Posted on September 30, 2004

The O.C.: the Minority Now the Majority

Ryan Pearson, AP, Las Vegas Sun, Sep. 30

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Minorities now make up a majority of residents in Orange County, California’s quintessential swath of suburbia, according to census data released Thursday.

Two other suburban counties — high-growth Riverside east of Los Angeles and wealthy San Mateo south of San Francisco — also joined 17 other California counties that reached majority-minority status as of 2000.

Two opposite trends tipped the balance in Orange and San Mateo counties, which lost white residents as the number of nonwhite residents increased, according to an Associated Press analysis of the Census Bureau estimates.

Overall, 55 percent of California’s 35.5 million residents are minorities, compared with 53 percent of 34 million residents in 2000, the data shows.

One city that illustrates the rapid changes in Orange County, an area once known across the country as white, conservative and Republican, is Garden Grove. The city near Disneyland was incorporated in 1956, at the height of the postwar population boom that transformed the county from a quiet, rural area to a sprawling suburb.

“We do really have a real salad bowl here,” says Mayor Bruce Broadwater, noting that 82 languages are spoken in the households of the Garden Grove school district. The city also is home to one of the country’s largest mosques, located in what was once a Protestant church.

Each year, Garden Grove has a Korean Festival, a Tet Festival and an Arab Festival, as well as the enduring Strawberry Festival, which recalls its agricultural days.

But some newer residents say fitting in hasn’t always been easy.

Katelyn Nguyen, 22, recalls being called out of class as a child by concerned counselors who thought the red marks on her back were a sign of child abuse. The marks actually were caused by her mother’s use of an Asian health technique that involved using coins to rub her body with oil.

“It happened all the time. They just didn’t know,” Nguyen said Wednesday as she fed her 2-year-old daughter, Dana, at a Vietnamese sandwich shop across the street from City Hall.

Nguyen, who moved to Orange County from Vietnam when she was 9 months old, says she has been called derogatory names and that her mother is looked down upon because of her limited English.

She said she finds television’s “The O.C.,” which depicts a rich, white crowd living in Orange County, as amusing in how far it differs from reality.

“It’s nothing like that,” Nguyen said. “There are a lot of minorities out there that have nothing.”

Barber Steve Asciak, 41, who emigrated to Orange County from Malta in 1988, said he has been snubbed in a different kind of way. Newly arrived Asian immigrants, he said, stay away from his barber shop because he doesn’t speak Vietnamese.

“I think people shouldn’t go to a business just because they speak their language,” he said. “But I am patient. We need to be patient with each other.”

Still, the county’s increasingly diverse culture surprised Kenny Win, who arrived from Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma, in 1997.

“Orange County is a kaleidoscope,” Win said. “To our surprise, we found three Buddhist temples with monks from Burma.”

Terry Thomas, who has lived in Garden Grove since 1945, said everyone is welcome in Orange County.

“It’s not white suburbia,” Thomas said. “It’s suburbia, period. For all nationalities.”