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Diversity in Numbers: Defining the Angeleno Family

What makes L.A. the city it is? What separates it from the rest of the U.S. or at least from most of it? Why is Los Angeles the perfect place for people like me?

Diversity. That, for me, is what it comes down to. According to the U.S. Census Bureau
  • Almost one in two persons in L.A. county - 48 percent to be precise - identified themselves as Hispanic/Latino in 2009. (The corresponding number for the U.S. as a whole is 15.8 percent.) 13.4 percent of Angelenos identified as Asian; 9.3 as black. (Multiple answers were possible.)
  • More than every third person in L.A. county (36.2 percent) is foreign born as opposed to one in ten (11.1 percent) for the U.S. overall.
  • More than half the population of L.A. county older than five years (54.1 percent) speaks a language other than English at home. The U.S. number is 17.9 percent.
The numbers as such are mind boggling but what really amazes me is that all these different people - a total of almost ten million - basically get along. L.A. has seen riots, yes. It also has its fair share of problems with gangs which separate along the lines of race and national identity. But for the most part people here live and let live.

L.A. is like a test lab for what is going to happen everywhere sooner or later and whether we like it or not (I do). The world is becoming one big melting pot, a place where distinctions of color and nationality will matter less and less, where everybody comes from somewhere.

I for one feel comfortable being part of the experiment. My father is Austrian, my mother English, and I was raised bilingually. I grew up in the in-between, with two nationalities, two languages. In Innsbruck, where I come from, I was something of an outsider, exotic. So was my husband who came from a German-American marriage. Three decades later our teenage daughter is bilingual and growing up between the cultures. Here in L.A. we are like millions around us - just another Angeleno family.


Lorraine Seal said…

It is odd sometimes to be in a predominantly white communities (Salzburg and rural Ireland) after living virtually my entire adult life in Los Angeles. I find myself wondering how it feels for the black or Asian youngsters I occasionally see. It's a change for us, after the diversity of Los Angeles.

One of my Irish sister-in-laws, settled in Los Angeles for decades now, has four children by her Hawaiin-Chinese husband. As they grew up we met many of their friends, also of many races and ethnicities. I recall when Tiger Woods first won the Masters Cup that for all the talk of his racial makeup, that their generation would not find it remarkable at all.

Which is, of course, a wonderful thing.

Another thought. When we first moved to Thousand Oaks 21 years ago, we were struck by the international nature of our neighbourhood. Among our neighbours, were emigrants from India, Canada, what was at the time still Czechoslovakia and from what was still Yugoslavia, Ecuador, Italy, and, of course, Mexico. Oh, and my husband added Ireland to 'hood.

It really was remarkable.

Nice post!

Thank you, Lorraine. You are right. My friends come from Austria, South Africa, and Peru.On a ski trip on Sunday we met a man who had come to California from the Riesengebirge (now Czech Republic) 25 years ago and another one whose family immigrated from Iran during the revolution.
Reese said…

Interesting facts you have laid out. I remember how strange it was to be in the LA airport and felt like I was in a different country. How true - Diversity is an uniqueness itself.

I'm looking forward to learn more about L.A through your keen observations and experience.

Reese said…
Hi Christina,

What are your thoughts on assimilation in Los Angeles?

One of the glaring differences I found between the US and Malaysia is assimilation. Generally in the US, the immigrant's culture almost disappears after one generation. You need to speak English and act "American" to fit in and succeed, especially in school. I observed that this pressure from society to assimilate is stronger in the US than most places I've visited. It has its pros and cons. It works in creating a strong national identity - no matter what you look like, you are accepted as an American (again, if you act as one). But, is this true diversity? If the only remnant of your parents or grandparents homeland is how you look, is that diversity?

Looking at Penang, there are three distinct cultures here - Malay, Chinese, and Indian. Assimilation is not strong in Malaysia, taking for example the Chinese who speak a Chinese dialect as their first language, go to Chinese schools, eat Chinese food, follow Chinese customs, etc. The problem here then is the lack of national identity. Most Chinese have been here for 3 or 4 generations, so they are Malaysians, but because of the lack of assimilation into Malay culture, there is a divide in the country. But the benefit is the amazing cultural diversity which makes this place special.

I think the main reason for this is based on the population size of the minority community. Chinese make up around 25% of the population in Malaysia (and over 50% in Penang), so there isn't that pressure to assimilate. Whereas in the US, immigrants are generally outnumbered and have to succumb to the pressure of becoming an "American".

Because of the large population of Latinos in California, I am curious if the Latino community there holds on to their cultural values and customs over many generations?

Sorry about the long comment. Something I have thought about quite a bit after moving to SE Asia.


Reese and Mark -

Thank you for your comments and especially for asking about assimilation. I love a challenge!

Despite the large number of foreign born people assimilation still seems to be working here. Why so? It's a give and take. Immigrants adapt to the American way of life but Southern California changes with them. L.A. blends the new and the old, the foreign and the more indigenous, Mexican with Asian and so on.

Let's take food: The Korean taco was invented in L.A.; the taco truck is quickly becoming part of the L.A. landscape. Caucasians, Asians, Mexicans line up together to grab a bite.

I see the same thing happening in other areas such as religion. More and more Catholic churches display images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an incarnation of the Virgin Mary revered by Mexicans. Masses are becoming noisier, more lively, less staid.

In both cases - with food and religion - people might say that L.A. is so open to change because it lacks an original identity of its own. I see it differently: being open to change, being a sponge for the new is what L.A. is about. This is its identity.

Is diversity an appropriate term for the fusion of one culture with another or with many others? Sounds like a topic for another post!

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