The mystique of "country living" and the frontier has always played a prominent role in the American imagination of "community." Sociologist Laura R. Barraclough recently noted in her work on LA's San Fernando Valley that homeowners were "claiming and performing their identity as characters in the drama of the frontier experience," seeking out and replicating their idea of small town living.
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.
Photos courtesy of the City of Diamond Bar.
James Frank Dy Zarsadiaz is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Northwestern University. He specializes in 20th century United States history with particular interests in comparative sub/urbanism, California and the U.S. West, and Asian American Studies. All posts »
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