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IMMIGRATION AND THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY : Building a Community for Everyone

April 16, 1989|BERKLEY HUDSON | Times Staff Writer

"My father was an immigrant," Monterey Park Police Capt. Joe Santoro said. "He came through Ellis Island from Italy. He once said to me: 'Son, it's easy to be a prince, if your father was a king.' "

For people born in America, Santoro said, "it's easy to say, 'Be an American.' "

At a hearing of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations last week, a dozen speakers detailed the triumphs and failures faced by newcomers trying to become Americans in the San Gabriel Valley.

Santoro, for example, put his father's comments into the context of today's Asian and Latin migration. Based on a study he conducted in 10 cities across the nation, Santoro told how law enforcement has much to learn about Asian cultures.

With statistics and anecdotes, other speakers at Alhambra's City Hall Wednesday dealt with such topics as social relations, education, housing and transportation.

Commission President Morris Kight said the 15-member body held the hearing because it had received reports of much "rancor" in the western San Gabriel Valley.

"We have heard many problems, but it is defeatist to consider racial diversity as simply a problem," Kight said at the hearing's conclusion. "It needs to be treated as a great opportunity for the enrichment of society."

The number of residents of Asian ancestry in the region, Kight said, had more than doubled in the eight-year period ending in 1987, for a total of 180,000. The percentage of whites has dropped but still constitutes a majority, he said, while the Latino population has remained stable.

"The truth is we now have wave after wave of immigrants," Santoro said. "Unless we're able to deal with that . . . we're going to wind up with a community out there that doesn't have confidence in government."

Based on the hearing, Kight said, the commission will make recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors on possible solutions.

Here are edited excerpts from some of the speakers:

Human Services

Gladys Lee, director of the Asian Pacific Family Center, a mental health counseling agency in Rosemead.

There is a growing fear that Asians are taking over the San Gabriel Valley. That makes it more difficult for Asian newcomers.

When we were established in 1986, schools and police welcomed us with open arms. But on a negative side, some non-Asians said: "My grandfather came from Europe. He made it without help."

The Asian-Pacific community has serious problems. Many youngsters reject their heritage, hunger to be American and acculturate at an unhealthy rate, threatening their parents. Adults who had no previous psychiatric problems in their home country develop severe depression and paranoia. It is hard for Asian parents to understand that corporal punishment, which they used effectively in their homeland, can be considered child abuse.

Elderly Asian-Pacifics are virtually without services.

Fund raising is difficult because of the stereotype that Asians are wealthy, that we are the model minority.

Solutions: Encourage those of Asian ancestry to feel more comfortable in seeking counseling. Develop a program to combat stereotypes of Asian-Pacifics.

Politics

Richard Santillan, professor of ethnic and women's studies, Cal Poly Pomona.

Minorities are trying to become part of the political club. But racial discrimination is still a problem. One of the problems is at-large elections.

We vote by district for our legislators, Board of Supervisors and some school boards, but not for most city councils. It's a sad commentary that cities with populations that are 50% Latino have only one on the city council. Asian representation is also low.

Probably the biggest breakthrough came when the U.S. Supreme Court found (that) Watsonville's system of at-large elections was discriminatory. That means cities will confront lawsuits and an unfortunate amount of racial tension.

Solution: Some city council members would be elected at-large, while other members would be elected from single-member districts to guarantee that individual neighborhoods are represented.

Law Enforcement

Capt. Joseph Santoro, Monterey Park Police Department.

Nine years ago, a teacher brought a child to police with a ring of welts around his chest and neck. According to our standards, this is child abuse. Not knowing what this was, we arrested the parents.

The truth is, this is a traditional method of healing, called coining, where you take a hot spoon or coin and pinch the skin. The intent is to relieve flu symptoms.

We have a dilemma. We have a criminal justice system that says this is child abuse. Child abuse is an act of violence. This is an act of love. But it's not right, according to our standards. How do you deal with that? We should understand it and have the proper social service agencies to deal with it.

What about delinquent children?

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