IMMIGRATION AND THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY : Building a Community for Everyone

Times Staff Writer

"My father was an immigrant," Monterey Park Police Capt. Joe Santoro said. "He came through Ellis Island from Italy. He once said to me: 'Son, it's easy to be a prince, if your father was a king.' "

For people born in America, Santoro said, "it's easy to say, 'Be an American.' "

At a hearing of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations last week, a dozen speakers detailed the triumphs and failures faced by newcomers trying to become Americans in the San Gabriel Valley.

Santoro, for example, put his father's comments into the context of today's Asian and Latin migration. Based on a study he conducted in 10 cities across the nation, Santoro told how law enforcement has much to learn about Asian cultures.

With statistics and anecdotes, other speakers at Alhambra's City Hall Wednesday dealt with such topics as social relations, education, housing and transportation.

Commission President Morris Kight said the 15-member body held the hearing because it had received reports of much "rancor" in the western San Gabriel Valley.

"We have heard many problems, but it is defeatist to consider racial diversity as simply a problem," Kight said at the hearing's conclusion. "It needs to be treated as a great opportunity for the enrichment of society."

The number of residents of Asian ancestry in the region, Kight said, had more than doubled in the eight-year period ending in 1987, for a total of 180,000. The percentage of whites has dropped but still constitutes a majority, he said, while the Latino population has remained stable.

"The truth is we now have wave after wave of immigrants," Santoro said. "Unless we're able to deal with that . . . we're going to wind up with a community out there that doesn't have confidence in government."

Based on the hearing, Kight said, the commission will make recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors on possible solutions.

Here are edited excerpts from some of the speakers:

Human Services

Gladys Lee, director of the Asian Pacific Family Center, a mental health counseling agency in Rosemead.

There is a growing fear that Asians are taking over the San Gabriel Valley. That makes it more difficult for Asian newcomers.

When we were established in 1986, schools and police welcomed us with open arms. But on a negative side, some non-Asians said: "My grandfather came from Europe. He made it without help."

The Asian-Pacific community has serious problems. Many youngsters reject their heritage, hunger to be American and acculturate at an unhealthy rate, threatening their parents. Adults who had no previous psychiatric problems in their home country develop severe depression and paranoia. It is hard for Asian parents to understand that corporal punishment, which they used effectively in their homeland, can be considered child abuse.

Elderly Asian-Pacifics are virtually without services.

Fund raising is difficult because of the stereotype that Asians are wealthy, that we are the model minority.

Solutions: Encourage those of Asian ancestry to feel more comfortable in seeking counseling. Develop a program to combat stereotypes of Asian-Pacifics.

Politics

Richard Santillan, professor of ethnic and women's studies, Cal Poly Pomona.

Minorities are trying to become part of the political club. But racial discrimination is still a problem. One of the problems is at-large elections.

We vote by district for our legislators, Board of Supervisors and some school boards, but not for most city councils. It's a sad commentary that cities with populations that are 50% Latino have only one on the city council. Asian representation is also low.

Probably the biggest breakthrough came when the U.S. Supreme Court found (that) Watsonville's system of at-large elections was discriminatory. That means cities will confront lawsuits and an unfortunate amount of racial tension.

Solution: Some city council members would be elected at-large, while other members would be elected from single-member districts to guarantee that individual neighborhoods are represented.

Law Enforcement

Capt. Joseph Santoro, Monterey Park Police Department.

Nine years ago, a teacher brought a child to police with a ring of welts around his chest and neck. According to our standards, this is child abuse. Not knowing what this was, we arrested the parents.

The truth is, this is a traditional method of healing, called coining, where you take a hot spoon or coin and pinch the skin. The intent is to relieve flu symptoms.

We have a dilemma. We have a criminal justice system that says this is child abuse. Child abuse is an act of violence. This is an act of love. But it's not right, according to our standards. How do you deal with that? We should understand it and have the proper social service agencies to deal with it.

What about delinquent children?

What happens if a child speaks little English? What if the child does speak English and the parents don't? What social services are in place to deal with language and cultural issues? There are few, and only one in the San Gabriel Valley, the Asian Pacific Family Center. It has only one social worker who speaks Mandarin, one who speaks Cantonese and one who speaks Vietnamese.

These are major issues that simply are not being addressed.

Monterey Park

Francis Hong, human relations commissioner in Monterey Park and the chief executive officer of Connex Enterprises, an international food import-export business in Monterey Park and Temple City.

Are the residents in Monterey Park responsible for all the tensions we have today? Could we fairly blame the old-time residents when they protested that they could not find the restaurant they liked, when they could not shop in Monterey Park? Could they still find their old drugstore on the corner? It's being replaced, everyday.

At the same time, could we blame the new Asian immigrants for speaking their own language, following their own diet?

Of course, we can't blame.

