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Monterey Park : Nation's 1st Suburban Chinatown

ASIAN IMPACT: Second of two articles

April 06, 1987|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

The changes have come so quickly that longtime Anglo, Latino and Asian residents describe feelings of disaffection, of being locked out of their community.

They complain that the newcomers have simply transplanted their culture and way of life to the suburbs of Los Angeles. They say the Chinese community has grown to the point that newly arrived immigrants no longer feel compelled to join the larger community. Instead, they are content to retreat into their own insular world.

As a result, longtime residents charge, many of the newcomers fail to learn English, drive erratically and push into lines at supermarkets and drug stores.

The newcomers counter that English-language adult classes overflowing with Chinese immigrants are proof of their willingness to fit in. They acknowledge problems with driving and pushiness but say these are outgrowths of living in the crowded Far East.

They point out that the changes in Monterey Park could not have taken place if longtime residents had not sold their homes and businesses at vastly inflated prices to Chinese.

Convenient Scapegoats

Even without their arrival, they say, growth and congestion would have occurred. They attribute the resentment to misplaced anger, to a longing for a simpler and more homogenous town. They say they have become convenient scapegoats.

Much of the discord, which seems to revolve around differing concepts of space, appears irreconcilable. Many Chinese newcomers, accustomed to living in crowded quarters, have torn down homes and extensive yards and replaced them with multistory condominiums and apartment complexes--done within existing zoning standards or through approved variances.

"I'm sure you've heard the old adage 'East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,' " Fiebelkorn said. "Well, there's no better proof of that than Monterey Park."

During the 1950s, Wesley and Janice Shyer were part of a wave of young white couples who moved to the city. They raised three children, marched against the Vietnam War and joined the American Civil Liberties Union. When a black family encountered resistance moving to an all-white neighborhood, the Shyers protested loudly and assailed their city as racist.

Resentful Now

Now, echoing the frustrations of other longtime residents, the Shyers struggle to reconcile their past with unfamiliar feelings of resentment. At times, their anger has less to do with the presence of Chinese than with seeing their small town become a full-fledged city.

As soon as Janice Shyer, 58, retires from her job as an elementary school aide, the couple plan to move.

"I'm having an extremely hard time sorting out my feelings," she said. "I know I cringe when I hear my friends make racial remarks.

"But when they tell me that the sheer numbers of Chinese are overwhelming, I can't tell them otherwise. When they tell me that they go shopping and are pushed over by Chinese women behind carts, I can't disagree because the same thing's happened to me."

No Civic Involvement

Wesley Shyer, 60, who owns a steel products firm in La Mirada, has responded to the changes by disengaging from city life.

"I am no longer active. I have no causes anymore. I feel like an outsider. I have withdrawn, and in my withdrawal I feel a great loss. I'm a citizen in a town that has gone beyond me. The only thing that's the same is that I live on the same piece of dirt.

"It's a painful thing to see. I remember the Garvey Hardware Store, how it was a town meeting place. We'd go there every Saturday and chew the fat. In an afternoon, you'd be able to catch up on all the city news and politics and also get the widget you needed to get.

"When I go there now, it's like any other hardware store in any other busy city. I'm watched very carefully and when it's time to pay and I pull out my credit card, they ask for my driver's license and phone number. Am I entitled to feel a little resentful after shopping at a store for 32 years and living in a community for 32 years and suddenly having to feel like a stranger?"

Out of the Barrio

Like the Shyers, the Zabalas were attracted to Monterey Park because of its small-town qualities. Fernando Zabala, a hair stylist, grew up in East Los Angeles and considered Monterey Park a stepping stone out of the barrio.

He moved to the city in 1969 at age 25, opened a barber shop, became president of the Jaycees and helped organize the city's annual birthday celebration. Zabala said he became disillusioned after seeing his neighborhood change from a mixture of Latino and Anglo to almost exclusively Chinese.

Two years ago, he moved his wife and four children to El Monte. A few months later, he moved his business, too.

'Little Bit of Everybody'

"It was very important that my children grow up in a racially diverse community," Zabala, 42, said.

"When we moved to Monterey Park, we had a little bit of everybody: whites, blacks, Latinos, some Chinese and some Japanese. But we lost that mix. In my neighborhood alone, it went from 25 Latino families to three.

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