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Study of Asians Urges More Aid to Ease Racial Tension

July 31, 1988|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

Racial conflicts between Asians and non-Asians in the San Gabriel Valley will become more frequent and severe if cities fail to begin offering significant social services, according to a United Way task force.

A United Way study of the county's Asian communities concluded that racial tension is increasing in the San Gabriel Valley as immigrants continue to move into once-predominantly Anglo and Latino suburbs.

The study, which was released Wednesday, said racial tensions are approaching "crisis proportions" and require immediate action.

Although the Asian population in the San Gabriel Valley is one of the fastest growing in the county, there are almost no social service agencies in the area that specifically serve Asians, the report said.

Center Recommended

The task force recommended the construction of a multi-service center, preferably near Monterey Park, to serve the western San Gabriel Valley.

The center would provide family counseling, language training, health care, mental health care, recreation for the elderly and youth programs.

The study did not estimate how much the center would cost or who would pay for it.

Frank H. Watase, head of the United Way's Asian Pacific Research and Development Council, said the study was only intended to point the way for social service providers by supplying them with "ammunition" to persuade local governments, corporations, community members and charitable organizations to fund programs for the Asian community.

"The next step is for the community to grasp the report and run with it," Watase said. "No one is going to solve the problems for them."

According to a survey conducted by The Times last year, the Asian population in the San Gabriel Valley had grown from 77,300 in 1980 to an estimated 180,000 in 1987.

Majority Are Chinese

The growth has centered in the western San Gabriel Valley in cities such as Monterey Park, where the population is estimated to be 40% Asian, the highest percentage of any city in the country.

The majority of the area's new Asian residents are Chinese, although there has also been a significant migration of Koreans and Vietnamese.

"The community needs help now. We've passed the brink," said Gladys Lee, director of the Asian Pacific Family Center, a counseling and mental health clinic in Rosemead.

The study assessed the social service needs of the county's 10 largest Asian communities: Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Filipino, Samoan, Thai, Tongan and Vietnamese.

The 10 groups make up 90% of the county's Asian population, which in 1985 was estimated at 1.1 million, triple what it was in 1970.

The study found "evidence of terrible and untold human need," Watase said.

Refugee Youths

Those suffering include refugee youths who continue to bear the psychological scars of war, orphaned Cambodian children, families racked by the pressures of adapting to a new country and the elderly who are often isolated and ignored.

The study found that these problems are compounded in the San Gabriel Valley by increasing racial conflict as more Asians have moved throughout suburban areas, said Lawrence Lue, director of the counseling program at the Chinatown Service Center.

Anglo and Latino residents have grown bitter over the transformation of suburbs into bustling cities filled with condominiums and mini-malls that has coincided with the Asian influx.

The study found an "alarming" rise in racial conflicts in San Gabriel Valley schools, although no specifics were included.

Lue said there is an immediate need for intervention programs to bring together different groups so they can iron out their problems.

But he added that more counseling services, cultural adjustment programs and language classes are also needed to ease the feelings of alienation that are exacerbated by racial conflict.

Many of the problems, especially among the wealthier and better-educated Asians in the San Gabriel Valley, are an outgrowth of their success, the study said.

Work Ethic

The work ethic of Asian families, which includes long hours and often having both parents work, has caused an erosion of the traditional family unit, according to the study.

The hardest hit are the elderly and the young, Lue said.

Latchkey children are common, and the dispersion of the Asian community has increased the social isolation of many elderly residents already facing problems in adjusting to the customs of this country.

There is also a shortage of nursing homes with bilingual staffs to care for the elderly, the task force found.

Despite the problems, little help is available in the San Gabriel Valley.

While there are Asian counseling and health-care programs available in Chinatown, Lue said commuting from the San Gabriel Valley is inconvenient and disconcerting for many residents unfamiliar with that area.

Widely Dispersed

In the San Gabriel Valley, the Asian community is also widely dispersed, making it more difficult to provide a focus for providing social services.

"Chinatown is just a small geographic area, but in the San Gabriel Valley people come from all over," Lue said.

There are only two social service agencies in the area that primarily serve the Asian community: the Asian Pacific Family Center and the International Institute of Los Angeles, a refugee service agency located in San Gabriel.

Even United Way officials in the San Gabriel region concede that their funding for Asian social services has been inadequate.

"It's small in comparison to the need," said Connie Aguilar, planning and agency relations director for the United Way in the San Gabriel Valley. "We're trying to catch up, but it takes a while."

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