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Inside the Rapid Asianification of the San Gabriel Valley

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Images via The Atlantic Cities

At The Atlantic Cities last week, Merlin Chowkwanyun of Penn and Jordan Segall of Stanford examined the rapid and thorough Asianification of the San Gabriel Valley in the last few decades. They write that in 1980, Monterey Park was the only city in which "Asian households approach[ed] even a third of the population"; most every other city had single-digit Asian household populations. By 1990, things started to change: "Monterey Park became the first suburb to turn majority-Asian, with an Asian household percentage of 53.2 percent"; Alhambra was at 9.4 percent in 1980 and jumped to 31.9 percent in 1990 and every other city made similarly huge leaps upward. Elsewhere in LA County, Asian households only grew from 4.9 percent to 9.3 percent in those 10 years. By 2000, Walnut had also become majority Asian and Rowland Heights was at 49.8 percent. Meanwhile, Monterey Park was all the way up at 60.7 percent. In the nearly 12 years since then, "more than a half-dozen additional suburbs in the region have become majority-Asian."

The trend is especially remarkable because, as of 2010, only 0.1 percent of Census-designated places were majority Asian (California, it should be noted, had 40 such places; Hawaii came in second with only five). The authors note also that this is a change-up from how things often go with immigrants: "Many new Asian immigrants who settled [in the SGV] bypassed the conventional suburbanization process of first settling in ethnic enclaves in the urban core and moving outward to the suburban periphery over time. In the San Gabriel Valley, suburbs were the new ethnic enclaves and frequent first destinations."

They do a thorough breakdown of where exactly the immigrant populations in each SGV city are coming from, but here's the very reductive summary: "The most affluent suburbs tend to have more East Asians and fewer Southeast Asians. Conversely, Southeast Asians tend to reside in less-affluent suburbs."

Chowkwanyun and Segall then zoom in on San Marino, a very strange case--the suburb is ridiculously wealthy (median household income is $154,962) and very tiny (pop.: 13,000), and in 1970 it was 99.7 percent white (it was also pretty racist well into the 1980s--click over for the cringey examples). Today it's majority Asian. For years, San Marino's white population resisted the Asian influx, but eventually "turned instead to a program of 'harmonious' incorporation designed to inculcate new arrivals into the city's firm traditions."

Most importantly, Asian homebuyers had the cash to buy in the city--an LA Times article from 1984 said that "Asians, mostly Chinese, are buying one of every five or six homes on the market in San Marino, often paying cash for houses priced at $500,000 or more." In the end: "Shared bourgeois values produced a functional relationship between residents and newcomers and relative racial harmony." However, the authors do wonder if whites are becoming less interested in San Marino as the Asian population grows: "Will too much Asianization of suburbanization result in white resentment that then lowers demand and depresses home values?"
· The Rise of the Majority-Asian Suburb [The Atlantic Cities]
· How an Exclusive Los Angeles Suburb Lost Its Whiteness [The Atlantic Cities]