By Frances Wang

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – While South Florida may not have a large Asian American Pacific Islander population, there is still a strong one that is unique and extremely multi-cultural.

Just look at some of the local small business owners, like Cheryl Chin and Raymond Li.

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Born and raised in Jamaica, Chin moved to Miami at age 17 to attend college at Florida International University. She said she stayed after graduating and met her now-husband, whose family owned Jamaica Kitchen in Southwest Miami-Dade.

“His family had this restaurant, [which used to be a pizza shop. Now here I am!’ said Chin. “Three of my grandparents are from China. One maternal grandmother was born in Jamaica and she is mixed.”

Chin’s restaurant is Jamaican, but there are a few dishes like jerk chicken fried rice that blends her multi-cultural background.

“A lot of Jamaican cooking does have some Asian influence in there,” said Chin.

In the last 10 years, Chin said more people have been coming in, looking to try Jamaican food for the first time. Despite identifying as mostly Jamaican, people often assume her Jamaican restaurant is not authentic because she is of Chinese descent.

“Still, every day, I have people that will come in here and they see us and three of us up front are Chinese Jamaican,” explained Chin. “They’ll walk out.”

Chin adds most of those people are not actually Jamaican and just make assumptions. She also has many regulars who wait outside for her to open up daily at 11 a.m.

Just about eight miles away in Coral Gables, Chef Raymond Li is focused on his pop-up ‘Li’s Dim Sum’ currently located at MKT Kitchen.

“With time, as I got older, I embraced my last name,” said Li. Like Chin, Li is of Chinese descent but identifies more with a different culture.

“I was born and raised in Miami, Florida,” said Li. “But my grandfather [immigrated to Cuba] during the Chinese Revolution. My grandfather met my grandmother, who was also from China, there.”

 

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Li said his grandfather was killed in Cuba when his father was just ten years old.

“My dad didn’t get to learn Chinese. So we lost that tradition,” said Li, adding that a lot of his family members went missing during that time period.

Li’s father eventually fled to Miami after being held a political prisoner in Cuba. That’s where he met Li’s mother, who is Colombian.

Li described his typical Sunday as a blend of his Latin and Asian backgrounds.

“I was drinking a café con leche, seeing my dad make dim sum, while tasting the Lap Cheong,” said Li, referring to a popular Chinese sausage.

Anti-Asian hate has been on the rise in the country because of COVID-19.

According to the Stop AAPI Hate, more than 6,000 hate incidents have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. South Floridian Asians like Li and Chin feel it’s more important than ever to embrace all of their roots.

“I lost touch with all that,” said Li. “Nowadays, I make sure everybody knows I’m Chinese, Cuban, and Colombian.

“I’ve had somebody come here. I told her ‘You have to wear a mask,” said Chin. “She told me ‘You Chinese people caused this anyway,’ and she left.”

Despite some incidents like this, Chin said delivery and takeout helped her small, popular kitchen survive the pandemic.

For Li, who was working as a chef at a restaurant pre-pandemic, being laid off pushed him to start what he always wanted.

“Dim sum has brought my family together,” said Li, who started Li’s Dim Sum with his father. “Working together is a dream come true.”

Jamaica Kitchen is located at 8736 Sunset Drive in Southwest Miami-Dade and open Monday-Saturday from 11am-8pm.

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Li’s Dim Sum is currently a pop-up at MKT Kitchen in Coral Gables, open from Thursday through Saturday, 6pm-10pm. Li’s next goal is to open up a restaurant, so stay tuned.

Frances Wang