Last vestiges of Old Chinatown (image: Los Angeles Times)
All around the world large, multicultural cities often contain recognized, small, distinct ethnic enclaves. Los Angeles, by some measures the most diverse city in the universe, is no exception. These neighborhoods are often more ephemeral than others -- coming and going in a reflection of changing patterns of immigration, marginalization, assimilation and development. In the past, for example, Los Angeles had areas widely known as French Town, Greek Town, Little Italy, Little Mexico, Old Chinatown, Furusato, and Sonoratown -- to name a few. All are now gone with few physical reminders of their ever having existed.
Runners in front of the Italian Hall in Los Angeles's old Little Italy
In the Southland, where Asian-Americans are currently both the largest and fastest growing racial minority, most of the existing enclaves are predictably Asian. There’s Cambodia Town, Chinatown, Koreatown, Historic Filipinotown, Little Bangladesh, Little India, Little Osaka, Little Saigon, Little Seoul, Little Tokyo, and Thai Town. Officially-recognized non-Asian enclaves include only Little Arabia, Little Armenia and Little Ethiopia. Unofficial but widely-recognized non-Asian enclaves include Little Central America and Tehrangeles. Are there others?
Chinatown Little Tokyo
Little India Thai Town
Cambodia Town Historic Filipinotown
Interestingly, in most of these commercial districts, the titular Asian-American population doesn’t constitute the majority of the population (which is non-Asian Latino in most communities and overall). In all cases, however, they make up a sizable minority with a long-established presence and numerous corresponding services and businesses. The proposed “Peru Village” of South Vine in Hollywood boasts a whole two Peruvian restaurants – separated by a mile – which seems completely absurd to me. Imagine the head scratching that will understandably occur if one business fails or moves away at a restaurant getting its own neighborhood designation. Maybe one of our KFCs can get a Little Lexington or Hillbilly Village neighborhood designation.
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of The Far Eastside
Anyway, far from these commercial districts is a collection of communities where Asian-Americans make up the plurality of the population and many cases, the majority. They’re all located in the San Gabriel Valley which overall has a non-Asian Latino plurality and followed by an Asian-American population of about 30%. The SGV communities with Asian pluralities and/or majorities include Alhambra, Arcadia, Diamond Bar, East San Gabriel, Hacienda Heights, Monterey Park, Rosemead, Rowland Heights (nicknamed by some “Little Taipei”), San Gabriel, San Marino, South San Gabriel, Temple City, and Walnut. I've explored and blogged about a few -- to vote for any others, click here. Tongue firmly in cheek (and in reference to The Eastside) I refer to this region as The Far Eastside*.
Monterey Park was the first city in the world with an ethnically Chinese-American majority. Though all the communities of The Far East Side are dominated by ethnically-Chinese populations, this population includes Cantonese, mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, overseas Chinese and others. There are also large numbers of Filipinos, Indians, Indonesians, Koreans, Vietnamese as well as non-Asian Mexican-Americans, blacks, English-Americans, and people of other ethnicities and countries of ancestral origin.
*I’m aware that the term “Far East” is a concept loaded with cultural and geographical relativism and worse, exotification. To people living in these communities they’re not “far” anything. It should also be noted that – to an extent – the concept has been adopted by those countries to which it refers. 遠東 literally translates to “Far East” and is used by numerous Chinese and Taiwanese institutions. On a similar note, the wonton typeface (also known as the ching-chong font, chopstick font or chop-suey font), whilst understandably sometimes seen as offensive, is used by countless Asian-American as well as non-Asian-American business owners to convey “Asian-ness.” My aim is to acknowledge and respect that and to cheekily play with the stereotype rather than unthinkingly and cluelessly uphold it. By no means is my intention to offend.