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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Why Asians have become the dominant group in Irvine CA.

    Why Asians have become the dominant group in Irvine – and what that means for the city

    By IAN WHEELER | and TOMOYA SHIMURA | | Orange County Register
    September 21, 2016 at 7:47 am

    Two years ago, David Nguyen, his wife and his daughter were the first to move into their block in Irvine’s new Portola Springs neighborhood.
    Within a few months, they saw the street fill up with two Indian families next door, and Filipino, Korean and Latino families across the way. Their meticulously planned community may appear beige and cookie-cutter to passers-by, but its residents are far from culturally homogenous.
    “I was surprised in a positive way,” said Nguyen, whose parents were Vietnamese refugees. “There’s Asian diversity here.”
    Portola Springs symbolizes a milestone reached by one of Southern California’s fastest-growing suburbs.
    New census estimates show that, for the first time, Irvine has more Asian than white residents. It’s a thin lead, well within the report’s margin of error, but the strongest evidence yet of what many residents, scholars and real estate professionals see as an accelerating trend.
    Using the new census figures, a Register analysis indicates Irvine now is – or soon will be – the largest city in the continental United States with an Asian plurality. Among larger municipalities, only Honolulu has more Asians than any other race.
    More than 45 percent of Irvine’s roughly 257,000 residents are Asian, according to American Community Survey estimates released Thursday.
    And it is partly the city’s evolution as a decidedly upscale and aspirational multinational community that is increasing its appeal at home and abroad – and setting it apart from some Asian residential and cultural magnets, such as Little Saigon in Westminster and Garden Grove, or the “Chinatowns” of many major cities, experts say.
    Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst and demographer at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., quipped that Irvine has proven such a powerful draw for well-to-do Asian families that the city should consider switching its official vegetable (yes, it has such a thing) from asparagus to Chinese bok choy or Japanese daikon radish.

    Irvine has grown steadily since its 1971 incorporation. Its share of Asian residents has climbed more quickly. They accounted for roughly 8 percent of the population in 1980. That number jumped to 18 percent in 1990 and 30 percent in 2000, according to census data.
    Just in the decade ending last year, the city added 84,745 people of all races. The share of white residents, which can include people of Middle Eastern and North African origin, fell from 56 percent to just below the Asian population.
    Latinos, who can be of any race, were about 7 percent of the population in the latest census report.
    Irvine’s Asian population hovered between 35 percent and 40 percent for much of the past decade, before surging last year, according to census estimates.
    The Asian influx is part of a larger nationwide pattern, said Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at UC Irvine.
    Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in the country, accounting for nearly two in five new immigrants, according to Pew Research Center. Their top destination is Greater Los Angeles, according to the Migration Policy Institute, because of the region’s Pacific Rim location, mild weather and well-established Asian communities.
    The historic roots of the migration can be traced to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended unfair quotas restricting new arrivals from Asia and Africa. It also gave particular preference to newcomers with families already in the U.S.
    The lagging impact of the change began to show in the 1980s and 1990s, when increasingly educated immigrants from China, India, Taiwan and South Korea began moving to the U.S. for jobs and schooling opportunities. Also, immigration policy changed to increasingly favor the highly skilled and educated.
    Because there are far fewer universities in Asia, the immigrants’ children had “a much greater chance to get into a top university in the U.S. than in their own country,” Lee said.
    Master-planned around the then-new UC Irvine campus, the city emerged as an ideal fit for the expanding upper classes in Asia, especially fast-growing China.
    Over the last decade, Chinese residents, the city’s largest Asian group, made up about 10 percent to 13 percent of the population, before jumping last year to 17 percent.
    High-income mainland China investment bankers, entrepreneurs, factory owners, actors and athletes began migrating to Irvine in larger numbers about four years ago, said Zhihai Li, co-founder of WeIrvine, an internet-based service that helps Chinese immigrants settle in Irvine.
    Li said her 2-year-old service has 20,000 members and about 1,000 new members are signing up each month.
    Recent instability in China’s economy has accelerated new millionaires’ desire to invest overseas, at a time when Irvine is quickly adding houses on its way toward a projected population of about 328,000.
    At a recent O.C. luxury resort luncheon hosted by Li’s group and Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Shen Jian joined more than 50 Chinese living or looking to live in Irvine. Jian, 42, who owns a stock trading company in Beijing, is in the U.S. to buy a house so his young children can attend school here in the future.
    Jian said friends in China told him about Irvine, its highly rated education system and desirable weather.
    “It’s a very good place to raise a family, not so commercialized,” Jian said through an interpreter. “The quality of life is good here.”
    In recent months, 4 of 5 homes in new neighborhoods around the city’s developing Great Park were sold to people from Asia, “including Indians, Persians, Koreans and a significant number of Chinese,” said Steve Churm, spokesman for FivePoint Communities. The company has plans for thousands of new homes in the area.
    FivePoint chairman and CEO Emile Haddad said economic and political instability in many parts of the world, particularly China, will keep driving people and money into the U.S.
    “I don’t see the world settling down, and I see Irvine becoming much more affluent over the next decade,” he said.

