A generation ago, whites made up roughly two-thirds of the population in this rarefied Los Angeles suburb, where most of the homes are worth well over $1 million. But Asians now make up over half of the population in San Marino, which has long attracted some of the region’s wealthiest families and was once home to the John Birch Society’s Western headquarters.
The transformation illustrates a drastic shift in California immigration trends over the last decade, one that can easily be seen all over the area: more than twice as many immigrants to the nation’s most populous state now come from Asia than from Latin America.
And the change here is just one example of the ways immigration is remaking America, with the political, economic and cultural ramifications playing out in a variety of ways. The number of Latinos has more than doubled in many Southern states, including Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, creating new tensions. Asian populations are booming in New Jersey, and Latino immigrants are reviving small towns in the Midwest.
Much of the current immigration debate in Congress has focused on Hispanics, and California has for decades been viewed as the focal point of that migration. But in cities in the San Gabriel Valley — as well as in Orange County and in Silicon Valley in Northern California — Asian immigrants have become a dominant cultural force in places that were once largely white or Hispanic.
“We are really looking at a different era here,” said Hans Johnson, a demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California who has studied census data. “There are astounding changes in working-class towns and old, established, wealthy cities. It is not confined to one place.”
Many of the immigrants come here from China and Taiwan, where they were part of a highly educated and affluent population. They have eagerly bought property in places like San Marino, where the median income is nearly double that of Beverly Hills and is home to one of the highest-performing school districts in the state. The local library now offers story time in Mandarin.
But the wealth is not uniform, and there are pockets of poverty in several of the area’s working-class suburbs, particularly in Vietnamese and Filipino communities.
“This is kind of ground zero for a new immigrant America,” said Daniel Ichinose, a demographer at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “You have people speaking Mandarin and Vietnamese and Spanish all living together and facing many common challenges.”
Lower income for all women, particularly those of color, means less money to support their families with necessities such as housing, food, education, and health care. Closing the pay gap is even more important for women of color who are more likely than their white counterparts to be breadwinners.
The long-term wage gap hurts families of color tremendously, forcing families to choose between putting food on the table or saving for a college education and retirement. On average, an African American woman working full time loses the equivalent of 118 weeks of food each year due to the wage gap. A Latina loses 154 weeks’ worth of food. The stubbornly persistent gender-based wage gap adds up substantially over the lifetime of a woman’s career. For women of color the loss of savings over a 30-hour-a-week to a 40-hour-a-week work lifespan is significant. A woman of color will have to live on one-third to 45 percent less than a white man based on the average benefits that are afforded through Social Security and pension plans. Research shows that a woman’s average lifetime earnings are more than $434,000 less than a comparable male counterpart over a 35-year working life.
Analysis done in 2012 by the Center for American Progress illustrates that the money lost over the course of a working woman’s lifetime could do one of the following:
—Feed a family of four for 37 years
—Pay for seven four-year degrees at a public university
—Buy two homes
—Purchase 14 new cars
Simply be saved for retirement and used to boost her quality of life when she leaves the workforce
Lifetime earnings are even lower for women of color because they face higher levels of unemployment and poverty rates. In March 2013 unemployment rates of black [women] and Latinas were significantly higher than their white counterparts at 12.2 percent and 9.3 percent respectively compared to white women at 6.1 percent. According to the National Women’s Law Center, poverty rates among women, particularly women of color, remain historically high and unchanged in the last year. The poverty rate among women was 14.6 percent in 2011—the highest in the last 18 years. For black women and Latinas that same year, the poverty rate was 25.9 percent and 23.9 percent, respectively.
Americanah took five years to write. ‘For a long time I’ve wanted to write about two things: a love story that doesn’t apologise for being a love story, in the grand tradition of the Mills & Boon novel; and I also wanted to write about race in America. I hadn’t felt ready until now.’ The title refers to an immigrant who has become Americanised – Ifemelu gets called ‘Americanah’ by her friends. Adichie writes with great affection for her subjects but she is not sentimental. Americanah is a dense story with a very light touch – it moves effortlessly between time frames and countries, making acute political points without haranguing.
Adichie has compared America to ‘a very rich uncle who doesn’t really know who you are, but all the same you can’t help being fond of him’.
‘I like America but it’s not mine and it never will be,’ she says now. ‘I don’t really have a life there. I travel and I speak and I sit in my study trying to write, but in Nigeria I have a life. I go out, I have friends, I feel emotionally invested in what’s happening.’
Last year Adichie was the youngest person to deliver the annual Commonwealth lecture at the Guildhall, and her TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) lecture on national identity, The Dangers of a Single Story, is one of its most popular. She is an eloquent person with big ideas, who is very interested in pan-African politics. ‘The idea of aid as a solution to Africa’s problems is something I don’t agree with at all. When you look at countries that have succeeded, aid didn’t do it. Aid creates dependency.’ She resents how applying for aid has become a job in itself. ‘It’s not looking for money to start a business, it’s writing a proposal so someone gives you money. Nigeria is not like that yet, and I hope we don’t become like that as it’s unhealthy. If we had electricity every day and it was constant and we had good roads and water, people would do things, they are full of initiative.’ It would, she believes, make a huge difference to productivity, self-esteem, motivation. Instead they are plagued by inconsistency in the most basic infrastructure.
‘I am very much a social engineer at heart,’ she says. ‘I love Nigeria and Africa and if you love a place that you know is kind of broken, you want it to be whole. I am always watching. For example, when I have my hair done I am watching the women in the salon, wondering how things could be better for them. The salon has to close at seven because they turn the generator off. And diesel is expensive so what they have to pay to maintain the generator is already taking a lot from what the salon makes, which in turn affects how much the workers in the hair salon are paid.’
