San Gabriel Valley : Asian Influx Alters Life in Suburbia

Times Staff Writer

Across the entire stretch of the San Gabriel Valley, from Monterey Park in the west to Diamond Bar in the east, unprecedented numbers of Asian newcomers are dramatically changing life in the suburbs.

In one of the most sweeping demographic and social transitions ever experienced by a suburban region, the San Gabriel Valley has emerged as an improbable center of Chinese and other Asian immigration in this country.

In the last six years alone, an estimated 100,000 Chinese and other Asians have moved into a band of predominantly white bedroom communities. Fully one-half of these newcomers have resettled in eight small cities that make up the western San Gabriel Valley, an ethnic concentration unparalleled among suburban regions of the country.


Changes in Civic Institutions

Their arrival has had profound implications for nearly every institution of civic life, affecting the way schools, police, city halls, courts and post offices conduct their day-to-day business. It has meant small shifts, such as incorporating Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese in the announcements that go home with schoolchildren. And it has brought more fundamental changes, transforming quiet bedroom communities into bustling cities awash in the sights, sounds and smells of distant cultures.

Business strips once moribund have been revitalized with an infusion of Asian enterprise and money. Lots that were vacant only a few years ago now support an odd meld of suburban mini-malls and pulsing Far East marketplaces. One such plaza in the city of San Gabriel features an arresting array of choices: a Filipino grocery and sandwich shop, a Vietnamese cafe, a Japanese bakery, an Indonesian deli and restaurants offering Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese cuisine.

Vast Impact

“The impact is far greater than just numbers. What we are talking about is the cultural transformation of an entire region and its impact in terms of schools, ethnic relations and the resurgence of commercial life,” said Charles Choy Wong, a sociologist at California State University, Los Angeles, whose doctoral thesis focused on the Chinese experience in Los Angeles and Monterey Park.

“Many companies that have come here are the overseas branch offices of companies in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The ties between the west San Gabriel Valley and the Far East are many. There is frequent travel, daily communications. We’re divided by an ocean, but in reality it’s just a street.”

The influx mostly of ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and China has torn at the western San Gabriel Valley’s social and political framework, engendering racial backlash and a distinct form of white flight.

Since the 1950s, affluent whites have fled America’s cities for the suburbs, leaving behind a concentration of poorer minorities.

But in the San Gabriel Valley today, some longtime residents are attempting to keep one step ahead of a growing Asian presence by fleeing suburbs in the western valley for what they regard as more stable white suburban communities in the east valley and in Orange County.

For every one Asian newcomer who has resettled in the western San Gabriel Valley since 1980, roughly one white resident has either moved away or died, The Times found. The proportion of whites in the area has plummeted from 78% in 1970 to 56% in 1980 to an estimated 36% of the region’s 327,000 residents today.

Over that same period, the Asian population has grown from 2% to 13% to an estimated 27%, the study of school enrollment and vital statistics shows. The region’s Latino population--which experienced an increase of 10 percentage points between 1970 and 1980--has now stabilized to about 28% as Latinos are also moving from the western San Gabriel Valley to communities to the east.

The singular nature of this influx and departure is perhaps best reflected in some startling figures: Today, sociologists and Chinese-American scholars point to Monterey Park as the first suburban Chinatown in America, a unique blend of Chinese-language newspapers, clubs, banks and businesses once peculiar to the urban setting. Monterey Park’s 40% Asian population is the highest of any city in the country.

And nowhere is the change more far-reaching than in the schools, where some teachers talk of being missionaries in their own country. The 20,000-student Alhambra school district ranks first nationwide in its proportion of Asian students, growing from 11% in 1975 to 48% today. More than 75% of these students are foreign-born, school statistics show. Half cannot speak proficient English.

Farther east--in Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and West Covina--full-fledged Korean and Filipino communities that are among the largest in the state have taken root.

