Why Asian immigrants moved to the American suburbs

There has been a flurry of research in the last few decades on the movement of Asian immigrants to the American suburbs, notably looking at the suburbs of Los Angeles and working with the concepts of “ethnoburbs.” Here is a fresh take on the topic from a researcher looking at what has happened in some of these Los Angeles suburbs:

The homeowners I spoke to who settled in the now-Asian ethnoburbs of Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, or Walnut, said that they were drawn to the country lifestyle. As one white interviewee says, “our house was backed into the wilderness… Diamond Bar looked like a ranch… a nice place to live, to raise children, (and) a clean healthy environment.” Asian American interviewees – many of whom originate from dense metropolitan areas in East and Southeast Asia, and settled in the east Valley in the mid-1980s and beyond – also sought the east Valley’s country lifestyle since the term implied wholesomeness, the setting suggested order and harmony, and the image accompanied with a single-family home connoted the actualization of the American Dream.

While scholars and researchers rightfully problematize political economies, migration patterns, and social dynamics between different racial and class groups in the contemporary ethnoburb, oftentimes post-1965 Asian immigrants moved to these neighborhoods for tangible and banal reasons. Interviewees provided various mundane and frank motives as to why the east Valley sold them twenty or thirty years ago: inexpensive new housing, reputable school districts, easy access to work, distance from urban crime and racial “others,” and by the late 1980s and 1990s, conveniences to ethnic commodities. Though classism, neatly planned neighborhoods, and country living were pivotal aspects in residents’ decisions to settle, “everyday” matters and concerns also informed how a community grew, struggled, and changed. The Asianization of the greater San Gabriel Valley is not slowing down anytime soon as Merlin Chowkwanyun and Jordan Segall demonstrate.

The contemporary emergence of California’s majority-Asian suburb, then, is not solely about Pacific Rim capital, immigrant family reunification, or Asian Americans’ “Model Minority” status allowing them to enter these formerly elite white neighborhoods. It is deeply linked to how immigrants and non-immigrants imagine, absorb, construct, and reinforce popular discourse and imagery of the American Dream, rosy suburbia, and the U.S. West. The salience of these themes influences how individuals or groups envision and build community throughout the U.S. and across generations.

It sounds like the argument here is about adding the lure of suburban culture to the structural arguments. Like others who moved to the suburbs, the cultural values and ideals attached to the American suburbs proved attractive to Asian immigrants even as some of the larger structural forces, like class, made it more possible.

A comparative element might be helpful here: were Asian immigrants more drawn to the American suburbs than immigrants from other places? If so, why?

One thought on “Why Asian immigrants moved to the American suburbs

  1. Pingback: Why Americans love suburbs #3: race and exclusion | Legally Sociable

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