Chapter The Transformation of Chinese America: New York v. Los Angeles

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Monterey Park and Beyond:

Chinese Ethnoburbs in the San Gabriel Valley, California
The Demographic Transformation of an American Suburb

The San Gabriel Valley is a vast suburbia to the east of the city of Los Angeles, to the north of the Puente Hills, to the south of the San Gabriel Mountains, and to the west of the Inland Empire, encompassing 31 municipalities and 14 unincorporated communities of Los Angeles County.18 Chinese ethnoburbs that we describe in the following pages are defined rather loosely to refer to the emerging immigrant Chinese community in the region. At the core of the development of San Gabriel Valley’s Chinese ethonoburb is Monterey Park.”19 Monterey Park is an incorporated municipality with its own elected city council in suburban Los Angeles. From the beginning of World War II until 1960, Monterey Park prospered as the wartime economy brought new people from across the country to Southern California.20 In the decade immediately after the War, Monterey Park was one of the most affordable suburban bedroom communities—a cozy town with various single family homes, tree-lined streets, and spacious green lawns. In the 1960s, about 85% of housing consisted of detached single family homes, and 4% consisted of 10 or more units. About two-thirds of the housing was owner-occupied and vacancy rates were about 5%.

Postwar Monterey Park was predominantly white. But due to its suburban atmosphere and proximity to downtown Los Angeles, Monterey Park began to draw upwardly mobile Mexican Americans from neighboring East Los Angeles, Japanese Americans from the Westside, and Chinese Americans from Chinatown.21 By 1960, Monterey Park’s ethnic makeup was 85% non-Hispanic white (down from 99.9% in 1950), 12% Hispanic, 2.9% Asian, and .1% black; by 1970, it was 51% white, 34% Hispanic, and 15% Asian (2/3 Japanese American and 1/3 Chinese). Many of the Hispanic and Asian Americans arriving in Monterey Park during the 1950s and 1960s were educated, acculturated, and middle-class second- or third-generation immigrants who were driven by the American dream of upward mobility and suburban life. By 1970, Monterey Park became the first and perhaps one of the very few middle-class suburbs that were ethnically diverse, with non-Hispanic whites holding a slight majority. The process of ethnic integration was fairly smooth, since it very much conformed to the conventional model of residential assimilation. Most of the new residents were acculturated second- or third-generation members of ethnic minorities and were not perceived as a threat to existing Anglo political and institutional dominance.22

The arrival of immigrants and investors from Taiwan and the Pacific Rim and the influx of foreign capital that started in the 1970s and accelerated since then set off a dramatic demographic transformation in Monterey Park. By the mid-1980s, the city had been completely transformed from an Anglo bedroom town into a community with an Asian majority and a visible presence of immigrant Chinese. Non-Hispanic white residents declined rapidly from 51% in 1970 to 26% in 1980, further to 12% in 1990, and to 7% in 2000. In contrast, the proportion of Asian residents increased from less than 15% in 1970 to 34% in 1980 and to 56% in 1990, making it the first and only Asian-majority city in the United States of the time. As of 2000, Monterey Park’s racial composition was 7% white, 41% Chinese, 21% other Asian, 30% Hispanic, and 1% African American. Those in the other Asian category included Japanese Americans (mostly U.S.-born), Vietnamese, Filipinos and other Southeast Asians. In 1980, less than a third of the Monterey Park population was foreign born, but the proportion increased to 54% by 2000. Not surprisingly, more than three quarters of those in Monterey Park spoke a language other than English at home. Clearly, this suburban city has been transformed into a typical immigrant-dominant ethnoburb.

Unlike earlier Chinese immigrants who were mainly from rural regions in South China, Monterey Park’s Chinese immigrants of the early 1980s were mostly from Taiwan either as investors and entrepreneurs or as professionals.23 Once the Chinese community took shape, family migration and migration from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia followed. By the mid-1980s, the number of mainland Chinese immigrants surpassed that of the Taiwanese. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, among Chinese immigrants who selected Monterey Park as their preferred destination between 1983 and 1990, 44% were from the mainland and 42% from Taiwan. Yet, the visibility of Taiwanese money, Taiwanese-owned businesses, and Taiwanese involvement in local politics earned Monterey Park the nickname, “Little Taipei,” with which both Taiwanese and mainlanders were identified.

