[COMMUNITY] Is Orange County the Asian American Dream Come True?
- Is Orange County the Asian American Dream Come True?
To understand Orange County's unique place in the Asian American
consciousness one must reconcile several seemingly conflicting
images. First, Orange County has traditionally been one of the
state's richest, whitest and most conservative counties. Second, it
is home to UC Irvine, easily the most prestigious university in
which Asians actually outnumber Whites 2-1 (54% to 28%). Third, it
hosts the nation's largest Vietnamese population (145,000). Fourth,
it's the home of the import-car racing craze, prompting some to dub
UCI the University of Civics and Integras.
Home of the Asian American Dream?
Stroll around Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza, the nation's
toniest shopping center, and you will question the Census figures
that place the Asian/Pacific Islander American population at only
460,000 (or 15.3%) of Orange County's 3 million. The crowds of
Chinese, Corean and Vietnamese shoppers will convince you it must be
30% or more. In some ways you would be correct. Demographic trends
suggest the County's white population is downright geriatric and
shrinking at accelerating rates. Including white Hispanics, it is
nominally 64% of OC population but it fields barely 44% of public
The fastest growing segment of the population is Asian, with a
staggering 65% growth between 1990 and 2000. Already Orange County
is the sixth largest AA metro area and is headed toward the number 4
spot by the next census. For one thing Westminster's Little Saigon
is the mecca for Vietnamese Americans, one of the nation's two
fastest-growing Asian nationalities. In the wake of Saigon's fall in
1975 the first big wave of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants began
their American lives in nearby Camp Pendleton before building Little
Saigon on parcels of what were once Japanese American strawberry
fields and orange groves. Today Little Saigon is easily Orange
County's most spectacular ethnic enclave.
Chinese Americans are a distant second in terms of OC's Asian
population, with a population of 65,000. Most are professionals who
tend to meld into picture-perfect communities like Irvine (30%
Asian), Anaheim Hills, Laguna Hills and even ritzy Lemon Heights and
Newport Beach. Many are former LA and Bay Area residents fleeing
traffic and crime. In the process they helped turn the County into
Silicon Valley South.
Not far from Little Saigon is Orange County's own Koreatown
stretching over a half mile along Garden Grove Boulevard. With a
60,000 strong community, Coreans are OC's third largest AA
population. Like the Chinese, most lead suburban lives, whisking
their kids to highly-rated schools in the hushed comfort of Benzes
and oversized utes. The County also attracts significant but less
visible populations of Filipino, Japanese and Indian Americans.
Collectively, Asian Americans are the County's most affluent
segment, buying homes valued at twice the county average.
Is Orange County the embodiment of the Asian American dream? Or
is it the place where the AA identity goes to die? Or both?