“The change has been incredible,” said Lisa Goldberg, manager of the Pizza Hut restaurant on Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel. “On Friday and Saturday nights, the entire dining room is filled with Chinese parents and their children gobbling down deep-dish pizzas. We’ve hired half a dozen Chinese employees to deal with the language and cultural differences.”

Different Dreams

Although many of the newcomers share a Chinese heritage, they have come from different places and embrace vastly different dreams. They are wealthy businessmen seeking new frontiers and struggling busboys in their mid-50s. They are wives working alongside husbands in lucrative real estate firms and mothers toiling long hours in garment sweatshops for substandard wages. They are urban and westernized, rural and backward. Some speak and read four languages, while others are illiterate in their native tongues and have little hope of ever learning English. Many have come legally, fleeing political uncertainty in Taiwan and Hong Kong or the hard rural life of China. Others have come as tourists and overstayed their visas, remaining here as illegal aliens.

Many of the ethnic Chinese from Vietnam have fled war and persecution with little or no hope of returning to their homeland. But the break is not so clean for Chinese from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Couples often live apart for long periods of time with husbands traveling back and forth between family here and businesses overseas. Finally, some of the newcomers have achieved a precarious balance, reaching out and becoming a part of the American mainstream without forsaking their language and culture--one of the most ancient in the world. Still others go about their daily business tucked safely away in insular communities, secure in knowing that they seldom have to confront the larger society. Theirs is a world of Chinese-language newspapers and ethnic grocery stores and neighbors from the old country.

Together, they have recast the San Gabriel Valley’s identity.

Today, the conspicuous wealth of many of the Taiwanese newcomers stands cheek by jowl with the Third World poverty of Vietnamese refugees, half of whom subsist on welfare, county statistics show.

Celestial Concerns

Commercial development, once determined by the traditional means of market surveys and population trends, must account for more celestial concerns. Business strips such as Valley Boulevard that run east and west with storefronts facing north and south are considered highly propitious in Chinese culture. And many tradition-bound Chinese choose the exact location and layout of a business only after first consulting a fungshui master--a diviner of heavenly spirits--and his compass.

“More than once we’ve come up against one,” said Dave Carmany, an Alhambra city planner. “Just a few months ago we had to drop plans for a street closure when a Chinese restaurant owner became livid.

“I went to the restaurant personally and laid out architectural plans that ensured excellent access to the business. But the owner said access wasn’t the problem. He said the location of his front door, the cash register and the main dining room were all decided by the compass of the fungshui . He said closing off the one street would be analogous to cutting off one of the heads of the five-headed dragon.”

In communities across the San Gabriel Valley, the arrival of Asians has forced public officials to rethink long-held assumptions about issues as diverse as development, community aesthetics and racial harmony.

By all measures, the explosive growth of Asians will continue in the San Gabriel Valley. Indeed, the region itself may represent a window on the year 2000 for many parts of the state.

“It’s as if you’re looking in the mirror one day and all of a sudden you notice you’ve turned gray. It happened gradually, but it dawns on you all at once,” said Capt. Joe Santoro of the Monterey Park Police Department.

“Then you realize that things aren’t the same. They’ll never be the same,” he said. “That’s what we’re confronting right now. A choice between a community that becomes a model for the future or one in which a great opportunity was lost.”

Nationwide Hub for Asians

No single reason explains the San Gabriel Valley’s emergence as a nationwide hub for Chinese and other Asian groups. Some demographers and Chinese community leaders underline such factors as the region’s proximity to Los Angeles’ Chinatown, respected schools, relatively affordable housing and mountains reminiscent of those in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

But the aggressiveness of developers and real estate brokers and the avarice of some longtime residents certainly played a part.

And the changes would not have taken place if not for the exploits of one developer, Frederic Hsieh. In 1972, Hsieh purchased his first piece of Monterey Park real estate, a modest home in an older section of the city. A few years later, when bargain property became available with the death of two of the city’s largest landowners, Hsieh opened up his own real estate firm and made several more acquisitions.

