Chinese enclaves in the San Gabriel Valley

Chinese enclaves in the San Gabriel Valley

Chinese communities form a substantial portion of the population of the San Gabriel Valley. The region has achieved international prominence as a hub of overseas Chinese or hua qiao. Although Chinese immigrants were a noteworthy presence in the establishment of Southern California from the 19th century, significant Chinese migration to suburban San Gabriel Valley coincided with a trend of white out-migration from the 1970s onward. This opened an opportunity for well-educated and affluent Asian Americans to begin settling in the west San Gabriel Valley, primarily to Monterey Park.

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High property values and overcrowding in Monterey Park have contributed to a secondary movement away from that city, and the Chinese community is now spread over a cluster of cities in the west San Gabriel Valley. Suburban cities in the valley with large non-white populations, also called ethnoburbs, include Alhambra, Arcadia, Rosemead, San Marino, San Gabriel, South Pasadena, and Temple City and then eastward to Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, and Walnut. Numerous Mandarin– and Cantonese-speaking businesses have been established in these suburbs to accommodate the changing population.


The history of the San Gabriel Valley, like so much of the American West included Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and south Asian settlers and pioneers in the mid-19th century. These Asian settlers worked the fields of grapes, citrus fruits, and other crops. They were also involved in the construction of the infrastructure of San Gabriel Valley. This major hub, a main cultural center is an area with many suburban cities just east of Los Angeles, is an “Asian Pacific American phenomenon”. Given the San Gabriel Valley’s rapidly increasing population of Asian-Americans (largely Chinese-Americans), several business districts were developed to serve their needs. Since the 1970s, most Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles Area have preferred these “Ethnic Suburbs” mainly in the San Gabriel Valley, instead of the touristy old “New Chinatown”. Chinese Americans are actually a very complex sub-population. Rather than solely being a significant Chinese American cultural center, the area is a hub of much more extensive “multigenerational and multiethnic Asian American diversity.”  Of the ten cities in the United States with the highest proportions of Chinese-Americans, the top eight are located in the San Gabriel Valley. As the Chinatown in Los Angeles changes, some residents have moved and businesses from Los Angeles’ Chinatown and have opened branches in the San Gabriel Valley area.

Through the years, there has been an influx of some 20 million Asian immigrants, especially after the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act. Many ethnic suburbs, see ethnoburb, have grown, expanded, and thrived.

Most suburban Chinese-oriented areas are east of the old Chinatown, and the majority are contained within the San Gabriel Valley. While they contain prominent Chinese-language signage, these communities do not feature the Chinese-style gateways, or paifang, found in the original Chinatown.

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Given San Gabriel Valley’s rapidly increasing population of Asian-Americans, several business districts were developed to serve their needs. Since the 1970s, most ethnic Chinese in Los Angeles Area have preferred these Chinese ethoburbs mainly in the San Gabriel Valley, instead of the touristy old “New Chinatown”. Of the ten cities in the United States with the highest proportions of Chinese Americans, the top eight are located in the San Gabriel Valley. As the Chinatown in Los Angeles has declined, numerous residents and businesses have fled from Los Angeles’ Chinatown and have instead opened branches in the San Gabriel Valley area.

There are several suburban Chinese-oriented ethnoburbs in Southern California, including those in suburbia, situated in the San Gabriel Valley. Unlike the official Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, these “pocket” communities are not called “Chinatown” by the Chinese community there, but generally by the name of the city or street in which the businesses and residences are established, although Monterey Park has been called the “First Suburban Chinatown”.

San Gabriel has become a brand name destination for Chinese tourists especially in the business district around the San Gabriel Mall. This tourism boom is bringing about the construction of additional hotels as many tourists prefer to stay here even though they plan to visit typical southern California tourist destinations.

The first generation of Chinese Americans who grew up in the area are coming of age and identify with 626 — the area code of much of the San Gabriel Valley. They are fluent in English but still identify with the culture our their parents. Many feel that something new has been created such as songs mixing bits of dialect from across China with American hip-hop. The popularity of Boba, chewy tapioca pearls served in a drink of sweet tea, is a cultural touchstone of “626.”