What made Taiwanese immigrants in Monterey Park distinct was that they were disproportionately high skilled and capital-rich and that many of them obtained immigration visas through direct investment or employment either by Chinese-owned businesses or mainstream American businesses. As of 1990, the Chinese immigrants were more highly skilled than L.A. County’s population: about a quarter of the adult Chinese population completed four years of college and another 17% had post-college education compared to 14% and 8%, respectively, county-wide; close to 40% held professional occupations, compared to 27% county-wide; and 16% of the work force were self-employed, compared to 10% county-wide. A telephone survey of Chinese business owners in Los Angeles also showed that Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs had much higher levels of educational attainment than other immigrant entrepreneurs—88% being surveyed reported having earned four years or more of college education, compared to 35% of white male business owners. Moreover, Chinese immigrant business owners were nearly twice as likely as Korean business owners (who are known for their propensity for entrepreneurship) to be members of the business-owner class prior to migration (43% v. 24%), and some of these entrepreneurs continue to run their businesses in the homeland after migration, or become transnational.24 This selective group of entrepreneurs were not only highly educated with entrepreneurial expertise and skills, but also had extensive homeland and transnational business ties that had been established prior to their arrival in the United States, which were further strengthened through their homeland or transnational businesses and their frequent visits to the homeland.25

Another distinct characteristic of Monterey Park’s Chinese immigrants was the visibility of transnational migrants. In contrast to the traditional male sojourner who left his family behind to find riches in America, a new group of Chinese transnationals—“spacemen” as the media calls them—settled their wives and children in Monterey Park while shuttling back and forth between both sides of the Pacific Ocean. And in other cases, the children–known as “parachute kids”—were left in the United States alone to attain education in the U.S. while both their parents remain in Asia.26 Transnational household arrangements became an alternative model of immigrant settlement. Indeed, Monterey Park’s newcomers represented a brand new stream of immigrants and a new mode of incorporation. Instead of moving from immigrant enclaves like other native-born Latino or Asian Americans, the new Chinese immigrants inserted themselves directly into the middle-class suburb without much acculturation.

As more Chinese immigrants put down their roots in Monterey Park, newer arrivals started to settle in adjacent suburban communities, such as Alhambra, Rosemead, San Gabriel, and Temple City, and branched out north to Arcadia and San Marino, and southeast to Diamond Bar. Figure 2 maps out the spatial distribution of Chinese Americans at the census tract level for Los Angeles County. Patterns of Chinese American settlement generally reflect the duality of concentration and dispersal. These patterns are distinct insofar as the ethnic population has grown beyond the boundaries of the central city and has become increasingly concentrated in multiple locations that expand eastward into the San Gabriel Valley. As Table 1 shows, Chinese settlement is most concentrated in Monterey Park, San Marino, Arcadia, San Gabriel, Alhambra, Rosemead, Temple City, and as far southeast as Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut, and Diamond Bar.

Figure 2 about here

Comprising only 3.5% of L.A. County’s total population (and 1% of the total U.S. population), Chinese Americans are over-represented in many suburban cities in the San Gabriel Valley even though none of these cities has a Chinese majority. As shown in Table 1, there are 13 cities with over 10,000 people in the United States in which the share of the ethnic Chinese population is five times of that in L.A. County (17.5%), and all are in California and all but two are in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley.27 Except for the City of San Francisco, all the cities listed in Table 2 can be considered typical ethnoburbs, which were barely visible before 1980. Another marked characteristic of the ethnoburb is its ethnic plurality, in which non-Hispanic whites comprise only a numerical minority.28

Table 2 about here
The Development of the Ethnic Enclave Economy in the San Gabriel Valley

Without doubt, contemporary Chinese immigration has driven much of the demographic transformation in Los Angeles’ suburbia. The development of the Chinese enclave economy in the San Gabriel Valley was initially set off in Monterey Park in the late 1970s, which has transformed the character of the American suburb and made the emerging ethnoburb distinctly Chinese. Prior to 1970, only a few small specialty shops, supermarkets, and restaurants dominated commercial activities in Monterey Park. At night, streets were quiet as residents retired into their comfortable homes. A former police chief recalled, “You could shoot a cannon off at Atlantic and Garvey [one of the main intersections], and it could fly through the air and roll to a stop without hitting a soul.”29 Today, Chinese-owned office buildings and mini-malls have replaced this bedroom community’s commercial core with a cosmopolitan hub of the Asian Pacific. Various Chinese-owned businesses line up along the main streets with discernible Chinese language signs. The vibrant commercial center expands block after block and is active from early in the morning until late at night, seven days a week. As a resident recalled, “at 3:30 in the morning…I counted 34 cars stopped at a red light at Atlantic and Garvey. It looked like rush hour.”30 While many Chinese-owned businesses still resemble those in Chinatowns—such as “mom and pop” or “husband-wife” family-run restaurants, gift shops, food stores, and other small-scale services, newly sprung-up business establishments are bigger and more diverse and modern, much like those in mainstream economies in the United States and in Asia.

