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THE NEXT LOS ANGELES / TURNING IDEAS INTO ACTION : Human Relations : Will Los Angeles create a model of vitality by shaping common goals, or will it disintegrate into a modern-day Babel? : Diverse Like Me / The Changing Ethnic Landscape

July 17, 1994|Researched by NANCY RIVERA BROOKS / Los Angeles Times

The 1980s transformed Southern California into a racial and ethnic smorgasbord, a community rich with colors and accents. Whites continued to move out to the edges of the map, blacks began to leave inner-city areas in record numbers, and Latinos and Asians appeared virtually everywhere. The truths of our recent past have become the myths of our present: South Central is not black; Orange County is no longer white; Koreatown is only 30% Asian. But this seeming integration has not meant the death of segregation, for while these ethnic groups live in ever-closer proximity there is no guarantee that they like it. "High diversity in a (census) tract does not imply that the different populations are socially or residentially mixed," according to Eugene Turner and James P. Allen, professors in the Cal State Northridge geography department who put together an atlas showing changes in population patterns in metropolitan Los Angeles and Orange counties between 1980 and 1990.

Ethnic Salad, Lightly Tossed

Many communities experienced dramatic changes in their ethnic diversity during the decade. In general, the areas with the sharpest increases lost the most whites and gained the most minorities. Ritzy San Marino and upper-income Arcadia were definitely not the picture of diversity in 1980, but gained a sizable Asian population during the decade. Blacks, Asians and Latinos moved to Covina and West Covina, greatly increasing the diversity of those communities. Downey, Bellflower, north Long Beach, Anaheim and Garden Grove saw similar diversity gains. Areas that decreased in diversity, such as Vernon, South Gate and Santa Ana, experienced a jump in a single ethnic group, usually Latinos. The change in diversity was determined by calculating each tract's "diversity index" for 1980 and 1990, and then subtracting the earlier index from the later one. Higher positive scores indicate increasing diversity while higher negative scores indicate decreasing diversity.

Landscape of Diversity

The decade took a diverse region and made it even more so. This map of the relative diversity of each Census tract shows a patchwork of communities throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties where whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians and American Indians rub elbows. But the index also shows that large chunks of ethnic clustering remain, populated by whites, blacks or Latinos. Asians tend to be scattered across the map. The diversity index (also dubbed the entropy index) measures how equally the different groups are represented. The higher the number, the greater the diversity.

White Flight in Action

During the 1980s, whites increasingly moved to the 'burbs and beyond. Growth occurred primarily in areas of new middle- or upper-income housing developments or recent Soviet or Iranian immigrant settlements. Clusters of note include Glendale, the southern San Fernando Valley, the Westside, Long Beach, the east San Gabriel Valley, Irvine and south Orange County. Whites are the only ethnic group studied whose numbers are shrinking, thanks to migration, a low birth rate and high average age. During the decade, the Anglo population declined in Los Angeles County by more than 330,000 and increased in Orange County by only 44,000.

Goodby South Central; Hello Everywhere

The region's African-American population became less concentrated during the '80s, moving away from inner-city areas such as South Central, Compton and Watts and dispersing widely. On a smaller scale, the same thing happened in Pacoima, Pasadena, Monrovia, Pomona and Long Beach.

That Latin Look

The 1980s saw an increase of more than 1.5 million Latinos in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Although new arrivals, primarily from Mexico and Central America, contributed to the jump, a high birth rate was equally important. Many settled in the traditional enclaves of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Pico-Union. But large numbers moved elsewhere, including into predominantly black areas such as South Central Los Angeles, Lennox and Inglewood.

An Asian Explosion

Asian growth was widespread and huge--more than doubling during the 1980s--largely because of immigration. There was some clustering of growth in Koreatown, northeast Los Angeles, the east San Gabriel Valley and Cerritos, as well as noted concentrations of Cambodians in Long Beach and Vietnamese in Santa Ana and the Little Saigon area of Westminster.

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