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America's Only Thai Town Celebrates 15 Years in Los Angeles

Designed to help revitalize a neglected corner of Los Angeles, Thai Town today -- fifteen years on -- is thriving.
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“Thai Town is the Thai-American community's cultural embassy to the U.S.,” said Chanchanit "Chancee" Martorell, Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center. “It allows Thais to showcase their culture while giving them a voice in public affairs. Without this synergy, the Thai community could easily be overlooked and ignored.”

America’s only official “Thai Town” recently celebrated its fifteenth birthday with cake, Thai desserts, official dignitaries, and recollections of long-time merchants and residents. Officially designated as “Thai Town” by Los Angeles City Council in 1999 in an effort to revitalize the area in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest, this formerly neglected six block area of East Hollywood has transformed into a thriving social and economic center for the Thai American community, has helped lift many families out of poverty, and is now home to more than sixty businesses and social service agencies.

"Ethnic enclaves and cultural tourism are not just short-term trends which generate only a passing interest,” said Martorell, “but can actually become long-term engines of economic growth for an entire community.”

According to the 2010 United States Census, there are 67,707 Thai Americans living in California, and 237,629 Thai Americans living in the United States. The number of Thai Americans in the United States has gone up 58.1 percent between 2000 and 2010.

“The next step for Thai Town,” said Martorell, “Is the creation of the Thai Town Market Place that will serve as a business incubator for fledgling entrepreneurs while enriching significantly the district's Thai social and cultural atmosphere." To this end, LA County Board of Supervisors awarded the Thai Community Development Center a $50,000 discretionary grant to help launch this $1.6 million project, $1.4 million of which has already been raised from a mix of private and public sources.