The Chinese ethnoburb’s economic development was initially fueled, and has continued to be affected, by foreign capital, which was combined with family assets and savings that immigrants brought to or accumulated in the new country. During the early period of economic transformation, real estate development was perhaps the most significant economic activity in Monterey Park. It should be noted that in the 1980s, rampant and speculative land development all over Southern California turned many small bedroom towns into cities with high-density commercial and residential over-development. Monterey Park was simply part of the trend. What made it unique, however, was that the economic boom had an Asian face and responded mainly to the demands of coethnic transnationals and immigrants.

The arrival of many Taiwanese investors, realtors, developers, and entrepreneurs, and later the mainland Chinese “neuveau riche,” played a crucial role in reinvigorating a formerly inactive economy and boosting real estate values. In the 1970s, transnational investors and immigrant entrepreneurs from Taiwan invested in Monterey Park because of its growth potential and its convenient location—accessibility to Chinatown and to the Pacific Rim. By the late 1970s, 30% of the city’s business licenses were registered under Asian names.31 The pace of foreign capital flows accelerated in the following decade as Hong Kong, China, and Southeast Asia started to transfer capital to the United States. With sufficient capital, these investors bought up properties and converted or developed them into both commercial and residential housing. Lots that were vacant in the 1970s were now built up and old bungalows were torn down to make room for commercial or mixed-use real estate developments. By the 1980s, the price of land skyrocketed. Many lots for commercial development sold at $40 to $50 per square foot, much higher than the price of $8 to $10 a square foot which supermarkets or department stores could afford to pay during that time. With these inflated prices, developers had to recoup their costs through intensive development—huge luxurious single-family homes were built on joint lots alongside multiple-family apartments and condominiums and high-density office buildings and mini-malls. The total number of housing units in Monterey Park jumped from 12,833 in 1960 to 19,331 in 1980, and again to 20,209 in 2000, representing a 57% increase from 1960-2000. The proportion of multi-unit apartments (10 units or more) also jumped from 5% in 1960 to 14% in 2000. According to reports from a leading business real estate company in the region, 60% of the shopping and retailing property transactions in the San Gabriel Valley, which were handled by the company, in 1989 was by Chinese investors, and 50% of the warehouse purchases in the San Gabriel Valley in 1991 were Chinese-related.

Accompanying real estate development was transnational advertising and marketing to lure Chinese businesses and immigrants to settle in the region. The constant flow of foreign capital toward real estate and land development stimulated tremendous demand for residential and commercial space, not only from Chinese immigrants already in the United States, but also from potential immigrants abroad. As local real estate brokers and developers rushed to capitalize on the highly specialized immigrant market, they promoted Monterey Park as the “Chinese Beverly Hills” and “a Mecca for Chinese businesses” in Asia.32 A brochure promoting Monterey Park in Taiwan read: “In Monterey Park, you can enjoy the American life quality and Taipei’s convenience at the same time.”33 Soon after the establishment of the “Little Taipei” in Monterey Park, the Taiwanese quickly dispersed to neighboring cities. Referred to as the “Taiwan Syndrome,” enterprising Taiwanese investors purchased commercial properties and homes in the San Gabriel Valley in order to sell them later to wealthy newcomers from Taiwan.34 Consequently, much of the real estate development was absorbed by Chinese-owned businesses and immigrant families, and home and business purchases in Monterey Park and adjacent cities became a viable channel for further immigration and transnational economic development.

Foreign investments also had a non-for-profit flavor because investments in real estate and local businesses were viewed as valid tickets to immigration. Many investors and entrepreneurs were even willing to take losses to secure a place in the United States by gaining immigrant visas, or non-immigrant visas which could later be adjusted to permanent residency.35 Consequently, Monterey Park evolved into a commercial and banking hub for transnational businesses and an economic center for producer, retail, and professional services for local Chinese businesses from an even bigger Chinese community that has spilled over rapidly into San Marino, Arcadia, South Pasadena, and throughout the San Gabriel Valley.36 Potential emigrants in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China were attracted to Monterey Park and its neighboring areas due to the availability of new and affordable homes and a business environment favorable not only to local development but transnational ventures as well.

