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How does the formation of Asian American communities in Southern California differ from the rest of the country?

Ethnic neighborhoods tend to attract and are bolstered by new immigrants, but does the same impulse to segregate hold for second- or third-generation Asian Americans?
Ethnic neighborhoods tend to attract and are bolstered by new immigrants, but does the same impulse to segregate hold for second- or third-generation Asian Americans?
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Asian Americans make up the third largest ethnic minority group in the U.S. and a third of them, about 5.6 million, live in California. In SoCal, the San Gabriel Valley and Westminster in Orange County are two Asian enclaves that readily come to mind – they are so big and dense that they sometimes feel more like their own individual region than merely an ethnic neighborhood. A new report co-authored by two Brown University researchers finds that the Asian Americans are almost as segregated from the white Americans as they were 20 years ago.

The trend is especially true when the Asian American population is divided into different ethnic groups. The report also finds that Asian American segregation was more prominent in Los Angeles and New York. “The Asian pattern is separate but equal (or even more than equal), raising questions about the prospect or value of their residential assimilation in the future,” wrote John Logan, who co-authored the report.

Ethnic neighborhoods tend to attract and are bolstered by new immigrants, but does the same impulse to segregate hold for second- or third-generation Asian Americans?

Interview Highlights

John Logan

On how Asian Americans compare to earlier immigrant groups coming to the U.S.:

There are a lot of similarities among the immigration we're seeing today and what we had a hundred years ago, at that time there were some immigrant groups who started off as working class people but very quickly became middle class and experienced real mobility. I think we're finding that to be true among Asian immigrants today. 

On if the growth of Asian communities  such as the San Gabriel Valley and Monterey Park in SoCal is a common phenomena:

There are, of course, some communities around the country that have a similar experience. In the New York area for example, the area around Flushing Queens became very Asian over a 20-year period and of those they were predominately Chinese. The more common phenomenon is not so extreme, it's not the majority Asian neighborhood but the exceptionally Asian neighborhood, which means on average a neighborhood that's 25 or 35 percent Asian. 

On generational dynamics that come into play in different Asian American communities:

The study I did is based off census data — and not based on interviews — but it does show some very useful trends. … We discovered that immigrant Asians of each group tend to live in almost exactly the same kind of neighborhoods in terms of the racial composition as the second and later generations. That's partly because the new immigrants are drawn to those enclaves that were previously established by an earlier generation — but also because they're just friendly places in terms of their culture.

Another very important point is that these patterns hinge very much on the specific group. … We particularly know that Vietnamese have lower education, for example; there are some other Asian national origin groups that in fact on average are doing better in terms of income and in terms of education so theres's a great deal of diversity among Asians. 

Joanna Lee

On if generational and country of origin differences effect living patterns:

What we have been seeing in Southern California is that the number of Asian Americans has been increasing dramatically since 1965 when discriminatory immigration laws were eliminated, and so the past decade's data has shown Asian Americans as the fastest growing racial group in the county. Now we're home to about 1.5 million Asian Americans, but predominately the Asian American community here in Los Angeles is foreign born.

Asian Americans are faring worse than whites across multiple measures of income, and that's becausethey are predominately immigrant communities. There are higher poverty rates and higher proportions of low income than whites. Typically second generations have higher income, are typically less likely to be limited in English proficiency, and may have more choices where to live. At the same time, there are these cultural expectations, even economic restraints that keep these second generation Asians in the same communities. 

On if second generation Asian Americans see moving out of immigrant dominant areas as a desirable thing:

There are a lot of diverse reasons for why Asian Americans want to or can move out of the area where they grew up. The economy has played a huge role. There are a lot of folks who are unemployed in the community (that has kept folks closer to home) and want to help out their immigrant parents. A lot of parents rely on their children who speak English to help out with the household. Asian American households typically have more people who are working in the family so those may be factors for why folks stay closer to home. 

Separate but equal: Asian nationalities in the U.S.

John Logan, Professor of Sociology and the Director of Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences at Brown University

Joanna Lee, Senior Research Analyst of the Demographic Research Project at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles, formerly the Asian Pacific American Legal Center