O.C. has third highest Asian population in U.S. – Orange County Register

Orange County has the third highest concentration of Asians in the nation, new census figures show.

Only five states and two counties nationwide, Los Angeles and Santa Clara, have more Asian residents – the product of a demographic shift three decades in the making.

And five of the 10 most Vietnamese cities in the state are in Orange County.

“They have family members and friends in this area,” said Linda Vo, associate professor for Asian American studies at UCI. “A lot of them move here for that support network.”

San Jose has more Vietnamese residents than any other California city, just over 100,000. But Orange County has nearly twice as many, 184,000, scattered among its 34 cities and seven census-designated places.

It is, Vo said, the largest Vietnamese enclave in the world outside Vietnam itself.

Little Saigon, with its restaurants, markets and many media outlets, is a magnet that attracts Vietnamese from all over the nation, Vo said.

Even with the passing of the older generation, she doesn’t see the younger generation moving too far away.

“As they are becoming more educated and professional, they are moving to places such as Irvine or Newport Beach in search of better housing and schools,” Vo said.

Yet there are signs in the latest census figures that Asians are dispersing, leaving the urban areas where Vietnamese and Koreans settled a generation ago – and where Chinese and Japanese settled decades earlier – for suburban and even rural homes.

While Orange County’s Asian population grew by 39 percent over the past decade, reaching 538,000, several smaller counties grew much faster in percentage terms.

Placer County, east of Sacramento, nearly tripled its Asian population, attracting Filipinos, Indians and Chinese. Riverside County doubled its Indian, Korean and Vietnamese populations and nearly tripled its Chinese population.

Dan Ichinose, demographic research director with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles, said his group has been watching as Asians spread out.

“Traditionally, we think only of large cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles,” he said. “But now we’re realizing that the Asian population is a lot more spread out.”

For his group, the big challenge is to figure out how to allocate resources as Asian and Pacific Islander communities continue to grow. Ichinose says although these communities are seeing an increase in native-born members, there is no significant decrease in immigrants from Asian countries.

“That means language assistance is always going to be an important issue,” he said. “We need to provide that to voters, people who are trying to access health services, in our courts and police stations.”

As Asian residents begin to spread away from traditional centers such as Orange County, there are counter-pressures to stay.

“The only other location where we are seeing a spurt in Vietnamese population is Houston, Texas,” Vo said. “Although the job market may not be great, a lot of people are moving there because of housing prices.”

Frances Nguyen, a Westminster resident, business owner and first Vietnamese-American president of the Westminster Chamber of Commerce, said people think twice about leaving home. It’s not easy to return, she said.

Contact the writer: 714-796-5030 or rcampbell@ocregister.com

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