The proliferation of real estate and commercial developments in Monterey Park and other suburbs in the San Gabriel Valley mirror a new trend of sprawling Chinese immigrant settlement in Los Angeles. In the early 1980s, about one third of all Chinese businesses in the Los Angeles metropolitan area listed in the Chinese language telephone books were located in Chinatown and another third in the San Gabriel Valley. As of 1992, there were more than 11,000 Chinese-owned firms in Los Angeles listed in the Chinese language telephone books; only 6% were located in Chinatown whereas about 12% were located in Monterey Park and another third in neighboring cities in the San Gabriel Valley.37 Valley Boulevard, which runs parallel to Interstate 10 through at least ten cities in the San Gabriel Valley, serves as a window to Chinese business development in the region. Along the boulevard, there are numerous mini-malls, commercial plazas, professional office complexes, restaurants, shops, hotels, and industrial plants with Chinese language signs, creating the feel of prosperous Far Eastern marketplaces.

Like businesses in Chinatown, many businesses in the Chinese ethnoburb continue to concentrate in niches characterized by those with low entry barriers, or those left-over by the larger economy. Unlike Chinatown, however, the Chinese ethnoburb also concentrates a wider and more diverse range of businesses of much larger size and scale and creates new economic niches that are not commonly found in Chinatown. Typical Chinatown businesses – restaurants, eateries, groceries, gift shops, herbal stores, and garment factories – have been replaced by a large spectrum of upscale restaurants, trendy cafes and coffee houses, huge supermarkets, multifunction shopping centers, and professional service parks. New economic niches emerge that require either much larger start-up capital or much higher human capital, such as in printing and publishing, high-tech manufacturing in computer hardware and software and in biotechnology, commercial equipment wholesale, real estate, banking, security and commodity brokerage, hotels and motels, data processing, and financial, accounting, advertising, medical and engineering services. To a varying degree, the Chinese enclave economy in San Gabriel Valley resembles some of the key characteristics of both primary and secondary sectors of the mainstream economy, serving various social mobility and settlement needs of new immigrants and transnationals.

Social Development in the Chinese Ethnoburb

Demographic transformation and the development of the Chinese enclave economy in the San Gabriel Valley go hand in hand. Ethnic population and business growth have not only become increasingly interdependent, but have also promoted unprecedented social and political developments. One key conceptual distinction between the ethnic economy and the ethnic enclave economy is that the latter requires not only a sizeable coethnic entrepreneurial class but also a geographical core. San Gabriel’s Chinese ethnoburb, despite its sprawling, serves to anchor the community where a wide variety of ethnic social organizations emerge side by side with ethnic businesses.

Most visible of these new ethnic organizations are non-profit social service organizations, run by educated immigrants or the children of immigrants, to provide services, such as community cultural centers, cultural programs in public libraries, history projects, English classes, job training centers, employment referral services, health clinics, youth programs, daycare centers, as well as welfare, housing, legal, and family counseling services. Unlike the traditional organizational structure of old Chinatown, which was hierarchical and paternalistic and functioned like a family, these new ethnic social organizations tend to be horizontal and democratic, serving specialized functions.38 Unlike members of the old ethnic elite, who, as “cultural managers,” supported traditional Chinese culture, ethnic identity, self-determination, and the status quo in Chinatown,39 the leaders of new social service organizations are more concerned with interethnic relations, citizen and immigrant rights, civic duties, equality, and the general well-being of the large, ethnically diverse community as a whole.

Also visible in the Chinese ethnoburb are the development of Chinese language schools and ethnic institutions serving young children and youth.40 Chinese schools have been an integral part of the organizational structure of the immigrant Chinese community in the United States as well as in the Chinese Diaspora worldwide. In much of the pre-World War-II era, Chinese schools aimed to preserve language and cultural heritage in the second and succeeding generations. Since the 1980s, these ethnic language schools have evolved to a much boarder range of functions beyond the preservation of language and culture. In addition to language and cultural classes, contemporary Chinese schools offer K-12 children a variety of academic and enrichment courses and extracurricular activities, ranging from Chinese music, folk dance, calligraphy, calculation with an abacus, ping-pong, SAT-II (Chinese) prep courses to academic tutoring.41 Most schools are registered as non-profit organizations relying on parental volunteerism and fund-raising from the ethnic community. Parental involvement is much more intense than that in public schools; many parents volunteer to serve as principals and/or administrative officials and teaching assistants.42