Hsieh said he sensed a restlessness among friends in Taiwan and Hong Kong, a fear that the United States’ diplomatic recognition of Communist Beijing foreshadowed an unstable political future for the Far East.

Through a realty company in Taiwan and advertisements in Hong Kong newspapers, Hsieh began promoting Monterey Park as a “Chinese Beverly Hills.” A kind of gold rush mentality ensued; Taiwan laws prohibiting the overseas transfer of large amounts of money did little to abate a continuous flight of capital from Taipei to Monterey Park.

Wealthy Chinese businessmen, taking Hsieh’s lead, began buying homes and commercial property sight unseen. Longtime residents swapped stories of Chinese visitors knocking at their front doors, offering incredible prices for their homes and presenting satchels filled with $100 bills as a show of good faith. Commercial land that sold for $5 a square foot in the early 1970s had tripled in value five years later and would not peak until the early 1980s at $45 a square foot.

Many residents and business owners simply took the money and left town.

Riding the crest, Hsieh purchased $10 million to $15 million worth of real estate and commercial property in Monterey Park, opened the first of 12 Chinese-owned banks in the city and indulged his passion for the movies by buying the old Monterey Theater and converting it to a Chinese-language movie house.

Many Chinese and white developers followed in Hsieh’s footsteps, but none had his impact. Once a Chinese foothold was established in Monterey Park, word of mouth attracted relatives and friends. A spillover to surrounding communities became inevitable.

“It’s like a missile. I didn’t create it, but I sort of decided where it would land,” said Hsieh, who has set his sights on China, where he is building a $20-million hotel.

“It was not without selfish motives,” he said. “I don’t want to be described as a saint.”

Ports of Entry

Today, Monterey Park and adjacent Alhambra are ports of entry for Chinese and other Asians resettling in the United States. While there are significant numbers of Asians in Gardena, Long Beach, San Diego and cities in Orange County, their concentrations are nowhere near the level seen in the western San Gabriel Valley. In Alhambra, for example, city officials estimate that more than 36% of the city’s 71,300 residents are Asian, a tripling of the Asian population in just seven years.

When applying for immigration to the United States, applicants must state the ZIP code of the area where they intend to live. Of the nation’s ZIP code regions showing the highest number of incoming Asians as intended residents, Monterey Park ranked second and Alhambra 28th, according to a federal immigration survey of the period 1983 to 1985 commissioned by The Times. Monterey Park was surpassed only by an area encompassing portions of Chinatown in New York City.

With the exception of the San Gabriel Valley, the study showed, the other major centers for Asian newcomers were all located in large cities that have traditionally served as refuge for immigrants crossing the Pacific, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

As Asian newcomers flow into Monterey Park and Alhambra, many of the Asians who preceded them by a few years are moving to the once-exclusive white bedroom communities of San Marino, Arcadia and South Pasadena. San Marino High School, for example, has a student body that is 35% Asian, a sevenfold jump from 1980.

The Asian influx has, for the most part, bypassed the San Gabriel Valley’s largest city, Pasadena.

Since 1980, the number of Asians living in the 27 cities and unincorporated areas of the San Gabriel Valley has more than doubled to an estimated 180,000, according to an extrapolation of school enrollment and county vital statistics performed by The Times with the assistance of professional demographers.

Chinese Births Soar

Asians make up an estimated 14.4% of the region’s 1.25 million residents, up from 7% in 1980. Many of the newcomers, unlike their white neighbors, are younger couples with children. This is reflected in county health statistics that show the number of Chinese births per year doubling in many parts of the San Gabriel Valley, signaling continued growth in the Asian population.

Their reasons for coming are the same ones that have encouraged Asians throughout history to migrate between countries of the Far East: the pull of job and educational opportunities and the push of persecution.

