How Orlando’s Mills 50 neighborhood turned into a thriving Asian-American community

ORLANDO, Florida. – After the Vietnam War ended, hundreds of Vietnamese came to Central Florida through the Catholic Charities Refugee Program and found a new home near Mills Avenue and Colonial Drive, an area known today as Mills 50 District.

The area has also long been referred to as Little Saigon, reflecting a significant transformation that began in Orlando’s Colonialtown neighborhood with the arrival of the Vietnamese in the late 1970s.

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“We fled Vietnam, so we came here in 1979,” said Hung Kim Chau, manager and co-owner of Dong A Co. Oriental supermarket in Mills 50 district.

The supermarket caters to the Asian-American community, making it feel like a home away from home. Kim Chau escaped with her parents and siblings after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

“(When) we left Vietnam, we have nothing left,” she said.

After the Vietnam War ended, the family resettled in Orlando.

“With six brother(s) and sister(s) it’s hard to raise. So my dad worked two jobs,” Kim Chau said.

Her father worked two jobs, but she said he was laid off, and in 1982 he opened the Dong A Oriental supermarket.

“Open daily, 40s. We just keep working – year by year it goes really fast,” she said.

Kim Chau and her siblings carry on their father’s legacy by running his supermarket where customers like Jeff Tony, who drives an hour from Cocoa, go in search of Asian produce and produce.

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“I love it because I love to cook,” said Tony, who lived in Orlando.

He told News 6 he makes the trip once a month.

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“When I come to Orlando, I always take a trip, a detour absolutely; take my dumplings, take my spring rolls, my rice crackers,” Tony said.

Taking a drive on East Colonial Drive is like stepping into a world of Asian cultures, a place where Asian Americans began to thrive in the 1980s and 90s.

“It was a good start, and it really started to build momentum,” said Pam Schwartz, executive director of the Orlando Regional History Center. “It’s a busy intersection and the rent, at the time, was really affordable, and so kind of a business job brought another business, brought another business.”

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From Chinese and Thai cuisine to Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese storefronts, the Mills 50 neighborhood has transformed into a bustling hotspot for Asian Americans in search of the American Dream. According to the Asian Chamber of Commerce, the main Asian populations are Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino.

Orange County has the largest concentration of Asians in Central Florida with more than 78,300 people, according to the 2020 census.

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