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A Look at State's Chinese-Americans : Minorities: A Claremont think tank will do the first study ever on the beliefs, attitudes and customs of the diverse community.

January 13, 1991|IRENE CHANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Claremont McKenna College's Rose Institute is embarking on a two-year study of Chinese-Americans in California that researchers say will be the first comprehensive look at one of the state's fastest-growing ethnic groups.

Researchers on the ambitious project, which is just getting under way, aim to interview leaders of service organizations run by Chinese and Chinese owners of as many as 2,000 businesses in the state. The researchers will ask about political, cultural and social attitudes of 1,000 people representing a cross-section of the state's multifaceted Chinese communities.

"It's going to be an almanac--everything and anything you want to learn about the Chinese is going to be in there," said Lilly V. Lee, a Chinese-American businesswoman who sits on the institute's board of directors.

Lee said the benefits of the study will be far-reaching. In addition to providing non-Chinese with a window into unfamiliar cultures, she said, the study will help businesses based in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Pacific Rim countries understand the overseas communities they serve.

As the study progresses, the Rose Institute, an influential think tank noted for its involvement in Los Angeles County political redistricting matters, will publish survey results on such topics as attitudes toward health care, taxation and the environment. Also planned is an analysis of how various political candidates fared among Chinese voters. Detailed maps showing trends in Chinese immigration and population shifts will also be published.

The institute will also print, in Chinese and English, directories of businesses and nonprofit organizations, including their vital statistics.

This is the first time such a publication has been attempted, said Alan Heslop, a senior research associate at the institute who is heading the project.

California's Chinese population is diverse, encompassing third- and fourth-generation Americans whose ancestors panned for gold and built railroads; professionals who came to the United States after immigration laws were relaxed in 1965; recent immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong, and Chinese from Southeast Asia who fled their war-torn countries. In 1980, there were 322,000 Chinese-Americans in California, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and that number has increased dramatically over the last decade.

Heslop estimated that there are 50,000 Chinese-owned businesses in the state. To locate them, researchers will search the state's franchise tax rolls with a computer program designed to find Chinese surnames.

To help offset the project's estimated $150,000 cost, the institute has received a $10,000 cash grant and $10,000 in staff support for the business portion of the study from the Asian American Economic Development Enterprise Group, a Los Angeles-based organization. The institute also intends to apply to other organizations for assistance.

The idea for the study, Heslop said, came after Secretary of State March Fong Eu, her son, Matthew Fong, and several other Chinese-American community leaders approached the Rose Institute after the release of a survey of Latinos in California in 1989.

"They said, 'OK, why haven't you done a study of the Chinese-American community in Southern California?' To which we said, 'We'd like to,' " Heslop said.

Heslop said he and his colleagues decided to take on the whole state after discovering, to their astonishment, that no study of California's Chinese exists. The closest was a 1986 Caltech study that examined political attitudes of all the state's ethnic minorities, not just Chinese.

"The real excitement is that nothing has been done," Heslop said. "There was in fact a tabula rasa, a clean slate, for a very populous group. We found there was a gap in scholarly information."

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