Monterey Park

From the 1970s on, Taiwanese immigrants begin settling in Monterey Park and the nearby communities of Alhambra, and Rosemead. The area was not too far from the Los Angeles Chinatown commercial area and was becoming a Chinese influenced community. This trend included affluent Chinese professionals, mostly from Taiwan. At that time, Monterey Park was being marketed by realtors in Taiwan and Hong Kong as the “Chinese Beverly Hills,” to entice future investors. The crowded downtown L.A. Chinatown did not have room for new homes for the growing numbers of Chinese leaving Taiwan and Hong Kong for economic opportunities in America. Other Mandarin Chinese -speaking immigrants of the middle and working classes from Taiwan and Mainland China later followed. Settlement in the city picked up the pace in the 1980s following opportunities created by the White Flight from the San Gabriel Valley. Chinese shopping centers—with supermarkets serving as anchors—were developed to serve the new residents. As this unique phenomenon became known, Monterey Park was described as the “first suburban Chinatown” in North America, and, as such, was featured in Forbes Magazine, Time Magazine, Los Angeles Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. Monterey Park’s effect on tourism in Chinatown, Los Angeles was featured on the “Life and Times” show on the Los Angeles former-PBS affiliate KCET.

Little Taipei (Chinese: 小台北) was an informal name given to the city of Monterey Park, California in the late 1970s because of the large immigrant population from Taiwan. (Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan.) The city council had tried and failed to pass English-only sign ordinances because of safety issues for police and fire departments. In 1985 the City Council of Monterey Park approved drafting of a proposal that would require all businesses in Monterey Park to display English language identification on business signs. According to the Monterey Park Chamber of Commerce, within the city’s 7.7-square-mile (20 km2) limits, there are more than 60 Chinese restaurants, more than 50 realty companies, several Chinese supermarkets, scores of dental, medical, accounting and legal offices, and dozens of shopping centers.

The Chinese American population in Monterey Park and San Gabriel Valley is relatively diverse in socioeconomics and region of origin including overseas Chinese from Vietnam and Indonesia. In Monterey Park, 61.3 percent of the population is Asian American, In Alhambra, Arcadia, and San Gabriel, the Asian population is 48.91 percent, as of the 2000 census. Montebello is also included as it has had a significant (almost 25%) [18] Asian population for several decades after seceding from Monterey Park.

San Gabriel

The city of San Gabriel boasts a mixture of Asian, European, and North American cultures. Second- and third-generation Chinese Americans patronize its diverse array of stores and eateries. There is the 12-acre (49,000 m2) “San Gabriel Square” mall that has been mentioned in the Los Angeles Times as “the great mall of China.” This stretch of Chinese shops and bold architecture, with roofs of Spanish-style tile, is the model for the new ethnoburbs recently recognized in areas like the Las Vegas Valley and Houston. The conglomeration of restaurants and cafes, shops, markets, hair and nail salons, Asian video stores, health services, department stores, plus an extensive jewelry mart, provides ‘something for everyone’, from purchasing an expensive diamond and shopping for designer suits, to buying soy milk or a travel package to Las Vegas or China.

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In 1992, the city of Alhambra and its southern neighbor Monterey Park jointly held the first annual Chinese new year parade and street festival. There were several conflicts and controversies with Monterey Park, so in the next few years the city of Alhambra has held the parade with its neighbor San Gabriel. The parade and festival have Corporate sponsors, several Chinese-dominant cities in San Gabriel Valley also sponsor the parade. This parade is broadcast on LA Chinese-language radio and on TV. Chi Mui became the city’s first Chinese American mayor in 2006. The new San Gabriel Chinese aggregation served as the setting for the thriller novel The Jasmine Trade, authored by Denise Hamilton.

Rowland Heights

Chinese businesses were formerly more spread out Rowland Heights, an unincorporated area with a Chinese retail corridor on Colima Road and Nogales Avenue and is intermixed with a Korean community. Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese, with number of ethnic Chinese from South Korea, and Vietnam, immigrant businesses, namely the eateries, banks, and offices, are gradually occupying the various strip malls across the Puente Hills Mall and in Hacienda Heights and City of Industry. The population is now 55 percent Asian.

Rowland Heights remains the Chinese commercial/cultural center in East San Gabriel.Rowland Heights offers its own mini Chinese ethnoburb, including the businesses lining Colima Road (about one mile (1.6 km) south of Valley), Fullerton Road and Nogales Avenue. Indoor malls in Rowland Heights feature fine restaurants and chic Asian boutiques.

Hacienda Heights

Nearby in Hacienda Heights, Hsi Lai Temple, a Buddhist temple, was built in 1988. Though the proposed development was opposed at the time by some local residents, it is now a respected and accepted part of the community. The Hsi Lai Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere.

In addition to Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights, Eastern San Gabriel Valley areas with a high percentage of Asian residents are West Covina, Walnut, and Diamond Bar.

