Orange County Hispanic, Asian Growth Surges


Mirroring trends sweeping the state, Orange County saw its Hispanic and Asian populations explode during the 1980s, prompting local officials to declare that the county has shed its white, middle-class image and become far more culturally vibrant and cosmopolitan.

The number of Hispanics doubled, with one in four people in the county now of Hispanic origin compared to one in eight in 1980, and the Asian population nearly tripled, according to U.S. Census data released Monday.

“These numbers verify what many of us have known for a long time--Orange County is changing ethnically and racially,” said Gaddi H. Vasquez, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. “With this, people will begin to recognize us as a different county, but one that will be strengthened by that diversity.”

The number of Hispanics shot up dramatically in traditional bastions such as Santa Ana, where the Hispanic population more than doubled. They now represent 65% of the citizenry, reaffirming Santa Ana as the most Hispanic big city in California.


But several other communities also saw sizable increases in Hispanics. The number shot up 122% in Anaheim, where one in three people is Hispanic. In Costa Mesa, it jumped 128%, in Orange 122% and in San Juan Capistrano 178%. In all three cities, one in five residents is now Hispanic.

The number of Asians also jumped dramatically. In Garden Grove, the number quadrupled, while in Westminster it tripled. Asians now make up nearly one-fifth of the population in the two cities. The greatest percentage is found in La Palma, where 31% of its 15,400 residents are Asian.

“Orange County is increasingly becoming, like the rest of California, an area of many languages and colors and cultures,” noted Mark Baldassare, a UC Irvine professor of social ecology. “We’re now living in a melting pot. It’s not to the extent that exists in Los Angeles, but this is a much more diverse place than it was a few decades ago.”

All across California over the past decade, suburbs and farm towns joined cities as ports of entry for vast numbers of Hispanics and Asians migrating into the state.

According to the census data, the most dramatic change in the state’s ethnic makeup took place in the heartland city of Fresno, which experienced a 626% increase in its Asian population. Similarly, massive expansion of Hispanic and Asian populations were found in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Overall, the census found that one in four Californians is Hispanic and one in 10 is Asian--the same percentages reflected in Orange County.

“Clearly, we are seeing massive suburbanization of Asians and Hispanics,” said Leo Estrada, a UCLA professor of urban studies and a census adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. “I’ve been hearing all day from officials in outlying areas who can’t quite believe the figures they are seeing today. Places like Chino, Corona, Ontario, Rialto, Upland.

“They say the numbers can’t be real. The size (of immigrant populations) are two or three times what they were estimating.”


The numbers released Monday by the Census Bureau were focused strictly on ethnic composition of the state and its counties and cities, and they represented one of the first of several major summaries expected from the 1990 census. Over the next two years, more national, state and local figures will become available, measuring everything from age to income.

In the 1990 census, the term Hispanic, as opposed to Latino, is used by the Census Bureau to describe people of Spanish and Latin American origin. They may be of any race. The term Anglo refers to non-Hispanic whites.

The new figures showed that the relative size of immigrant populations, while exploding in many new places, also has continued to increase in the state’s largest cities, aided in part by the flight of both Anglo and black residents.

In Los Angeles, the Hispanic population now accounts for 38% of both the city and county populations, in comparison to the Anglo population which now stands at 41%. Unlike the Hispanic population which has been on the rise, growing 62% in the city and 71% in the county, the Anglo population has declined by 8% in both the city and county.


Orange County experienced a similar trend in its larger, central cities. The percentages of Anglos in Santa Ana plummeted 25% during the decade, while the number fell 10% in Anaheim, 17% in Buena Park, 19% in Garden Grove and 15% in Fountain Valley. Countywide, the white population grew by 13%, fueled by growth in fast-developing cities such as Laguna Niguel and Dana Point.

The state’s Anglo population, while growing by 8%, continued a 20-year pattern of shrinking compared to the rest of the population. In 1980, Anglos were 76% of the state total and today they are 57%. Among the state’s largest counties, Anglo growth was greatest in Riverside County, 54%; San Bernardino County, 32%; Sacramento County, 20%, and San Diego County, 19%.

