.

South Barrington: 26.6%

Oak Brook: 23.2%

Hoffman Estates: 22.7%

Glendale Heights: 22.1%

Schaumburg: 19.8%

Vernon Hills: 19.3%

Buffalo Grove: 16.0%

Hanover Park: 15.2%

Streamwood: 15.0%

Naperville: 14.9%

Source: Census 2010 data