Imagine leaving home for ten years and coming back only to find a bustling bubble tea shop decorated with pink swings and candy skulls in its place. For Chamblee resident Azela Lopez, this incident is now a reality. Close to Lopez's apartment complex along Buford Highway, over 1000 businesses flourish, exemplifying a Hispanic cultural epicenter; however, since 2016, the area has transformed into a New-York based corporate sanctuary, attracting hordes of customers while creating an escalating consequence: the forced displacement of hundreds of low-income families through urban gentrification and demolition of public property.
Living in Atlanta for over 16 years, my family and I have grown to love the quaint social atmosphere of Buford Highway's minimalistic Paris Baguette and zen-sponsoring Tea House Formosa, both of which serve the most mouth-watering Honey Brioches and Oolong Milk Teas. Other restaurants, such as So Kong Dong and Bo Bo Garden, have become traditional family favorites since 2001.
Specifically, the authentic syncretism of Filipino, Chinese and Korean cuisine epitomizes a fresh culinary hub for younger consumers, mainly college and high school students. Besides those from Metro Atlanta, residents from Johns Creek, Alpharetta and even Suwanee are found in this crazed pool of diners. Although the plethora of 5-star Asian restaurants seem to be ingrained within our society, Buford Highway, unbelievably, used to be a collection of Mexican laundromats, supermercados and public housing units that have since drowned with the heart of Atlanta's Hispanic culture under the wave of new corporate businesses.
The Highway's transformation first brought great economic prosperity, filtering in over 44 new businesses annually as existing stores reaped growing profits. By 2016, when the Dekalb County Board approved the annexation of $234 million worth of Doraville businesses into Atlanta jurisdiction, property values also began to skyrocket. Azela Lopez, along with 244 other families, experienced rates of over $1300 a month— nearly 200% the median rate two years prior. These prices total to $15600 a year, almost equivalent to the annual salary of a McDonald's food attendant. Thus, low-income families, many of whom work as waiters, are forced to leave their homes.
The once flourishing Mexican traditions slowly disappear as luxury and materialism overrun the streets. For example, as construction on General Motors began in 2017, an abandoned 13-acre lot underwent a $130 million dollar project that instead of reserving the area for low-income public housing, designated a new Infiniti and Nissan auto dealership instead. Other projects such as the Peachtree Creek Greenway propose new sidewalks and bikeways that connect to the Atlanta Beltline. While many avid joggers or sightseers support this idea, the consequences are dire: old homes are bulldozed to expand current roadways and those still standing are stripped and renovated entirely.
For more information: Buford Highway: Development threatens Atlanta's immigrant corridor
The loss of Hispanic culture in Buford Highway is evident; unfortunately, most consumers, like me, are unaware of their profound impacts. As my father chews on a chunk of Taiwanese popcorn chicken from Sweet Hut, he reminisces about his childhood in Taipei. Bringing a flood of nostalgia, these small appetizers allude to the comfort of his mother's cooking nearly four decades ago. Similarly, my mother reconnects with her Cantonese roots through the delicious dim sum servings from Canton House. On the other hand, Mexican business owner Perez experiences the exact opposite. Initially drawn to the surrounding heritage and language, Perez is now veiled from the public eye behind mainstream Asian businesses. His favorite stores, such as Los Paisanos, are closed, and various original taquerias are torn down. Even worse, he is a hot target for ICE agents that continue to flush illegal immigrants from the Chamblee district, creating a hostile and isolated environment. With rents on the climb and persecution a viable threat, displacement seems inevitable.
So, the next time you munch on those Mini-Bubz from Kung Fu Tea or devour the perfectly brewed beef noodles from Ming's BBQ, realize the effects of the prosperity of these cafes and restaurants. Most importantly, evaluate your contribution to this issue. While reintroducing the displaced families back to their homes is an impossible feat, we can still preserve the little Hispanic culture that Buford still clings onto. Through social media, advocate for wise fiscal spending, reservations for public housing and overall cultural appreciation over consumerism. Then, perhaps that bubble tea will be finally be worth your while.