Hispanic growth exceeded the statewide average of 69.2% in a number of urban and suburban locales, including: Riverside County, which recorded Hispanic growth of 147%; San Bernardino County, 128%; and San Diego County, 86%. The Hispanic population grew by 62% in Los Angeles County and by 97% in Orange County.

Asian growth in Orange County was 187%, far surpassing the state average of 127%. in the Other counties that exceeded the state average were Riverside, 352%; San Bernardino, 297%; Santa Clara, 162%; Contra Costa, 152%; Sacramento, 146% and in six of the state’s 10 largest cities, including Fresno, 626%; Anaheim, 184%; San Jose, 194%; Santa Ana, 169%; Sacramento, 131%, and San Diego, 129%.


Estrada and other population experts said Hispanics and Asians are moving to the suburbs for the same reasons other people have been heading there.

“Partly, it is the search for inexpensive housing, suburbanization of jobs and the efforts of people to escape the inner-city environment,” Estrada said.

He also said that suburbs increasingly are becoming ports of entry for new immigrants and not the second or third stop on the way to home ownership and middle-class living for the upwardly mobile. He said he believes that much of the suburban growth was a result of newcomers because the census figures for cities gave no indication of “significant outflows” of Asians and Hispanics.

The influx is already putting a stress on basic services. In Orange County, for instance, a large percentage of children in some central school districts speak a foreign language. Health care, social services and other programs have been strapped by the influx of immigrants from Mexico, Southeast Asia and other foreign lands.


“This is changing the nature of this place in a very fundamental way,” Baldassare said. “Not only are we large, but we are far more complex. This shift affects every aspect of our lives, including work, school, shopping, our neighborhoods, government, politics.”

Baldassare said the county’s education system is “going to have to adjust” to the role of not just teaching the basics, but also “teaching some very fundamental facts about what it means to live and work in the United States, let alone the language and how government works.”

Nowhere are the strains more evident than in Fresno, where the telephone book has as many listings for Vangs as Jones and where a rapid and large influx of Southeast Asians over the past decade has all but overwhelmed the city’s social service system.

Most of the recent immigrants to Fresno are Hmongs, from the mountains of Laos. Drawn to the San Joaquin Valley because of its rich farmlands, these former allies of the United States in the Vietnam War have not fared especially well. Over 90% are on welfare. Many are in need of modern medicine but wary of it. Unable to mix with more cosmopolitan Southeast Asians, who view these former mountain tribesmen as naive and uneducated, they live in segregated communities and are barely able to eke out a living.


Immigrants also have changed the state’s capital and its surrounding environs.

Stores and restaurants, faces and languages never “dreamed of” in a small city once dominated by government bureaucrats have become commonplace, said Nancy Findeisen, executive director of the Sacramento Community Services Planning Council.

There have been problems with gangs and crime, strains on health care and welfare services. But the new groups also have “enriched our community,” Findeisen said.

While the black population of Los Angeles and San Francisco declined, such was not the case everywhere in the state over the past decade.


In Orange County, the number of blacks jumped 69%, although they represent only about one in 60 residents.

Sacramento’s black population grew 53% and now compose 15% of the total population, making it the second largest single black enclave in the state. Oakland is first, with 44% of its residents black--but up only 3% from a decade ago. Other large cities reporting sizable growths of black populations were Anaheim, with a 168% increase; Fresno, 42%, and Long Beach, 44%.

Times staff writer Anne C. Roark contributed to this story.



The 1990 census picture of California began to emerge in December, although it will take several years to release enough data for the image to be complete. The first batch of Census Bureau numbers put California’s population at 29.8 million, the most of any state; its delegation to Congress will grow next year from 45 to a record 52 seats. In January, the first details on cities showed Los Angeles has become the nation’s second-largest. Suburbs all over California also swelled in size and are now among the nation’s newest medium-sized cities. The Census Bureau says it will provide details on age, family size, income and other population features from its horde of information as it has time.