Calexico embraces concept of having its own ‘Chinatown'

August 11, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York and — Calexico?

If two Chinese businessmen follow through with their ambitious plans, this border city could join the growing number of U.S. cities with a sizable number of Chinese immigrants who live, work and shop in a "Chinatown."

On Friday, City Manager Richard Inman entered into a formal agreement with businessmen Bernie Chow and Ying Wei Zhen, on direction from the City Council, to bring such a neighborhood and the businesses that come with it, here.

The agreement will make the men official ambassadors for Calexico to exclusively represent the city's interests in dealings with Chinese business partners, according to Inman.


Zhen is a resident of Calexico and has been doing business in Mexicali for 14 years. He speaks fluent Spanish and various dialects of Chinese.

His partner, Chow, works as a go-between for Zhen and other businessmen who want to build factories in Mexicali, startup restaurants or fund other enterprises. He speaks English and Chinese and is working on his Spanish, he said.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Chow said there is great opportunity for growth in the Calexico area. One of the ways the area is ideal is the strong Chinese presence in Mexicali.

"There are only about 30 (Chinese) restaurants in Mexicali," he said with a smile.

He envisions a "Chinatown" neighborhood in Calexico that would make the area a destination for Chinese, Mexican and U.S. tourists.

"I want to make Calexico a star on the world map," Chow said.

In addition to the retail businesses he expects to bring, Chow said there is interest from Chinese industrial and manufacturing companies that want to build light industrial factories that would work with and complement Mexican maquiladoras.

With the agreement in place as of Friday afternoon, the men started working immediately.

According to Inman, Chow showed the city to a group of Chinese businessmen this weekend.

As per the arrangement agreed to by the city, Chow and Zhen will have a one-year contract that can be terminated by either party with 30 days notice.

If Chow and Zhen take on more partners, they can extend the exclusive agreement to those partners with the city's permission.

Mayor Victor Carrillo is looking forward to working with the men.

"I was the one who put (the agreement) on the agenda," he said.

Carrillo said Calexico should put out the welcome mat for immigrants from China and other Pacific Rim countries.

He said the resulting mix of cultures would only enhance the already eclectic mix of races which call Calexico home.

"Any opportunity to become more inclusive is a win-win-win situation," he added.

Carrillo endorsed the idea of a "Chinatown" neighborhood.

"I feel like Calexico should promote a Chinatown concept to boost tourism here and welcome our neighbors here to live," he said.

City Councilman Gilbert Grijalva said, "The upside is tremendous. I support any way we can provide a boon to our economy and stimulate our growth."

As for the issue of how the cultures would mix and which neighborhoods would be converted for the "Chinatown," Grijalva said, "We need to take a good look at that."

Grijalva said Chinese immigrants would fare well here since the Chinese helped found the Imperial Valley and had a big role in developing early infrastructure and retail businesses.

"They have a history to tell also," he added..

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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