A lesson to be learned by neighboring cities: City government should set the tone in dealing with massive social changes. Council members should set the example that we can coexist, regardless of ethnic background. City councils should ease the pain for the old-time residents and should welcome the new ones.

Transitions

John Horton, a UCLA sociology professor who is conducting a sociological study in Monterey Park funded by UCLA and the Ford Foundation.

Monterey Park is a town in transition from a middle-American, racially mixed, bedroom community to a financial and service center for a large, regional Chinese population.

Rapid economic and population growth have undermined old political structures. Given the ethnic diversity, no one group can control city government or the solutions to city problems.

Growth is a No. 1 issue in Monterey Park and the San Gabriel Valley. In a city where growth often has a Chinese face, some established residents in the slow-growth movement translate that into targeting Chinese. But the slow-growth movement includes a large spectrum of people.

New immigrants or minorities may not be aware of the ideological differences among established residents and may perceive slow-growth and the foreign-language restriction movements as identical because the leadership and political candidates tend to be white.

Race and ethnicity is important as a personal and social identity in a changing situation. But we have to be aware of overemphasizing its importance. We also have to be aware of only focusing on conflict. The day-to-day political reality in a town like Monterey Park cannot just be summarized by the term conflict.

The surprise is, given all the news stories about conflict, that we didn't see more of it. And it isn't always racially or ethnically based.

Orientation

Lydia Fernandez Palmer, executive director, El Centro de Accion Social, a Pasadena social services and educational agency.

There is a need for orientation programs for immigrants. But unfortunately, many programs either try to obliterate an individual's language or cultural background or try to assimilate them too quickly into American society.

Education

Bruce Peppin, superintendent of the Alhambra City and High School Districts, which encompasses Alhambra, San Gabriel, Monterey Park and Rosemead.

For the past 10 years we have been relatively gang-free. But we're beginning to see increases. We recently have had elementary students recruiting for gang activity. We had one major incident between Latino and Asian students where one young man was stabbed off campus, but it created friction on campus.

We are involved with the National Conference of Christian and Jews and other community groups in an attempt to address the problem. We have a strong peer counseling program, a human relations committee and multicultural discussions in schools.

It's difficult to find Vietnamese-speaking teachers. A large number of students leave school and go home, where there is no parent.

Solution: Counseling programs aimed at specific groups. Making the district's Chinese-, Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking staff more available to the community.

Housing

Luis Sahagun, president of Neighborhood Housing Services of Los Angeles.

There appears to be very little affordable housing in the western San Gabriel Valley. Housing prices jumped 30% from 1987 to 1988. The price of single-family housing far exceeds the financial abilities of many residents and prevents them from becoming first-time homeowners. It also prevents current residents from moving up to higher priced homes in their communities.

Former single-family lots have become multifamily. This has contributed to population growth and has created traffic problems. Waste-water treatment facilities are inadequate to meet the existing, much less future, housing needs.

Education

Roger Temple, superintendent of the Garvey School District, which includes Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel and South San Gabriel.

Limited English-speaking students at the third-grade level have increased in five years from 44% to 56%.

There have been subtle changes, too.

Far fewer Asian parents than Latino parents consider it important to attend parent conferences, open houses or PTA committees. Volunteerism is foreign to Asian parents. They tend to leave the school alone but support its efforts. Asian parents are more likely to be married: 93% compared to 72% for Hispanics.

Solution: Hire more bilingual teachers. We provide bilingual incentives: a $600 bonus to join the system and an extra $1,400 per year.

Cooperation

Jose Calderon, president of the San Gabriel Valley League of United Latin American Citizens and UCLA graduate student conducting a sociological study in Monterey Park.

There's a lot of cooperation. Our research reveals the seeds of beginning friendships and ties between Latino and Asian families in sports clubs, civic groups, PTAs and school events, out of the way places that the media will not look at.

Transportation

Viggen Davidian, principal transportation engineer of the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

Nine major freeways cross the western San Gabriel Valley and are among the oldest and most congested in Southern California. Topography limits the number and capacity of surface streets.

Each year traffic increases on freeways by 2 1/2% and on surface streets by 4 1/2% to 5%. An estimated 130,000 trips are made each day on buses. That's more than in Orange County. Only 37% of the residents who have jobs work in this area.

Projected conditions for the year 2010: Population will jump by 27%. This area is in the middle of the county. Most of the jobs in the county are projected for the west and south, while most of the population growth will occur in the east. That will create a traffic bottleneck in the western San Gabriel Valley.

The average freeway speed in peak traffic times will drop from 37 m.p.h. to about 26 m.p.h. Forty minutes of every travel hour will be spent in congested traffic.

Solutions: Ride-sharing, alternate work sites, flexible work schedules and rail transit. Direct bus routes between the San Gabriel Valley and the San Fernando Valley.

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