The development of Chinese schools has also paralleled the development of private supplementary educational institutions since the late 1980s, such as buxiban (academic tutoring), early childhood educational programs, and college preparatory centers. For example, driving through the commercial corridor on Valley Boulevard from Monterey Park to Rosemead, a visitor may easily see flashy bilingual signs of these establishments in mini-malls, such as “Little Harvard,” “Ivy League School,” “Little Ph.D.,” “Early Learning Center,” “Brain Child” (a math and English pre-school), “Stanford-to-Be Prep School,” “IQ180,” and “Hope Buxiban.” These children- and youth-oriented institutions have sprung up to join the existing Chinese language schools to constitute a comprehensive system of supplementary education. The core curricula of these various ethnic institutions supplement, rather than compete with, public school education. The Southern California Chinese Consumer Yellow Pages listed 90 Chinese schools (64 were located in the San Gabriel Valley’s Chinese ethnoburb).43 Also listed were 135 academic after-school tutoring, including kumon,44 50 art schools/centers, and 90 music/dancing schools, most of which were located in the San Gabriel Valley.45

Other spatially rooted new ethnic organizations include religious organizations of all sorts, from Protestant and Catholic churches to Buddhist, Taoist, and other folk religious temples and worship houses. For example, Hsi Lai Temple, a grandiose temple in classical Chinese architectural style, was built in 1988 by a Taiwanese Buddhist organization. Situated on the foothill of Hacienda Heights, the temple is the largest Buddhist temple in North America, offering Dharma services and performing Dharma functions and rituals regularly. But the temple is much more than a religious center. It houses a university with academic degree programs—Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Buddhist studies and in comparative religious studies, and a Master of Business Administration program. It also offers workshops and seminars on Buddhism as well as secular programs on a wide range of topics, including education, immigration, marriage and family, taxation, and legal issues. It serves as a popular site for school field trips, business trips, organization meetings, and interreligious dialogue. The temple attracts worshipers, visitors, and tourists from near and afar.

There are other ethnic organizations emerging in the Chinese ethnoburb like professional organizations, alumni associations, and homeland district associations, which seek to aid Chinese immigrants’ social mobility. They aim to provide professional and social networks, and promote information exchange on opportunities in the United States, China, and other Chinese diasporic communities. Other goals include building U.S.-China economic relations, fostering greater Chinese diasporic economic exchanges, raising funds for relief of natural disasters in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and protecting the interests of Chinese immigrants in the United States. These ethnic organizations depend on sponsorship and funds raised from Chinese immigrants and Chinese-owned businesses and from mainstream businesses and private foundations.

Last but not least, ethnic political and civil rights organizations can be found in the Chinese ethnoburb. Most of these organizations are run by second-generation Chinese immigrants who came of age in the late 1960s and formed the core of the Asian American Movement on college campuses on the west coast. Inspired by the civil rights movements, these political organizations are concerned primarily with civil rights issues, particularly those relating to minority and immigrant rights, representation in the mainstream economy and politics, and inter-group relations. In effect, these ethnic political organizations have brought ethnic group members together on track with the norms and standards of the civil society rather than of the narrowly defined ethnic community and further strengthened Chinese Americans’ political power base.

One common characteristic of the various ethnic organizations in the Chinese ethnoburb is that leadership and staff are composed mainly of U.S.-born Chinese Americans or Chinese immigrants who are highly assimilated, as measured by levels of English proficiency, education, occupation, income, and place of residence. The fact that ethnic organizations and networks are actually built and maintained by the socio-economically mobile and highly assimilated indicates that assimilation is not a clear-cut, zero-sum process. The formation of the Chinese ethnoburb in the San Gabriel Valley demonstrates that high ethnic concentration, organization, and linguistic isolation are not incompatible with immigrants’ successful adaptation into American society.
Political Participation

Because many suburban communities are independent municipalities, the concentration of ethnic populations makes it possible for powerful voting blocs to form and for coethnic members or those who are sensitive to immigrant and ethnic minority issues to get elected. These possibilities, in turn, promote meaningful political participation, even among first-generation immigrants.

Monterey Park is a case in point. Monterey Park is an independent municipality. From the 1940s to the mid 1970s, politics in Monterey Park was dominated by an “old-boy network”— a local power structure consisting of predominantly white Republican professionals and businessmen. This power structure was challenged by the arrival of Japanese Americans and Mexican Americans in the 1950s and 1960s and the unprecedented arrival of Asian immigrants, mainly Chinese, during the mid-1970s and 1980s.46 While some democrats were willing to adapt the previously white institutions to suit new immigrants and minorities, others sided with conservatives against the Chinese newcomers and their ethnic community development. When immigrants with strong economic resources form a numerical majority, however, city politicians can not possibly ignore them. The growth of Chinese immigrants and the dominance of Chinese businesses tipped the power balance and transformed local politics into the politics of diversity.47

