Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

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

A Monterey Park mini-mall, January 2007
A Monterey Park mini-mall, January 2007
Photo by debbychen/Flickr (Creative Commons)

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.

One interesting nugget is how Asian American civic participation in the city took root:
In the 1980s, the English-only movement sought to eliminate foreign languages from commercial signs. The affront brought the Asian community out to the City Council meetings. They got their voices heard, and in defeating the campaign, Asian residents found that local politics had tangible implications for their hometown.

There are presently four Asian Americans on the five-person council in Monterey Park, whose ballot illustrates how shifting demographics throughout the state continue to play out in local politics. The municipal elections taking place today in several Southland cities, including in Los Angeles, coincide with this afternoon's release of 2010 Census data, which is showing big gains in the state's Latino and Asian populations that account for nearly all of the state's recent population growth.