In 2010, approximately 2% of Grand Rapids residents claimed Asian-only descent. The city’s Asian population jumped by 30% over the next decade, with the southeast suburb of Kentwood leading the way: its Asian population increased by 90% from 2010 to 2020, reaching 11% of the municipality’s total population. Kentwood-adjacent Gaines Township saw a 78% increase in its Asian population.
Grand Rapids is the county seat of Kent County, which experienced a 56% jump in its Asian population over the past decade. People of Asian descent now account for about 3% of the Kent County population.
Grand Rapids was one of the first American communities to accept Vietnamese refugees in the mid-‘70s, led by a consortium of area churches. By the 2000 census, only three other Midwest cities had more Vietnamese-American residents than Grand Rapids.
As in most U.S. cities, the first influx of Koreans came to Grand Rapids as wives and children of U.S. military personnel serving in Korea during and after the Korean War. Today, more Koreans come to Grand Rapids through adoption by non-Korean families than come with their birth families.
Few Chinese settlers made their way to West Michigan until 1965, when changes in immigration law made it possible for those with superior skills and education to find employment in our technology-forward companies. Beginning in the 1980s, Chinese-American business owners developed a small "Chinatown" district along south Division Street in Grand Rapids, with shops and services catering to Asian tastes.
Most Asian Indians and Pakistanis also came to Grand Rapids after 1965, when immigration laws were rewritten to emphasize education and skills rather than race. While tension is high between their home countries, Indians and Pakistanis here have bonded as one community.
More recently, the growth of the Asian population of Kentwood has been fueled in part by refugees from Burma, Bhutan and Nepal.
- The Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation (GRAPF) cultivates belonging, promotes economic equity and develops talent in the local Asian American and Pacific Island communities.
- The Chinese Association of West Michigan supports the local Chinese population and operates the Grand Rapids Chinese Language School for students of all ages.
- The West Michigan Asian American Association serves the local Asian American community with a focus on healthcare, education and civic engagement.
- Korean Connection West Michigan provides exposure to Korean cultural experiences to stimulate respect for traditions and ignite cross-cultural connections.
- Additional community organizations include Asian Community Outreach, Vietnamese American Community of West Michigan and the Western Michigan Bengali Cultural Association.
- Noodle Fest (March) pits local Asian-owned businesses against each other in a noodle cookoff. Attendees enjoy great fantastic food and live entertainment at this outdoor event, which is part of the city’s annual World of Winter Festival.
- The Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Festival (June) invites one and all to gather in downtown Grand Rapids for three days of authentic food, music, dancing, games and more.
- Global Water Fest GR (July) showcases the diverse global cultures that celebrate the beauty and power of water. Highlights include dragon boat racing, a traditional Chinese watercraft activity, as well as international cuisine, art and entertainment.
Points of Interest
- Grand Rapids is a Sister City to Gangnam-gu District, South Korea and Omihachiman, Japan.
- Korean graffiti artist Royyal Dogg painted a massive mural of a woman wearing a Korean hanbok dress on the Hopson Flats apartment building across the street frown downtown GR’s Founders Brewing Co.
- The Hire Katsu Curry at KCM, a local Japanese Korean restaurant, was named one of the 23 Best American Dishes of 2023 by the New York Times.
- Opened in 2020, KCM is one of 70+ Asian restaurants in Grand Rapids. Recent additions to the Asian dining scene include Adobo Boy (Filipino cuisine), Amazing Myanmar Asian Cuisine, K-Pocha (Korean street food), K-ROK Korean Barbecue & Karaoke, Monsoon Vietnamese Cuisine and Nagoya Steakhouse & Sushi (Japanese).
- The Japanese Garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park was designed by Hoichi Kurisu to include authentic Japanese structures and a functioning teahouse.