Temple City

Temple City, As of the census[16] of 2000, the racial makeup of the city was 38.89% Asian, that number is expected to be significantly higher in 2010 census. Along Las Tunas Boulevard, the “Bridal District,” of Asian businesses along the stretch of the downtown area, has made Temple City a bride’s “mecca” for all wedding needs including elaborate dresses, Asian brides often wear three gowns. Also included are several florists and lavish portrait studios supporting the Asian tradition of taking studio quality photos of the bride and groom before the wedding. Asian brides come from as far away as New York to visit this Temple City specialty sector.

Valley Boulevard Corridor

Valley Boulevard (former U.S. Route 60 and U.S. Route 99) is a vital and growing professional and business sector that includes many Asian markets, eateries and other service-oriented businesses such as physicians and dentists. There are multiple Asian banks and Asian owned and operated enterprises that accommodate the burgeoning Asian population.

The Asian communities in the San Gabriel Valley follow along a 25-mile (40 km) stretch of Valley Boulevard covering the entire length of the San Gabriel Valley with Alhambra on the west side and Diamond Bar on the east side. Asian communities in the San Gabriel Valley extend as far north as San Marino and Arcadia and as far south as Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights.

Valley Boulevard begins at Lincoln Park, off North Main Street near downtown Los Angeles, about a mile northeast of the downtown Los Angeles Chinatown. From North Main Street, Valley runs east along a five-mile (8 km) stretch including large industrial tracts and the largely Hispanic community of Lincoln Heights. Midway between downtown Chinatown to the west and the start of the ethnic Chinese suburbs to the East is the beautiful Ming Ya Buddhist Temple, on Valley Boulevard in Lincoln Heights.

From Los Angeles, Valley Blvd. enters Alhambra, the “Gateway to the San Gabriel Valley”. Alhambra, which is 47% Asian according to the 2000 census, has a large number of Asian businesses along Valley Boulevard. Alhambra’s Valley Boulevard boasts numerous noodle shops, Asian cafés and the original Sam Woo Barbecue restaurant. The artful Wing Lung Bank features the largest glass tile mural in North America, composed of 996,000 3/4″ glass tiles. Each year, Alhambra and San Gabriel host one of the largest Lunar Chinese New Year celebrations in the country which includes a parade along Valley Boulevard. Continuing east from Alhambra along Valley Boulevard are the cities of San Gabriel and Rosemead with San Marino, Temple City and Arcadia being further north and east. These five cities have Asian populations between 40 and 55% with a large number of Asian businesses in their various town centers. As existing homes are torn down, the size and skyrocketing prices of new houses is remaking the Arcadia’s reputation. San Marino has been known as the pinnacle of the Chinese dream for wealthy buyers from the China but homes are being constructed to appeal to wealthy Chinese buyers in Arcadia.

Along Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel are dozens of Asian mini-malls and hundreds of shops and restaurants. San Gabriel Square is one of the most prominent and features a 99 Ranch Market, several shops and restaurants including specialties such as Taiwanese and Vegetarian food. Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel also includes the comprehensive San Gabriel Superstore which includes multiple vendors anchored by a large grocery store. Inside and outside the Superstore are found numerous vendors of Asian art, jewelry, books, videos, clothing as well as health and beauty aids. Delicious round red and green bean pastries sold at a stand near the entrance. This area has some excellent tofu and dumpling houses.

Continuing east from Rosemead further along Valley are the largely Hispanic communities of El Monte and La Puente and large industrial tracts, including those that dominate the City of Industry. This ten-mile-long (16 km), largely industrial corridor includes many Asian owned wholesale businesses, including importers of electronics, food and furniture from Asia. North of La Puente is West Covina which is 26% Asian and south of La Puente is Hacienda Heights which is 36% Asian Hacienda Heights is home to the Hsi Lai Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the United States. The temple encompasses 15 acres (61,000 m2) and a floor area of 102,432 sq ft (9,516.2 m2). The temple’s Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) and Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 AD) architecture is faithful to the traditional style of buildings, Chinese gardens, and statuary of ancient Chinese monasteries. Hsi Lai was built to serve as a spiritual and cultural center for those interested in learning Buddhism and Chinese culture.

On the east side of the San Gabriel Valley, before Valley Boulevard becomes Holt Avenue in Pomona, are the communities of Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar.These three communities each have Asian populations of between 50 and 60%. Rowland Heights offers its own mini ethnic suburbia, including the businesses lining Colima Road (about one mile (1.6 km) south of Valley), Fullerton Road and Nogales Avenue. Indoor malls in Rowland Heights feature fine restaurants and chic Asian boutiques.