How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Dispatch from Monterey Park: An all-Asian city council?

Photo by debbychen/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A Monterey Park mini-mall, January 2007

A story I linked to in an earlier post today is worth highlighting because, depending on today's municipal voting results, a city in the San Gabriel Valley could make some history.

The Alhambra Source, a local news website, published a story today about how five of the eight candidates competing for Monterey Park's open council seats are Asian American. It's possible that Monterey Park could become the first city with an all-Asian city council in the continental United States. From the piece:

If three of them win the at-large election, Monterey Park, recognized as the first American suburban Chinatown, would make history once again. Even if they do not — with some strong Hispanic candidates also vying for the open seats — the city offers a glimpse at transitions in ethnic politics from a city that has been a leading edge in Asian American civic participation.

In the 1980s Monterey Park became home to the first predominantly Asian population on the mainland United States and was the first to elect a Chinese mayor. But it took more than a decade for the City Council to resemble the demographics of the city of 60,000. Now, another decade later, Asian Americans dominate the council with a presence greater than their actual numbers.

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City candidates reveal increasingly diverse L.A.

Art by Eric Fischer/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A color-coded ethnicity map of the Los Angeles area, based on older census data

Today's municipal elections in Los Angeles and other local cities happen to coincide with the scheduled release this afternoon of 2010 Census data for California, which will show us the racial and ethnic breakdown of the state and how it has changed since ten years ago.

The census data is just beginning to roll out, but the roster of candidates for Los Angeles City Council, and for council seats in surrounding cities, is a good indication of what the face of Southern California looks like. On the L.A. ballot alone are eight immigrants, along with others who are the children and grandchildren of immigrants.


  • Council District 2, which covers much of the far eastern and southeastern portions of the San Fernando Valley, is represented by incumbent Paul Krekorian, who is Armenian American. He is running against businessman Augusto Bisani, an Italian immigrant who was born in Rome and arrived here in 1968.

  • In Council District 4, a central district stretching from Koreatown into Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Hollywood and North Hollywood, incumbent and Silver Lake native Tom LaBonge, whose L.A. family roots date to the 1800s, is running against two immigrants. Tomás O'Grady, a businessman and environmental activist, is a native of Ireland who came to the United States in 1990. Stephen Box, a producer and transportation activist, is a recently naturalized immigrant from Australia.

  • Council District 6, which covers much of the San Fernando Valley, is represented by Pacoima-born council member Tony Cardenas. He is running against other candidates of Latino descent, website developer Rich Goodman, whose bio describes him as coming from a "multicultural Mexican American family," and code enforcement official David Barron, whose father was born in Mexico City. A fourth candidate, businessman James "Jamie" Cordaro, is third-generation Italian American.

  • In Council District 8, which covers Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, West Adams and other parts of South Los Angeles, incumbent and former police chief Bernard Parks is running against two other African American candidates, nonprofit CEO Forescee Hogan-Rowles and firefighter Jabari S. Jumaane.

  • South L.A's shifting demographics are more evident in neighboring Council District 10, a traditionally African American district whose population makeup has changed in recent years as immigrants move in. Four African American candidates, among them incumbent Herb Wesson, Jr., crime victim advocate Althea Rae Shaw (the aunt of slain high school football star Jamiel Shaw, Jr.), employment specialist Austin Dragon and businessman Chris Brown, are joined on ballot by Andrew Kim, a Korean-born civil rights and immigration lawyer, and Luis Montoya, an L.A.-raised Latino whose family runs a Christmas tree lot.

  • Council District 12 in the far northwestern portion of the ethnically diverse San Fernando Valley was represented by City Council member Greig Smith, who is retiring. Among the half-dozen candidates competing for the seat are two immigrants from India, businessman Dinesh "Danny" Lakhanpal and Navraj Singh, a restaurateur and formerly a captain in the Indian army, and Armineh Chelebian, a neighborhood council member who arrived with her family from Iran when she was a teenager. They are joined by two Valley natives, Smith's chief of staff Mitchell Englander and Brad Smith, a neighborhood council member and former journalist, and by real estate broker and longtime Valley resident Kelly Lord.

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