    Mary Susa recalls the idyllic orange groves that greeted her when she pulled off the I-5 in Irvine.
    It was 1983, and some of the city’s first neighborhoods – Turtle Rock, University Park and others around the relatively new UC campus – were just filling up with well-educated white residents like her.
    There was little hint that the young city would be much different than the daisy chain of other predominantly Anglo towns blossoming to the south.
    Now a docent at Irvine Historical Museum, Susa likes to visit multicultural shopping centers in the city. There she hears – sometimes more than English – Chinese, Korean and other languages she doesn’t understand.
    At one of the more popular centers, Diamond Jamboree, young, trendy Asians line up for specialty pastries, ramen noodles and bubble tea.
    “You learn a lot,” Susa said. “It’s a wonderful experience to be exposed to different people and different cultures.”
    The centers represent another Irvine draw: a destination for affluent Asian immigrant and second-generation families from other enclaves around the U.S. who want to move to a wealthier, but still ethnically diverse neighborhood, experts say.
    Khim Teoh moved to Santa Ana from Malaysia with her mother when she was 17. Their educational and job outlook was bleak in Malaysia because they were Chinese in the Muslim-dominant country, Teoh said.
    She graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in economics, worked as a financial analyst and then started her own gift shop business. She moved around Orange County before settling in the Northwood community of Irvine 10 years ago.
    “I’ve always longed to live in Irvine,” Teoh said. “If you can afford it, this is a great place to live. … The whole layout of the city is just organized, very peaceful. I think that’s a big attraction.”
    Having good Asian markets and restaurants nearby is a plus, she said. But it was Irvine’s public schools and the quality of life, reputation for safety and extensive parks and trail systems, that won her over.
    “The city’s attraction is more based on socioeconomics than ethnicity,” said Batalova, the Migration Policy Institute analyst.
    Nguyen, the more recent Portola Springs homebuyer and a tech company manager in nearby Aliso Viejo,said he chose Irvine not just for its top-rated schools in walking distance, but job opportunities and the abundance of new homes and neighborhoods.
    “In older communities, you don’t get to know your neighbors when you move in. Here, all my neighbors are pretty much friends now and we all have kids. … It’s been great.”
    The shifting population also can mean changing cultural values in the community.
    Beginning last year, a group of Asian residents mounted an unsuccessful protest against a state plan to build a military veterans cemetery at the Great Park. They cited the Chinese philosophy of feng shui, which frowns on situating graves and homes near one another.
    Speaking generally about the city’s cultural differences, Susa said: “There are people who feel, ‘Why do we have to adjust to their way?’ I hear that quite a bit.”
    But for many the Asian diversity has brought a welcome addition of cultural festivals, foreign languages – more than half of residents 5 and older speak a language other than English – and new flavors to the beige, suburban sprawl.
    Shops and restaurants initially aimed at Asian customers – 99 Ranch Market, H Mart, Mitsuwa and Seafood City – have become regional attractions for people of all races. And Asian businesses usually offer their services, menus and signs in English, Susa said, making it easier for her to enjoy different cultures.
    Ultimately, she believes, a sense of community and shared stake in the quality of Irvine’s neighborhoods, school system and public spaces will prevail over any differences.
    “We want Irvine to remain the safest city and want very high educational standards,” Susa said. “We like our open trails and open space and we work hard to preserve what we have. It doesn’t matter what your culture is. There’s common interest that binds us.
    “It’s not perfect, but it’s special.”
    A plan to build a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is being led by the California Department of Veterans Affairs; Irvine’s City Council pledged to dedicate land for such a project. Because of a reporting error, the city’s role in the plan was mischaracterized in an earlier version of this story.
    Contact the writer: 949-445-6397 or


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    I noticed that when I used to hang out at the massive theater complex. They had Irvine on lock in the 90s.

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