By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Having lived in San Diego for over five years now, whenever the craving for some Korean barbecue and bibimbap, Vietnamese pho, Chinese dim sum, Japanese ramen and bento boxes, Taiwanese boba tea and shaved snow, and endless beer-soaked karaoke rooms is on the agenda, San Diego’s Convoy District is the place to go to fulfill those cravings.
This long strip of road is the freeway-bordered triangle of Kearny Mesa. In 2020, the city of San Diego officially designated it a pan-Asian cultural and business district. As a city itself, San Diego is home to a growing Asian population and makes up around 17.25% of the total population of the entire city and its counties according to the latest census data.
After many years of advocacy at local government levels, community engagement, consultations with local businesses and a major fundraising effort, Convoy Street will now get the identity as being the Convoy Asian Cultural District – a very long and overdue name change. This will come in the form of new freeway signs which will guide drivers to the area.
The San Diego Asian Pacific Islander Coalition is one of the instrumental groups who have worked tirelessly with the Convoy District Partnership, (which is a not-for-profit organization responsible for the name and signage change) for years to get this signage to its rightful identity. One of the lead advocates for the signage name change is Lauren Balcita Garces, who is the Special Events Director with the Convoy District Partnership. She also serves as the co-chair for the San Diego Asian Pacific Coalition.
Garces, who is also a business owner herself, discusses how the name change and new signage will help guide tourists and new visitors to the community, which in turn will help Convoy District businesses to flourish and regain its momentum lost during the pandemic lockdown periods.
“These signs are so important to our local Asian American community who live, work and run businesses in and around Convoy Street, as it will promote stability and sustainability of our community and what we represent,” Garces said.
In addition to the economic viability for the area, there is also a deeper and more emotional aspiration for the signage name change and that is how much it means for Asian Americans who grew up in San Diego considering the Convoy District has been known as the Asian area for decades.
“Being Asian American, we want to see ourselves visible in the area where we live and contribute. The signage change shows physically that our cultures are represented in an area known for years as an amazing place for Asian cuisines, Asian groceries and other services the neighborhood provides, Garces expresses,”
Asian Americans who grew up in San Diego have shared with the Garces and the Convoy District Partnership memories they had growing and going for a weekend Asian meal on Convoy Street, or attending language school/tuition on Saturdays in the area. For Garces, this was the motivation for the groups involved to continually to push for this over the years.
To get the freeway signs change was no easy feat. It took many years of advocacy and community engagement to get everyone on board in local government, businesses and the community living in and around the area, Garces explained.
The coalition first worked with Mayor Todd Gloria when he was an assembly member to get the official designation as the “Pan-Asian Cultural and Business Innovation District.” Once that happened, they could approach CalTrans to determine the cost. They then had to raise $30,000 privately for the signage.
Finally, like with many Asian businesses across America, the racial backlash from COVID-19 Pandemic hit hard. The Asian businesses on Convoy Street are no exception, with many suffering major sales and income losses and others facing or faced business closures.
“We knew that a major reason for this was because of the wrong assumption that the COVID-19 virus came from the Asian community. We advocated to the local council members and county supervisors to make a public statement to denounce the anti-Asian hate and to encourage people to support the businesses in the area. It is about re-discovering the neighborhood and to celebrate our communities rather than cause divisions.“
Drivers will be able to spot the new freeway accessories along Interstate 805 north and south exit ramps for Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Balboa Avenue. The signs are currently being installed and will be up soon, so if you are traveling San Diego way, do not forget to stop by the Convoy Asian Cultural District.