There’s a comforting-to-white-people fiction about racism and racial inequality in the United States today: They’re caused by a small, recalcitrant group who cling to their egregiously inaccurate beliefs in the moral, intellectual and economic superiority of white people.
The reality: racism and racial inequality aren’t just supported by old ideas, unfounded group esteem or intentional efforts to mistreat others, said Nancy DiTomaso, author of the new book, The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism. They’re also based on privilege, she said — how it is shared, how opportunities are hoarded and how most white Americans think their career and economic advantages have been entirely earned, not passed down or parceled out.
The way that whites, often unconsciously, hoard and distribute advantage inside their almost all white networks of family and friends is one of the driving reasons that in February just 6.8 percent of white workers remained unemployed while 13.8 percent of black workers and 9.6 percent of Hispanic workers were unable to find jobs, DiTomaso said
DiTomaso concludes, based on her research, that most white Americans engage, at least a few times per year, in the activities that foster inequality. While they may not deliberately discriminate against black and other non-white job seekers, they take actions that make it more likely that white people will be employed — without thinking that what they’re doing amounts to discrimination.
"The vast majority assumed everyone has the same opportunities, and they just somehow tried harder, were smarter," DiTomaso said of those she interviewed. "Not seeing how whites help other whites as the primary way that inequality gets reproduced today is very helpful. It’s easy on the mind."
So white Americans tell a neighbor’s son about a job, hire a friend’s daughter, carry the resume of a friend (or, for that matter, a friend’s boyfriend’s sister) into the boss’s office, recommend an old school mate or co-worker for an unadvertised opening, or just say great things about that job applicant whom they happen to know. But since most Americans, white and black, live virtually segregated lives, and since advantages, privileges and economic progress have already accrued in favor of whites, the additional advantages that flow from this help go almost exclusively to whites, DiTomaso said.
DiTomaso’s work does confirm that networks — not just the kind you build over awkward conversations, finger foods and watered-down cocktails but the kind you’re born into — matter, Austin said. It also points to just how different forms of inequality feed one another. Family-and-friends segregation feeds job and income inequality. That in turn feeds neighborhood and school segregation. That then leaves some kids less likely to receive a quality education and escape from the cycle, he said.
It’s not that black workers don’t attempt the same sort of job assists within their own networks, said Deirdre Royster, an economic sociologist at New York University and author of Race and the Invisible Hand: How White Networks Exclude Black Men From Blue Collar Jobs.
African Americans ask neighbors, significant others, the significant others of neighbors, relatives and friends about open jobs, too. But since black unemployment rates were far higher than white rates before, during and after the recession, the number of people in a typical black social network who are in a position to help is far more limited.
According to Royster, there’s an additional twist: When blacks are aware of a job, they describe the job, the boss, the company and its preferences and needs. Then they follow up with a warning.
"They give the person looking for a job all sorts of information and then they say, ‘But don’t tell them I sent you,’" said Royster.
Black workers are aware of something that researchers are still trying to explain: White bosses often worry, lack of statistical evidence aside, that black workers are more likely to sue them or band together in the workplace and try to change things, Royster said. That seems all the more likely if the black workers already know one another, she said. And many white hiring managers still assume, consciously or unconsciously, that black workers bring undesirable workplace habits and qualities, Royster said.
Ms. Magazine: How does your feminist identity influence the way you think about food/food politics?
Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper: I am always looking through the lenses of black feminism, critical race feminism and decolonial feminist world-systems analysis when I try to understand food in every aspect. I simply cannot look at food as an “everyday mundane object.” I understand the meanings applied to food as something that represents an entire culture’s ideologies around everything. For example, food can tell me a society’s expectations about sexuality, gender roles, racial hierarchies of power and ability.
Ms. Magazine: Why should people consider food a feminist issue?
Dr. Harper: Oh, that’s a great one. First, I think feminism is really broad, so I’m coming from the perspectives of black feminism and decolonial feminist world-systems analysis. So, that is how I define “my” feminisms, for now at least. I think one cannot understand structural oppression within the food system without understanding how structural sexism shapes one’s relationship within the food system, from seed to plate. For example, what does it mean that tomatoes coming out of Mexico since NAFTA have come to North Americans “cheaply” due to the exploitation of indigenous Mexican women and the myth that indigenous women are “more tolerant” of harsh chemicals and sun exposure than light-skinned mestizas who are usually found working in the tomato packing plants? Check out Deborah Barndt’s work on that.
Hoxby says some college administers had confided to her that they had reluctantly come to the conclusion that the pool of low-income students with top academic credentials was just limited, and there wasn’t much they could do to change that.
But in an analysis published with Christopher Avery in December, Hoxby has shown that this conclusion isn’t true. There is in fact a vast pool of highly talented, low-income students; they just aren’t ending up in top schools.
"The students whom they see are the students who apply," she says, of admissions officers. "And if a student doesn’t apply to any selective college or university, it’s impossible for admissions staff to see that they are out there."
Hoxby found that the majority of academically gifted low-income students come from a handful of places in the country: About 70 percent of them come from 15 large metropolitan areas. These areas often have highly regarded public high schools, such as Stuyvesant in New York City or Thomas Jefferson in the Washington, D.C., area.
Low-income high-achieving students at these schools have close to 100 percent odds of attending an Ivy League school or other highly selective college, Hoxby says.
The reasons are straightforward: These schools boast top teachers and immense resources. They have terrific guidance counselors. Highly selective colleges send scouts to these schools to recruit top talent. And perhaps most important, students in these schools are part of a peer group where many others are also headed to highly selective colleges.
Hoxby and Avery found that top students who do not live in these major metropolitan areas were significantly less likely to end up at a highly selective school. These students were far less likely to find themselves in a pipeline that ended at an Ivy League school.