For decades, until the repeal in 1965 of the Alien Quota Act, America represented an elusive dream for many Asians. The 41-year-old U.S. law had virtually banned immigrants from Asian countries.

Now many of the newcomers, like Morgan and Susan Wong of Arcadia, point to relatives who arrived in the years immediately after the repeal and later sponsored them and other family members in their move to this country.

“My brother told us that Arcadia was a good place to live with good schools,” Susan Wong said.

Limited enrollment in Taiwan colleges consigned all but the very brightest students to a future of vocational schooling, Morgan Wong said. So he sold his small steel company in Taiwan in 1984 and moved his wife and two young daughters to Arcadia, where he opened a computer firm.

“Now my children don’t live with the constant pressure of having to be the best in their class,” he said.

Threat to Taiwan Cited

Other newcomers said the specter of Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan shadowed everyday life in the island country, which has been governed by martial law since 1949.

“If the Communists take over, I don’t want my children living under that kind of government,” said An Mei Lin, a widow who gave up a fulfilling teaching career in Taiwan and moved to South Pasadena with her three children in 1983. “This is the best place for them.”

Communism already had become a harsh reality for Hao Ta, who fled Vietnam in 1978 on a rickety boat with relatives only to languish in an Indonesian refugee camp for a year before resettling in Alhambra. But unlike immigrants drawn by the promise of economic or educational gain, Ta said, he lives in America not by choice but as an exile.

Hoping to rekindle a flicker of the life they left behind, thousands of ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam have clustered in the western San Gabriel Valley over the last nine years, while their ethnic Vietnamese counterparts have concentrated in Orange County.

One of Largest Enclaves

Local resettlement officials say as many as 30,000 Chinese Vietnamese refugees live in the 45-square-mile western San Gabriel Valley, one of the nation’s largest such ethnic enclaves. By contrast, an estimated 65,000 Vietnamese refugees live in all of Orange County.

Their presence resounds in a collection of new cafes, restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, beauty salons, dress shops and video stores that dot Valley Boulevard from Alhambra to Rosemead. It can be glimpsed in the Saigon Center pool hall where unemployed young men play a three-ball billiard game and in storefront sweatshops where refugee mothers on welfare sew garments for unreported cash wages. It can be tasted in the piquant broth of hu tiu tom cua , a complete soup meal of shrimp, crab, greens and thin noodles.

“It reminds me of Saigon. I’m wondering where all the American people are,” Sister Nicole Nguyen said outside the Cafe Tung restaurant in San Gabriel during a recent visit. Nguyen helped resettle hundreds of refugee families in the western San Gabriel Valley before her Roman Catholic order reassigned her in 1980 to Northern California.

“The area has totally changed in the last six years. When I was here, we had to drive to downtown L.A. to get Vietnamese food.”

Anglo, Latino Businesses Hit

In the midst of this transition, confronted by higher rents and the sudden departure of longtime customers, a number of Anglo and Latino business owners have retired or relocated. Like Edy Wallace, who for 18 years ran a flower shop on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, many remain embittered by the experience.

Wallace said she leased her building from an Anglo landlord who had charged $515 a month in rent since renewing the lease in 1978. Three years ago, the building was sold at a big profit to a Chinese developer who raised the rent to $1,600. Wallace said the increase was beyond the prevailing market.

“We looked around for another location in the area, but property was being bought up by Asian developers and the rents were going up everywhere,” said Wallace, who retired. “So much of our business had moved away and was replaced by Asians who couldn’t speak English and would just as soon buy flowers from their own people.”

Undaunted by the changing ethnic face of the community, David Winchell opened the Fat Cats Hot Dog and Burger stand three years ago on Valley Boulevard.

Painted in pastels and sporting a giant replica of a hot dog and bun for its sign, Fat Cats seems better suited for West Los Angeles or Santa Monica. In fact, that is where Winchell, an upbeat product of the ‘60s, planned to take the concept once the San Gabriel stand started booming.