The shrinking non-Hispanic white population along with the decreasing influence of the old white conservative elite have created an opportunity for young multiethnic businesspersons, minorities, immigrants, women, multiculturalists, as well as nativists to engage in politics, opening up a new political order in Monterey Park.48 In 1983 when Lily Lee Chen, a Chinese American, was inaugurated as the first Chinese American mayor, Monterey Park’s 5-member city council became truly multi-ethnic with one white, two Mexican Americans, one Filipino American, and one Chinese American.49 Time magazine featured this “majority minority” city council as representative of multiculturalism and as a “successful suburban melting pot.” Growing resentment against demographic, cultural, and economic changes relating to the Chinese newcomers, however, soon swept the minority incumbents out of office. In 1986, three of the city council members were replaced by long established white residents, returning the city council to white control in pursuit of anti-immigrant campaigns under the name of the defender of Americanism: “English, the family, God, the nation, and the neighborhood.”50

Backlash against ethnic politics in Monterey Park of the mid-1980s, however, was short-lived as more immigrant Chinese became naturalized citizens and mobilized politically. Since 1988, Monterey Park’s City Council has had a Chinese American presence. Judy Chu, a second-generation Chinese American, was elected to the city council from 1988 to 2001. Others such as Samuel Kiang, David Lau, Betty Tom Chu, and Mike Eng have served or are currently serving as city council members. Betty Tom Chu served as mayor in 2006 and David Lau is serving as the current mayor (2007-08). Local election indicates the greater political maturity of Chinese immigrants in Monterey Park, who have continued to use their increasing demographic presence and economic power to challenge traditional Anglo domination in the city council.

The electoral success of the Chinese immigrant community reaffirms the democratic message that every vote counts, which in turn empowers Chinese immigrants, nurtures a greater sense of civic duty, and facilitates their incorporation into the American polity. Today, the Asian constituency extends beyond Monterey Park to other cities in the San Gabriel Valley. In 1995, Joaquin Lim was elected to the Walnut City Council in 1995 and became mayor of the city in 1999. In 1997, Wen P. Chang, a Taiwan-born businessman, became the first person of Chinese descent to be elected to the Diamond Bar City Council, served as mayor the following year, and was reelected for two consecutive terms. In 2001, Ben Wong became mayor of West Covina. In 2002, John Wuo was elected to Arcadia City Council and served as mayor in 2005. In 2003, Judy S. Wong, a Taiwan-born community activist, was elected to the city council of Temple City, and is the first Chinese American member to be elected to that body. In 2004, Mike Ten became mayor of South Pasadena. In 2005, Matthew Lin, became the first Chinese American mayor of San Marino. In 2006, Chi Mui, a China-born businesswoman, was sworn in as San Gabriel City’s first Asian and first Chinese-American mayor. In the same year, Joaquin Lim was reelected as mayor of Walnut City and Mary W. Su was elected to the Walnut City Council. At present, Chinese Americans have been elected to boards of Alhambra Unified School District (USD), Arcadia USD, Garvey USD, Hacienda-La Puente USD, Montebello USD, Rowland USD, San Marino USD, and South Pasadena USD. Most significantly, Judy Chu was elected in 2001 to the California legislature’s 49th Assembly District by multi-ethnic support, representing Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rosemead, San Gabriel, San Marino, El Monte, and South El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley. Mike Eng was elected to succeed Chu in representing the 49th Assembly District in 2006.51

[need to update from 2010 census]
Discussion and Conclusion
[Need to incorporate Sunset Park into the discusssion] Monterey Park may be as an outlier since it is the only city in the United States where Asian Americans comprise a majority, of which Chinese immigrants make up a significant part. However, middle-class immigrant Chinese communities are growing, and they are growing very rapidly and visibly not only in New York and Los Angeles, but also in San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, Houston, and other major immigrant-receiving metropolitan areas. Similar developments are also evident in Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. In both Flushing and Monterey Park, the pattern of ethnic succession is distinct from that of the past. Rather than an ethnic minority that arrive to bring down the average economic level of the populace, it involves an incoming ethnic minority that arrives with higher than average education and economic resources and with the capability of creating its own ethnic economy. Broadly speaking, these two modern enclaves share certain common characteristics with older Chinatowns, but are distinct from Chinatowns in many ways; they also differ from each other. Like Chinatowns, new middle-class immigrant communities serve the needs of new arrivals unmet in the mainstream society and provide opportunities for self-employment and employment. But unlike Chinatowns, they are better connected to the outside world on economic, social, and political terms. Moreover, they can no longer be narrowly defined as the "ethnic enclave" or "staging places" just for the poor and the unacculturated.

