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CENSUS 2000 | FOCUS: ASIANS

Fastest Growth of Any Ethnic Group in State

Biggest increase was in the suburbs. Southern California's expansion was geographic and economic.

March 30, 2001|PETER Y. HONG and DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In Southern California and statewide, Asian Americans outpaced every other ethnic group in the rate of population growth during the 1990s, with some of the most dramatic jumps occurring in suburbs, 2000 census data show.

California's Asian American population grew 38% in the last decade, surpassing the growth rate of the state's Latino population, which was 35%.

Asian Americans expanded their reach in Southern California both geographically and economically: Orange County now has a higher percentage of Asian American residents than does Los Angeles County, and Asian Americans edged into the majority in San Marino, one of America's wealthiest communities.

The census results show an acceleration of trends identified 10 years earlier in the 1990 census, UCLA demographer Paul Ong said.

"In 1990, we saw the emergence of middle-class [Asian] enclaves in the San Gabriel Valley," in such cities as Monterey Park, Ong said. "Now, there are more affluent areas" seeing strong Asian American growth, Ong said.

The 2000 census also showed persistent poverty among members of the ethnic group, demonstrating another trend shown in the 1990 census: Asians are strongly represented at the top and bottom economic rungs of society. The rapid Asian American growth rate since the last census was roughly the same, for instance, in tony La Canada-Flintridge as it was in working-class South El Monte--roughly 75%.

In Southern California, the Asian American population grew fastest in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, followed by Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Asian Americans now account for about 14% of Orange County's population, up from 10% in 1990. Los Angeles County, by contrast, saw its Asian American population grow to about 12% from 10% in 1990.

The Asian American population boom is increasingly driven by growing families, rather than immigration. "The majority of growth is now coming from natural causes, births minus deaths, rather than immigration," Ong said.

Settling in Areas With Better Schools

Growth by new births helps to underscore another Asian American population trend: the move to areas with strong school systems. Arcadia's Asian American population more than doubled in the last decade, and much of Orange County's Asian American growth is led by U.S.-born Asian Americans, Ong said.

David Gibbons, Korean American pastor of Newsong Community Church in Tustin, said Asian Americans are continuing the American tradition of settling into residential communities outside big cities. "Once people become acclimated and acculturated, they tend to move to the suburbs," Gibbons said.

Newsong, which began with eight people in Gibbons' Irvine living room, has grown to 1,400 members in six years. The congregation is 70% Asian American--mostly young second- and third-generation families who have come to Orange County's more affluent neighborhoods seeking better schools and cul-de-sacs.

The Vietnamese, a major component of Southern California's Asian population, also have branched out from the Little Saigon neighborhood in central Orange County where they first settled.

"Once people make some money, they want to move to places like Irvine, Fountain Valley, Newport Beach," said Anne Nguyen, a real estate broker who caters to the Vietnamese community.

Refugees from the Vietnam War once defined Orange County's Asian American growth, but the 1990s saw flight from local troubles.

"There are a lot of Koreans who moved to Orange County after the civil unrest" of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, said Mary Anne Foo, executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance. "Their perception was that Orange County was a lot safer."

Asian Americans are also transforming religious life in Orange County, long an evangelical Christian stronghold. Vietnamese-speaking Catholics, for example, now account for more than 10% of churchgoers in the Diocese of Orange and they are the fastest-growing segment, with 23,500 attendees, just behind Spanish speakers, who account for nearly a third.

Earlier this year, the diocese broke ground on the first Vietnamese-named parish in Southern California, Our Lady of La Vang in Santa Ana, near Westminster.

Nonetheless, whether they are Korean families escaping Los Angeles' urban ills, Asian technology workers drawn to Irvine or Vietnamese Americans moving beyond ethnic enclaves, Asian Americans are becoming a wider, more thinly spread community.

The 2000 census data show that in Los Angeles County, 62% of Asian Americans live in areas in which Asian Americans make up less than 10% of the population.

That tendency to live in areas with few other Asian Americans is somewhat less pronounced in Orange County, but 80% of Orange County Asian Americans live in places where they account for less than a fifth of the population.

Commercial Hubs Expand to New Areas

More than nine out of 10 Asian Americans in Riverside and San Bernardino counties live in areas that are less than 10% Asian. As evidence of the trend, smaller Asian commercial hubs have sprung up in suburban areas from Buena Park to Diamond Bar in the last 10 years.

"We go where the populations are," said Sam Sohn, a general manager for Los Angeles-based Hannam Chain supermarkets. "We are dependent on the demographics."

The chain opened its first Koreatown store in 1988, then a second store in the South Bay in 1995, its third store in Buena Park three years ago and a fourth store is scheduled to open in Diamond Bar, catering to that city's growing Chinese and Korean communities.

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