Chinese Befuddled

But soon after opening, Winchell said, he noticed that whenever Chinese parents took their children to lunch or dinner, they patronized a Chinese restaurant. The few Chinese who made their way to Fat Cats seemed genuinely befuddled by the all-American fare.

“I remember one family walking up and ordering a hot dog. When I handed it to them, they stared at it, talked to each other in Chinese and then began tearing it up into three pieces. I knew then that I couldn’t make a living selling one hot dog to an entire family,” he said.

A desperate Winchell tried reaching out to the Chinese newcomers. He expanded his fare to include a teriyaki burger (even though teriyaki is Japanese) and translated portions of his menu into Chinese.

“The teriyaki burger was a flop, a huge flop. And the Chinese characters I put on the menus only seemed to anger the few Latino and white customers I had,” said Winchell, who recently sold the business to a non-Asian who intends to keep it as a hot dog and burger stand. “It never did catch fire with the Asians. I can’t put a handle on it. I guess we were caught in a cultural whirlwind.”

But some longtime businesses, after an initial period of cultural adjustment, have come to rely on their Chinese patrons. At Jim Marino Mercedes in Alhambra, salesmen estimate that Chinese account for 40% of their car sales.

“We get customers who arrive on Monday, buy a home on Tuesday and get a Mercedes on Wednesday,” said John Rigler, a salesman. “A lot of them divide their time between Taiwan and here. They want to buy the same model here that they have back there.

‘Very Superstitious’

“They’re great customers. The only thing I’ve had to get used to is that some of them are very superstitious. Taiwanese, for instance, don’t like the model 420 because the number 4 means death in their culture. The 560 is a hot seller because 6 means prosperity.”

Until the arrival of large numbers of Asians, cities such as Monterey Park and Alhambra rarely encountered developers who wanted to use existing tracts of high-density zoning. But Asian developers in particular sensed a profitable market for condominiums and apartments in the arrival of newcomers who could not afford a home or simply wanted a temporary residence.

Bitter Election Issue

In Monterey Park, an eight-year boom in condo and apartment construction has altered the landscape while becoming a bitter issue in local elections last year. Three white challengers ousted the council’s only Chinese member and two other incumbents in a campaign in which uncontrolled growth, congestion and Chinese-language commercial signs became the key issues.

In one of its first actions, the new council imposed a moratorium on condo and apartment construction citywide and on commercial buildings in most areas.

With the moratorium in place until October, Asian developers have turned to neighboring Alhambra. The city has welcomed them.

“We’re seeing a lot of cash coming in. It’s a real chance for us to turn this city around,” said Carmany, the city planner. “Five years ago, it was business as usual if the Planning Commission had one page of agenda items. Today the agenda is six pages long.

“I would say easily 80% of the projects are Asian. When I came to work here in 1981, the city was contemplating redevelopment. That’s largely been done for us by the Asians.”

Traffic, Health Problems

Alhambra officials say the influx of newcomers has also resulted in traffic problems, an overburdened sewage system and violations of city health codes. Many refugee families on welfare, transplanting their extended family living arrangements to the United States, are crowding 10 and 12 people into one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Hoping to overcome some basic differences, city governments have conducted cultural awareness workshops for city employees and educated Asian businessmen about health and safety code requirements and such basics as how to turn on gas and electricity.

But with the exception of Monterey Park, where 20% of the city staff is Asian, the attempt to build bridges has not been translated into a representative number of Asian city employees.

A survey of six cities in the western San Gabriel Valley excluding Monterey Park disclosed that of the 1,027 city, police and fire employees, only 33, or 3%, are Asian. The population in this same area is 20% to 25% Asian.

“We have a lot of Asian candidates who pass the written exam but can’t pass the oral one,” said Kathy Hyatt, an assistant in the Alhambra Personnel Department. “Many of them have been here only a few years so it’s tough to find qualified candidates. And those who are qualified generally pursue more lucrative fields.”