New middle-class immigrant communities are different from the old immigrant enclaves in a number of specific ways and face problems or challenges that are uncommon to old immigrant enclaves. First, Flushing and Monterey Park both concentrate coethnic members from diverse socioeconomic background as a consequence of growth. Middle-class immigrant communities have started out by affluent immigrants, investors, and professionals; but as time goes by, the pioneers have begun to send for their relatives who may not be as resourceful. Many family-sponsored immigrants, especially those from mainland China, are of urban working class backgrounds, and most lack English language proficiency and transferable job skills. They have came to Monterey Park to join their families. Also, many low-skilled immigrant workers are drawn to Monterey Park because the expanding ethnic economy need their labor and they can easily find housing through relatives and friends. As a result of intertwined ethnic ties, the Chinese populations in Flushing and Monterey Park become more socio-economically diverse. Such class diversity has implications for both immigrants and natives. For Chinese immigrants, class segmentation would mean greater social service burdens and a high risk of bearing a dual stigma – that of foreigner and that of the poor. As a way to avoid association with working class coethnics, the more affluent Chinese immigrants are under the pressure of out-migration. Several immigrant Chinese business owners in Monterey Park, whom we interviewed, told us that they had moved out of Monterey Park recently to avoid "over-crowdedness” and “gangs in schools." Some newcomers even express a reluctance to settle in Monterey Park. A Chinese home buyer from New York told us, "I wouldn't want to buy into Monterey Park ... because it's so congested, crowded, and so many [poor] Chinese."52 Interestingly, these feelings mirror those of established residents. For natives, the influx of working-class immigrants would mean a disruption of middle-class lifestyles and the threat of importing inner-city or Third-World social problems.

Second, Flushing and Monterey Park both have a strong ethnic economy that goes beyond the traditional model of small business and, instead, follows a mixed model of "East Meets West" development driven by the market and economic globalization. Rapid economic growth propelled by the influx of foreign capital and immigration creates opportunities but causes pains associated with soaring real estate prices, over-crowding, noise, traffic congestion, and crime. Some long-time residents in Flushing lamented that the new Flushing ... "looks like hell...It's really a disaster. There is too much traffic, filth and chaos."53 Monterey Park residents would echo these feelings. A Japanese American on his return to Monterey Park complained, “Damn it, Dad, where the hell did all these Chinese come from? Shit, this isn’t our town any more” (cited in Horton 1995, p. 10). Among established residents in Monterey Park, there is a deep-seated fear that their neighborhoods are turning into Chinatowns or microcosms of Taipei, Shanghai, or Hong Kong, which as they imagine are among the most crowded, congested, and polluted cities in the world. While established residents voice their concerns with a sense of nostalgia for small-town life and resentment to “Asian invasion,” more established Chinese immigrants also cite these problems as their primary reasons for leaving Monterey Park.

Third, Flushing and Monterey Park have become increasingly multi-ethnic, unlikely to be dominated by a single national-origin group. Diversity at the local level has made intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic relations key community issues. Among coethnic members, the mixing of coethnics from different class backgrounds gives the community the power and vitality to combat the trends of ghettoization and social isolation encountered in the inner city, but simultaneously turns the place into another type of "staging place" for the more affluent immigrants. Living side by side with other ethnic group members provides opportunity for intimate social contact, but also garners potential tension. It is interesting to note that Flushing has not witnessed any explosive ethnic tensions. But when conflicts do surface, however, Flushing’s multi-ethnic immigrant groups may have relatively little solidarity to mobilize politically because the power of ethnic immigrants is fragmented in New York’s municipal politics. In contrast, conflicts are much more overt in Monterey Park, often focusing on growth control movements and pro-Official English resolutions, but ethnic mobilization seems more effective because native-born Latino and Asian Americans tend to align with immigrant Chinese to act on racial issues in a city where minority groups form the numerical majority.

Fourth, Flushing and Monterey Park both tend to maintain extensive cultural, social, and economic ties to the homelands. Transnational ties, however, are distinct from those of earlier sojourning immigrants in that they no longer facilitate eventual return to the homeland but emerge as an alternative mode of incorporation into mainstream American society. Both Flushing and Monterey Park can be referred to as global enclaves—multi-ethnic and transnational, but they nonetheless show some significant differences. Flushing is global in terms of diverse immigrant national origins as well as the presence of all major racial minority groups. The natives are either whites or blacks, while the majority of Asians and Latinos are foreign born. Monterey Park is diverse in a different sense. The immigrants are overwhelmingly Chinese who are from different sending sources.

