UConn researcher examines multi-racial neighborhoods in Silicon Valley (Released: 3/29/00)
By Allison Thompson, Office of University Communications
STORRS, Conn. -- San Francisco has always been heralded as a vibrant city of immigrants. In the nearby Silicon Valley, recent research shows that nonwhites, many of them immigrants, are now the majority.
What does this influx of immigrants, many of them Asian, mean to the surrounding communities?
This spring, Wei Li, an assistant professor of geography and Asian American studies at the University of Connecticut, is in the Silicon Valley to examine the development of ethnoburbs. Li describes the neighborhoods as multi-racial and multi-ethnic suburbs that have emerged in recent decades and typically contain both business and residential areas and many immigrant-owned businesses.
According to Li, the ethnic minorities living in ethnoburbs tend to have more economic power, education and income than their counterparts in traditional ethnic enclaves like Chinatown, where residents tend to have a lower socio-economic status.
"Ethnoburbs are altering demographic composition, business practices and social relations in suburbia," Li says. "They challenge the dominant view that assimilation is inevitable and the best solution for minorities."
Li's Silicon Valley research is an outgrowth of her earlier work in the Los Angeles area. There, Li examined the growth of ethnoburbs in the San Gabriel Valley, parts of which are commonly referred to as the Chinese area of Los Angeles. In later research, Li and her colleagues analyzed the residential mortgage lending patterns of minority and mainstream banks in the San Gabriel Valley, examined the density of Asian-American banks in the Valley and explored the ways in which Asian-American and Latino banks facilitated the development of ethnoburbs.
In her current research, Li intends to trace the evolution of ethnoburbs in the Bay Area and evaluate their current situations. In addition, she will compare Silicon Valley's ethnoburbs to those in Los Angeles and New York, and examine the role of Chinese banks in the ethnoburbs' formation.
Li chose to focus her current research on the Silicon Valley because of the area's large Asian Pacific Islander population. According to 1990 census data, this group accounts for 26.6 percent of the total population in Santa Clara County -- a much higher percentage than in the majority of metropolitan areas. Moreover, the high-tech industries in Silicon Valley represent the future for the U.S. economy. Li's study will contribute to the comprehension of the impact of the workforce's changing composition on local communities, which has been largely overlooked.
Li's research is also important to understanding the development of ethnoburbs and their place in society.
"With escalating racial and class conflict and new concerns over immigration, we must understand ethnic minority groups, evaluate their contributions and problems, and search for the meaning of new forms of ethnic settlement to American society," Li says.