Schools Challenged

Because so many of the newcomers are young couples with children, the challenges inherent in their arrival are perhaps best reflected in the schools.

In 1975, as South Vietnam was falling to Communist forces from the north, Asians accounted for 1,900, or 11%, of the 17,255 students enrolled in the Alhambra school district, which encompasses the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead and San Gabriel.

Five years later, on the strength of a growing Chinese-Vietnamese refugee community, that percentage had nearly tripled to 30%, figures show. Today, 9,700 of the district’s 20,223 students, or 48%, are Asian. Nearly half of these students were born in Vietnam.

Administrators say no other school district in the country has been so dramatically altered by the war.

“When I see a Caucasian child in one of my classes, I have to stop myself from asking, ‘Why are you here? What are you doing?’ ” said Bonnie Henry, who teaches sixth grade at Ynez Elementary School in Monterey Park, where 65% of the students are Asians.

“It’s a shock for me to go to church on Sunday after spending a week looking out at a classroom of Asian and Hispanic faces,” Henry said. “You suddenly realize, ‘Hey, this congregation is all white.’ It’s a funny feeling. You feel like you’re lost in the Midwest somewhere.

‘Megalopolis of Cultures’

“I’ve come to think that the real world is right here at Ynez, this megalopolis of cultures. I feel like I’m going into that world each day to impart American values and virtues.”

Veteran teachers say hard-working and willing Asian students are grasping English quickly and distinguishing themselves in the classroom. But the constant replenishing of a pool of monolingual newcomers has slowed the pace of instruction for everyone.

“We don’t finish our social science books. We don’t finish our math books,” one district elementary teacher said. “We end up spending most of our day repeating ourselves and teaching concepts in the simpliest possible way.

“Most teachers won’t say this, but the English-proficient student isn’t getting his or her full education’s worth. I have a friend who is supposed to teach American history from the Pilgrims to modern times. Since large numbers of Asians have come into our district, she hasn’t once gotten past the Civil War.”

Emergency Classrooms

To make room for the newcomers, Alhambra district schools have installed 48 emergency portable classrooms and are seeking approval from the state for 35 more next year. The total enrollment at the district’s three high schools numbers 10,000 students, 3,500 students over capacity. Math classes at Alhambra High School are held in a Presbyterian church a block from the campus.

The overcrowding, intensified competition for good grades and a student body partitioned by language and cultural differences have spawned tension and racial violence on high school campuses throughout the area. Fights between Asian students and Latino and Anglo students have marred the last two school years at Alhambra High School. In 1985, a Chinese-Vietnamese youth was stabbed and gravely injured in a fight involving several Asian and Latino students near campus.

Last May, 120 Chinese parents in Arcadia met with school officials and local police to express concern over two assaults on Chinese students. The campus had been the scene of a huge cafeteria brawl between Asians and whites a few years earlier.

School officials say tension and occasional violence are inevitable, given the far-reaching demographic and cultural changes. They say it is difficult to distinguish between the fights that typify high school years and the more troubling violence growing out of racial tension.

Reacting to Violence

But Chinese community leaders contend that school officials are unwilling to confront racial problems on campus. Instead of taking preventive measures, they argue, school officials are often caught in the position of reacting to violence. For example, the Alhambra school district, citing a lack of funds this year, scrapped plans for a series of camping retreats designed to heighten cultural awareness and bring Asian, Latino and Anglo students together.

“For whatever reason, whether it’s lack of vision or lack of preparation or lack of innovation, many solutions seem to be Band-Aid,” said Paul Louie, who recently retired from 15 years as the Asian-American liaison for the county’s Human Relations Commission.

“They’re basically surviving from one crisis to the next without putting anything significant in place.”

Not confined to the campus, backlash has spilled over into the larger community, finding its expression in bumper stickers that picture a Chinese coolie behind the wheel of a car with a red slash across his face and in the flight of Anglo and Latino residents from Monterey Park, Alhambra and San Gabriel.

