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5 Neighborhoods Help Tell Story of Region's Ethnic Shifts

Census: Sweeping demographic changes play out in a thousand subtle details of everyday life. Some effects are striking; others lie beneath the surface.

April 01, 2001|JENNIFER MENA and DOUG SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The numbers that flowed from Census 2000 last week were breathtaking in their description of how Latinos and Asians had displaced whites and African Americans in Southern California.

But put the five-county region under a microscope and narrow your focus. Go below the county level, below the city level, down to the census-tract level, where a few thousand people live, where change was experienced subtly, slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, over 3,652 days. There--in Anaheim, San Marino, Watts, Fontana and Whittier--reporters took these snapshots of five census tracts where race and ethnicity changed dramatically in the 1990s.

Tract 867.02

In the beginning, Adolph Macias was just another guy in Anaheim who looked white. That was when the blue-eyed Mexican American opened his barbershop in 1966.

In each decade since, Macias has found more reason to use the Spanish he once reserved for his family. About eight years ago, Macias finally put up a sign that read, "Se habla espanol."

This tract of 6,646 people had the steepest white population drop in Orange County in the '90s: a 52% decline. Meanwhile, the tract's Latino population rose 95%, and the number of Asians grew by 45%.

The change has left many longtime residents--whites and Mexican Americans alike--apprehensive about living among increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants who often share housing to save money and prefer Spanish over English.

Old-timers hold tight to their central Anaheim neighbors and to longtime customers. Adolph's Crown Styling Shop relies on customers who continue visiting even after they've moved out.

"The ol' faithful keep coming; the new Latinos are looking for 'El Cheapo,' " says Macias, who charges $10 for a haircut at his tiny shop in a gritty strip mall on North Euclid Street.

Macias, 75, often gives poor people free haircuts and coffee. Spanish-speaking passersby often seek his advice on where to go for insurance or work.

He and his regulars say the changes began when the aerospace industry slumped in the mid-1990s. They remember the neighborhood before the elegant Water Wheel Restaurant was replaced by a Kaiser medical building, before the taquerias opened and before the Korean signage popped up. They remember when the bus stop in front of the shop was filled with white people and most cyclists were children, not grown men going to work.

Across North Euclid Street, Antge Hasselbarth, owner of the Chicken Pie Shop, a diner that has kept the same decor and mostly white clientele since it opened in 1955, says of the changed neighborhood: "It's mix-and-match around here now. It's all right as long as they don't take over."

Marta Escobar sits on a bench watching her three preschool children play ball in her new neighborhood. Her husband works in construction, and the couple share the home with his parents.

"We wanted them to be safe, to be away from gangs and problems," said Escobar, who moved from Santa Ana last year and shares a house with five relatives to keep costs down. "I know the Americans don't like the Latino way. But the Americans don't pay enough for us to rent this by ourselves."

Even so, local entrepreneurs say their businesses are thriving. Walgreen's is moving to a new 14,400-square-foot store across the street, Anaheim senior planner Greg McCafferty said. But Macias' barbershop and other established stores will be demolished and replaced to make way for a new complex. That means the barber will probably rent a chair in someone else's shop.

"The neighborhood's changing; I'm changing," Macias says. "It's a good thing I can still speak the language to say goodbye."

Tract 4642

Brent Eaves would understand Adolph Macias.

Three years ago, Eaves bought a haberdashery called the Andover Shop on a stretch of Huntington Drive in San Marino. He says most of his customers are older men who once lived there but have moved away, replaced by Asians. It's a consequence of doing business in one of six Los Angeles County census tracts that switched during the 1990s from majority white to majority Asian. Four of the six, including this one, are in the west San Gabriel Valley.

Almost everyone who lives in this tract, divided between San Marino and the city of San Gabriel, is either Asian or white. In 10 years, their proportions flipped almost precisely, from 58% white to 58% Asian. The number of whites fell from 3,297 to 2,121.

Eaves wants to appeal to his Asian neighbors, but hasn't found the right sales formula.

"We have them come in occasionally," he said. "They look around and leave."

Down the street at the Huntington Pharmacy, new owner P.K. Lim is searching for a practical way to open a channel to Asian customers. He's planning to introduce products from Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido Co.

But he doesn't want to move too fast, because he knows he could easily lose the brisk business of middle-aged and elderly whites who know his longtime staff by name.

"They know each other quite well," he said.

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