Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 19, 2011

Host: Ted Simons


  • You may not know what an “Ethnoburb” is, but you can find out from the professor who coined the term. An Ethnoburb is a residential and business area in the suburbs with a cluster of a particular minority population. Professor Wei Li of the Arizona State University School of Social Transformation will talk about Ethnoburbs.
  • Wei Li - Professor, Arizona State University School of Social Transformation
Category: Culture

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The latest census numbers show the face of America is changing. One of those changes is the rise of what's being called ethnoburbs. A residential and business area in the suburbs with a particular minority population. One example is the grouping of Asians around Intel plants in Chandler. Here now to discuss ethnoburb is Wei Li, professor at Arizona state of University's school of social transformation.

Wei Li: Thank you Ted.

Ted Simons: Did I get -- is that what an ethnoburb is? A suburb but not the kind of suburb we're used to.

Wei Li: Exactly. What I meant by an ethnoburb was actually a multiethnic, multicultural, sometimes multinational suburb.

Ted Simons: You coined the phrase, too.

Wei Li: Correct.

Ted Simons: What got you started on this?

Wei Li: That's actually interesting story. It's about 20 years ago this time. I was in Washington, DC getting ready to go to L.A. to start my Ph.D. study. So I met with a man and asked me, why are you going to L.A.? I said I'm going to get my Ph.D. degree. And he got excited. He said, I am a professor at USC. Ask me anything you want to know about L.A. So I said, of course I've never been to L.A. before, first and foremost, I want to know where should I live? And he looked at me for 30 seconds, puzzled, then said, you are Chinese, right? I'm like, yeah, I am. And she said, you should go to Monday tray park area. I said, why? That's a Chinese area. Everyone knows. And you would feel very comfortable there.

Ted Simons: Everyone knows Monterey Park is a Chinese area?

Ted Simons: Exactly.

Ted Simons: You started looking at these communities, but we have it here, we mentioned what's going on in Chandler as far as the Intel plant, there are a lot of Asian businesses, Asian residents, restaurants, that is an ethnoburb.

Wei Li: Correct. I would say so. Because even 10 years ago my colleague, who also got a degree from ASU geography studied ancient Indians in the Phoenix area. So at that time he called the Phoenix area an inViSiBURB, meaning these immigrants were still invisible. But that's definitely not the case in the past 10 years. Because we do see Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants are actually, many of them actually work in our high-tech industry. For instance, the immigrants are no longer all what we think as lower scaled, less educated. For instance, nationwide, Asian Indians, more than 70% of Asian Indians, first generation immigrants have at least a bachelor degree and 43% of Chinese have at least bachelor degree. So they work in these high-tech industries. Like closer to Chandler.

Ted Simons: So I would imagine median family income would be higher than average, education levels would be better than average? Is this true?

Wei Li: Yes. Correct.

Ted Simons: How is it changing some of these suburbs? We can talk about Chandler in particular, but just in general, how is it changing the politics? How is it changing the culture? What do you see?

Wei Li: In that sense, I think it's very important in terms of seeing certain kind of tipping point, because you first see these inadvice -- INiViBURBs, people living in cookie cutter suburbs. When the population becomes more and more, we first see all these Asian super markets come up. And they're serving these customer needs. And then we see more and more labor force is more diverse, of different racial ethnic background, as well as our cities become more diverse in general. So in that sense, the politics have changed. It used to be when you live in the suburbs, overwhelmingly white American majority, now we have different groups, so we need to more consider the intergroup relations, and those highly scaled wealthy immigrants versus lower scaled in some cases, since we are in Arizona, many times we are talking about undocumented migrants, and SB 1070 and all these politics surrounding with immigration. So I think that -- and also my students inform me, saying, look at Chandler, I grown up in a high school, many of my classmates are Asians. So we see our younger generation growing up in the more multicultural, multiracial Environment than before.

Ted Simons: Are there other ethnoburbs around the valley, other areas that look like they're starting to pop up?

Wei Li: I would say mostly east valley, because many of our high-tech industry, Intel, Motorola, are in east valley. So I think definitely -- and even in Tempe, of course with ASU many international students as well as other minority groups.

Ted Simons: We can see it does look like it's east valley, southeast valley where most of the clusters R as far as the numbers are concerned, the increase is almost exponentially rising.

Wei Li: Correct.

Ted Simons: And you don't see any pause in that, any --

Wei Li: I would say so long as we have a high-tech economy, and so long as our economy become more diverse, our state will be able to attract more diverse immigrants. As well as other internal migrants moving from other states to our state.

Ted Simons: Last question, often with the immigration story, folks move to an area, they cluster, then in a generation or two, they move out to where that cluster almost doesn't even exist anymore. It's still there, but you have your little Italy and Chinatowns, but most folks have moved out. With ethnoburbs, these folks are moving out to the suburbs, with ethnoburbs they're already in the suburbs. How is that going to work?

Wei Li: I think that's the whole issue of changing immigration and the changing dynamics for our country. Because previously immigrants come to our country poor, less educated and generation or two they catch up. But now we see as the result of globalization, and also rising economy, in many of the other countries. Immigrants come with financial resources, they are highly educated, and they have skills. So in that sense, they choose to locate to suburbs directly, and these are the people, are there to stay. So we are actually really seeing the changing suburb of our country. Not just -- in many larger metropolitan areas we are seeing the trend. So -- so long as immigration continues, we probably won't see ethnoburbs disappear in 20 years or so.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Good stuff, thanks for joining us we really appreciate it.

Wei Li: Thank you for having me. A great pleasure.

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