Racial Incidents Documented

Stewart Kwoh, director of the Asian-Pacific American legal center of Southern California, said his organization has documented several anti-Asian racial incidents in the San Gabriel Valley. These have included aggravated assaults and vandalism against Asian families moving into all-white blocks.

In Arcadia, an Asian-style home belonging to Sho Kosugi, the star of several so-called “Ninja” movies, has served as the lightning rod for longtime residents irritated over changes in their community. His home--which stands three stories tall and features a blue tile roof, a Buddhist shrine and a red bridge--has been vandalized repeatedly since he built it two years ago.

The front windows have been broken more than 20 times with rocks or BBs, Kosugi said. Vandals have thrown nails into the swimming pool, strewn rotten fruit on the tennis court and piled garbage on the front lawn. Kosugi, who is Japanese and married to a Chinese, said passers-by yell, “Japs, go home!” almost daily. His wife has implored him to move.

“I don’t want to give up and run away. I’m not one of those types of people,” Kosugi said. “My two children ask me, ‘Why are they doing this to us, Dad?’ I tell them that some people have biases and some people are jealous.”

Temple Fuels Resentment

In Hacienda Heights, the construction of a huge Buddhist temple on a hill overlooking the community has outraged some residents and fueled resentment. The complex, which will stand 80 feet high and cost more than $10 million, will include living quarters for 30 monks and a vegetarian cafeteria open to the public.

“We moved here 10 years ago because it was kind of like country,” said Alta Fuller, a Texas native who lives with her husband in a home at the foot of the hill. “I thought it was terrible to build this thing in a residential area and bring all these kinds of people here that we’re not used to.

“There have been a lot of changes here. A lot of foreigners have bought homes up in the hills. There’s so many of them that they’ve begun to call it ‘Slant Hill.’ ”

Although acknowledging tension between the newcomers and longtime residents, elected officials and school administrators disagree that the dramatic drop in the number of white residents implies racial flight. They argue that the decline is more the reflection of an aging white community whose children have moved away and a younger white population who sold their homes at inflated prices to Chinese newcomers.

But a reporter who walked through several communities this fall had no trouble finding numerous Anglo and Latino families who were in the process of moving and bitter over the changes.

Gene and Bonnie Smith, who recently moved to Missouri after living 20 years in the same Monterey Park home, typified this group.

“To me, this will always be home,” Gene Smith said. “Before the influx it was a good community. You could do a little business in town, and people were friendlier. We’ve become a concrete jungle with condos and town houses and unbelievable traffic. Maybe I have myself to blame for not attending more council meetings and objecting to the changes.”

“I was not raised to feel the way I do today,” Bonnie Smith said. “I was raised to feel that everyone is created equal. It bothers me, the dislike I have in my heart for these people. I’ve tried to deal with it, but I just can’t. I guess I hurt too much.”

COUNTING ASIAN POPULATION In an effort to detail the demographic and social changes in the San Gabriel Valley, The Times spent nine months interviewing hundreds of government officials, longtime residents and newly arrived Asians.

Because so many Asians have arrived within the last five years, the 1980 Census is an inadequate measure of current Asian population. Many of the population estimates used in this story were reached by a method of extrapolation suggested by demographers at the Rand Corp. and the state Department of Finance.

The estimates counted Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Cambodians and Filipinos as Asians. Chinese newcomers accounted for the bulk of the growth.

The Times compared the 1980 student ethnic breakdowns with 1980 census figures for the same ethnic groups. The figures showed, for example, that for every Asian student attending San Gabriel Valley schools in 1980, there were roughly five Asians in the general population.

Taking student population figures for 1986, The Times was able to extrapolate rough estimates of the percentage of Asians, Anglos and Latinos in the population today. A comparison of birth and death certificates yields roughly comparable percentages, supporting the population estimates derived by this method.