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Studying the Suburbanization of Immigrants

Monday, Mar. 14, 2011

It’s no surprise to SCU professor James Lai that the Asian population of Silicon Valley grew by nearly a third over the last ten years – a stark shift from past growth trends of Asians into cities, rather than suburbs. Census figures released last week quantified the shift: from 2000 to 2010, the Asian population of Santa Clara County grew to 571,000 -- an increase of 140,000.

To Lai, a professor of political science and ethnic studies who specializes in community settlement patterns of racial minorities, the shift in Silicon Valley is part of a broader trend he’s studied for years – the suburbanization, rather than urbanization, of migrating Asian Americans since the mid-1960s.

“This is not just a California or a Bay Area issue,” said Lai. “This is happening nationally, in terms of growth patterns,” he added, citing examples of Asian Americans gravitating from cities to suburbs of places like Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, Houston, and Montgomery County, Maryland.

Lai spoke to the New York Times about the recent Silicon Valley Census data. He explained that, as in other cities, Asian migrants leaving San Francisco and Oakland for the suburbs are seeking “native-language schools, ethnic supermarkets and other amenities that a generation ago were available only in big cities.”

Lai says often high-tech workers lured by lucrative jobs are the first to settle in a given suburb, followed by business owners seeking to support their fellow Asians, and then by working-class immigrants seeking to benefit from the strong community for their children or families.

Lai’s book, "Asian American Political Action: Suburban Transformations," focuses on the impact such migrating populations are having politically on their adopted jurisdictions.


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