Finally, while Flushing and Monterey Park are both middle-class immigrant communities, they differ in the kind of residential mobility that each stimulates. Monterey Park originally served as a relatively permanent place of settlement for middle-class immigrant Chinese. Even though secondary migration is occurring, the community still serves as the most important center for the ethnic economy and for settling immigrants. Most of the residential out-movement from Monterey Park does not seem to be associated with significant improvement in socioeconomic status. Flushing, in contrast, has always served as a staging place, channeling the out-movement of socioeconomically mobile Chinese immigrants to more affluent suburbs.

In conclusion, Chinese immigrants have transformed Flushing and Monterey Park physically, culturally, and economically, in the same way that the earlier waves of European immigrants had transformed inner-city neighborhoods. However, what is distinctive about new immigrant enclaves is that they represent a new model of socioeconomic adaptation. While many new immigrants continue to converge in the central city as their first stop in the journey to attain the American Dream, a significantly large number of new arrivals has bypassed the traditional staging place, moving directly into suburban middle-class communities and situating themselves quite comfortably at the middle or upper-middle rungs of the mobility ladder. This would be unimaginable in the old days for both immigrants and natives. As we have already seen, many new immigrants in America’s urban centers have skipped over the early stages of that process. Many of them do not speak English very well and are not accustomed to American ways, yet they seem to have already made it into a comfortable suburban life immediately upon arrival. Where do they go from there? What will be the pattern of assimilation for those Chinese immigrants who enjoy suburban living and associated middle-class privileges—will they assimilate into the host society or change American cities to accommodate their cultural needs? The answers to these questions require a reconceptualization of the process of immigrant adaptation. Unfortunately, the classical approach of residential assimilation provides no account of why this outcome should have transpired among some groups but not all groups. Neither does it explain why resegregation should have occurred in seemingly integrated middle-class communities.

Tracing the development of Chinese immigrant settlement, we have seen that long-standing immigrant enclaves in the inner city seem to have absorbed the sheer numbers and the successive waves of immigrants fairly smoothly, and with largely salutary results and that there are few substantive regional variations. In suburbia (or the outer boroughs in the case of New York), however, complacent "bedroom" communities have experienced widespread in-migration of middle-class immigrants and rapid economic growth, and the results have been confrontational. Recent suburban immigrant concentrations have tipped the suburban balance of power, raising nativist anxiety. In Flushing and Monterey Park, immigrants from Asia, no less than blacks and Hispanics, can be perceived as a threat to white middle-class communities when they achieve a substantial presence. Their high socioeconomic standing, contribution to the local economy, and adaptive attitude do not make them immune to criticism. Rather, they can pose a different kind of threat, one that undermines longtime residents' sense of place and identity (Horton 1995) and their notion of “Americanness.” As immigration continues into the 21st century with its long-lasting impacts on American cities, a reconceptualization of neighborhood change and residential mobility is much needed.

Figure 1

Residential Concentration of Chinese: New York City 2000

Figure 2

Source: Adapted from Figure 4.2 in Min Zhou and Rebecca Kim, “A Tale of Two Metropolises,” p. 131 in David Halle, ed., Los Angeles and New York in the New Millennium (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

Table 1

Zip Codes of Settlement for Foreign-born Chinese by Place of Birth, NYC 2000

Number Percent

Born in Mainland China 207, 914 100.00

Chinatown and Vicinity 39,405 19.0

( 10002, 10013, 10038)

Flushing (11354, 11355) 19,503 9.4

Sunset Park-Industrial City 17,947 8.6

(11220, 11232)

Bay Ridge-Bensonhurst 12,579 6.1

(11214, 11228, 11209)

Born in Hong Kong 31,895 100.00

Bay Ridge-Bensonhurst 2,809 8.2

Chinatown and Vicinity 2,591 8.1

Flushing 2,406 7.5

Born in Taiwan 21,742 100.00

Flushing 5,147 23.7

Elmhurst (11373) 1,466 6.7
Source: Newest New Yorkers 2000, New York City Department of City Planning, Population Division.
Table 2: Cities with the Highest Proportions of the ethnic Chinese Population in the United States, 2000


Total Population










Household Income ($)

Los Angeles County




Los Angeles City





Monterey Park





San Marino












San Gabriel


















Temple City






Rowland Heights












Hacienda Heights






Diamond Bar












San Francisco






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