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Conference Focuses on Problems of Immigrants : Racial Mosaic in Southern California Expected to Be All Minorities by 2000

December 13, 1985|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Immigrants no longer assimilate; they "acculturate," according to speakers at "Orange County 2000: A Conference on Acculturation" held last week at Cal State Fullerton.

"The implication of assimilation is surrender," said Donald Sizemore, director of planning for the Orange County Community Development Council, which presented the conference along with the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the Orange County Human Relations Commission. But "acculturation is a blending of cultures," he said.

Goodby, melting pot. Hello, mosaic.

Immigrants have dramatically changed the face of Orange County during the past 15 years--as they have the rest of Southern California. From 1970 to 1980, the county's Asian population grew 371% while Latinos increased 145% and blacks 140%, and the white population increased just 20%, according to the Southern California Assn. of Governments. Of Orange County's 64,000 immigrants from 1970-80, roughly half were Latino, half Asian.

If trends continue, the Southern California mosaic may become 42% white, 41% Latino, 9% Asian and 8% black by the year 2000, according to SCAG. "It would be a 'collection of minorities,' " with no majority racial group, said Dennis Macheski, program manager for SCAG.

The conference, which focused on the problems of immigrants, was the second such forum nationwide sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, said Michael Lapin, president of the organization's Orange County chapter. "We feel our (Jewish immigrant) experience has relevance. Most of us are second- and third-generation (offspring of) immigrants." More than giving solutions to immigrants' problems, Lapin said he hoped the conference would offer an opportunity for dialogue.

As opposed to previous waves of immigration which were predominantly European, the new immigrants are 80% Latino and Asian, said Gary Rubin, deputy director of national affairs for the American Jewish Committee, who delivered the opening address. "The United States will be the first universal nation, literally from all over the world."

'Don't Panic'

The basic lesson from previous immigrant experience, Rubin said, is: "Don't panic." The immigrants will "adjust anyhow." He called the conference a pioneering effort in assessing the impact of immigrants after they arrive. Rather than waiting for immigrants to assimilate, Rubin suggested that the majority population take an active role in helping immigrants adjust and take advantage of what they have to offer.

The conference drew about 175 people, including educators, librarians, and officials from public and private social agencies as well as individuals such as Susano Ricardo Calderon, a truck driver. Calderon said he came to the conference because he is in the process of becoming a deacon in his church in Buena Park. "I want to be better informed to work with the community," he said.

Alan Schwalbe, an owner of several apartment houses and member of the board of directors of the Orange County Fair Housing Council, said he also came out of personal interest. "Minorities are having the hardest time finding housing," he said. Regarding Asians, he said: "We created their immigration; as patriotic citizens, we should welcome these people."

The United States admits more immigrants than all other countries combined, said keynote speaker Thomas Muller, author of "The Fourth Wave: California's Newest Immigrants" (The Urban Institute Press, 1985). Like other societies since the 17th Century, Americans tend to fear that immigrants will depress the economy, cause welfare to rise and reduce job opportunities, Muller said.

However, Muller said his research shows that Southern California has in fact benefited economically as a result of the immigrant surge. Illegal immigrants particularly, have and will continue to complement the labor force by taking undesirable jobs, he said.

Muller predicted, however, that--using an economic rationale to cover up social or emotional concerns--the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986 will probably approve sanctions against employers who hire undocumented workers.

And he predicted friction from the disadvantaged children of Mexican immigrants in Southern California. Unlike their parents, the children of immigrants will not realize that economic conditions in their communities are generally better than those their parents left. They will experience greater frustration living in the midst of rising affluence and materialism, Muller said.

Perhaps no city in Orange County has changed as much as Westminster. In five years, the city's Asian population has mushroomed from 2.7% to 15-18%, according to Police Chief Donald Saviers, one member of a panel called "Successful Models for Resolution of Intergroup Conflict." It is difficult to gauge the extent of a related increase in robbery, extortion and veiled threats as well as prostitution and murder, Saviers said.

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