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Census snapshot: Asians find homes in historically Latino El Monte

December 8, 2008 |  8:29 pm

El monteNew U.S. Census data released tonight shows the growing integration of Southern California cities. The Times sent reporters into some cities that have seen greater diversity in the last few years to talk to residents and city officials. Here is a dispatch from El Monte, a predominately Latino San Gabriel Valley city that is seeing more Asians move in:

The drop in the number of Latinos living in El Monte has a lot to do with economics, said El Monte Mayor Ernie Gutierrez.

"Hispanic people that have immigrated here and haven't been here long enough to save up money are probably finding rent here too expensive," said Gutierrez, 74, who has lived in the city since 1937.

"They might be moving near relatives in other parts of the state or country where jobs are plentiful and housing is cheaper." Gutierrez, over the last five decades, has seen the city evolve from a place of segregation to a community where different cultures coexist. "When I was growing up, most of the Mexicans lived in barrios.

They couldn't buy a house because it was written in real estate agreements not to sell to certain ethnic groups, and housing was expensive," he said.

“Today, the Asian population in the city is growing. There are more Asian-owned businesses, of course, due to the increase. Change is inevitable when communities set up shop somewhere."

As a kid, Bang Tran didn't know too many people in El Monte who "looked like him."

His parents move to the city in 1979 and, he said, it was evident he and his family were different.

"When I grew up here, it was all Hispanic people," said Tran, 38, who now lives in Monrovia but still helps operate his family's Vietnamese restaurant Viet Huong in his old neighborhood. "I only knew about three or four Asian people."

Storefronts in the 1980s mostly advertised specials in Spanish; today, it's no longer rare to see Asian-run businesses throughout the city.

"You look down Garvey [Avenue] and you can just see how Asian shopping has boomed," Tran said. "It used to be Hispanic stores. There wasn't an Asian store for miles."

He attributes the shift to the overpopulation of nearby Asian-dominated cities such as Alhambra and Monterey Park.

"The population in those cities is booming and getting too crowded," he said. "So people are slowly moving to other areas like El Monte, where they can still gain easy access to activities in those cities through the freeway."

--Yvonne Villarreal

Photo: City of El Monte