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The Changs Next Door to the Díazes

The Changs Next Door to the Díazes: Remapping Race in Suburban California

Wendy Cheng
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
  • Book Info
    The Changs Next Door to the Díazes
    Book Description:

    U.S. suburbs are typically imagined to be predominantly white communities, but this is increasingly untrue in many parts of the country. Examining a multiracial suburb that is decidedly nonwhite, Wendy Cheng unpacks questions of how identity-especially racial identity-is shaped by place. She offers an in-depth portrait, enriched by nearly seventy interviews, of the San Gabriel Valley, not far from downtown Los Angeles, where approximately 60 percent of residents are Asian American and more than 30 percent are Latino. At first glance, the cities of the San Gabriel Valley look like stereotypical suburbs, but almost no one who lives there is white.

    The Changs Next Door to the Díazesreveals how a distinct culture is being fashioned in, and simultaneously reshaping, an environment of strip malls, multifamily housing, and faux Mediterranean tract homes. Informed by her interviews as well as extensive analysis of three episodic case studies, Cheng argues that people's daily experiences-in neighborhoods, schools, civic organizations, and public space-deeply influence their racial consciousness. In the San Gabriel Valley, racial ideologies are being reformulated by these encounters. Cheng views everyday landscapes as crucial terrains through which racial hierarchies are learned, instantiated, and transformed. She terms the process "regional racial formation," through which locally accepted racial orders and hierarchies complicate and often challenge prevailing notions of race.

    There is a place-specific state of mind here, Cheng finds. Understanding the processes of racial formation in the San Gabriel Valley in the contemporary moment is important in itself but also has larger value as a model for considering the spatial dimensions of racial formation and the significant demographic shifts taking place across the national landscape.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4026-7
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Population Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Theorizing Regional Racial Formation
    (pp. 1-22)

    Laura Aguilar, a forty-seven-year-old¹ Chicana artist living in Los Angeles’s West San Gabriel Valley (SGV), can trace her family back five generations in the area, since before the U.S. conquest of Alta California. In 2007, when I interviewed her for the research that would eventually become this book, she recounted family stories of bandit-hidden treasure, recalled memories of her grandfather working as a caretaker for Texaco among oil wells in the hills, and described patches of land along the Rio Hondo that used to be all strawberry fields. She fondly recalled picnicking with her mother and siblings at the San...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Not “For Caucasians Only”: Race, Property, and Homeownership
    (pp. 23-62)

    One summer afternoon not long ago, Milo Alvarez, a thirty-seven-year-old, fourth-generation Mexican American who grew up in Alhambra, went for a drive in the Monterey Park hills with a friend, also Mexican American. His friend, who was not familiar with the area, wanted to look at a house that was for sale. As Milo tells it, when they arrived at the house,

    there were these Japanese guys over there. I knew they were Japanese ’cause most of the old guys of that generation, they dress a certain way…. And [one of them] grabs a flyer and tells my friend, oh...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “The Asian and Latino Thing in Schools”: Academic Achievement and Racialized Privilege
    (pp. 63-90)

    In the spring of 2005, Alhambra High received the Title I Academic Achievement Award, which recognizes schools with low-income student populations that have made progress in closing the achievement gap.² Principal Russell Lee-Sung arranged a meeting with student government leaders to announce the good news. One of the students present at the meeting was Robin Zhou, an inquisitive, first-generation Chinese American senior, who began to wonder why this gap—a persistent discrepancy in test scores and grade point averages between Alhambra’s Asian American and Latina/o students—existed in the first place. The results of his speculations ran in Robin’s monthly...

  7. CHAPTER 3 “Just Like Any Other Boy”? Race and the San Gabriel Valley Boy Scouts of America
    (pp. 91-128)

    Boy Scout Troop 252 was chartered in 1922, when the West San Gabriel Valley (SGV) municipality that hosted it was a newly incorporated, semirural town on the outskirts of Los Angeles—still decades away from becoming the even sprawl of strip malls, faux-Mediterranean townhomes, and aging 1950s subdivisions it is today. A 1928 photograph of the troop depicts fourteen white-looking adolescent boys and two men clustered around a Rose Bowl float decorated with an American flag made of flowers. The boys are solemn-faced, their hands raised crisply to their foreheads in the scout salute.³ Fast-forward eighty years to a Troop...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Diversity on Main Street: Civic Landscapes and Historical Geographies of Race
    (pp. 129-170)

    Driving north toward Alhambra’s Main Street on Garfield Boulevard in the summer of 2006, soon enough you would see a banner featuring a sedate blond white woman with blue eyes and black-rimmed glasses (Figure 11). She was a prominent face of Alhambra City Council’s “diversity” campaign, a face that, unlike the vast majority of Alhambra’s population, looked neither Latina/o nor Asian. In the early twenty-first-century United States, how should we read such a scene, in which a young white woman is touted as an official representative of diversity? The banner encapsulated a particular set of struggles over race and ethnicity...

  9. CHAPTER 5 SGV Dreamgirl: Interracial Intimacies and the Production of Place
    (pp. 171-196)

    In the late 2000s, the local street-wear brand called “SGV” produced a T-shirt, which they called “SGV dreamgirl,” featuring a black-and-white image of an attractive, dark-haired and dark-eyed woman, overlaid with the repeating three-letter brand logo (Figure 19). The website catalog description of the shirt read, “meet your dreamgirl; she’s half Asian, half Latina.” The T-shirt, along with several others designed by Paul Chan and produced and distributed by Chan and a “motley crew” of skateboarding buddies turned business partners who had grown up in the area, evoked an explicitly multiracial, Asian American and Latina/o place identity.¹ Other T-shirts produced...

  10. CONCLUSION: How Localized Knowledges Travel
    (pp. 197-212)

    In the decades after World War II, channeled by systemic patterns of housing discrimination that steered them away from more exclusively white areas but valorized them relative to would-be African American homeowners, Asian Americans and Latinas/os became neighbors in the West San Gabriel Valley (SGV). In these communities, they forged friendships, especially as youths, and practiced a moral geography of differentiated space. Compared to whites, who fled the area en masse, an expectation and acceptance of difference rather than sameness kept Asian Americans and Latinas’/os’ numbers relatively stable during a rapid influx of ethnic Chinese immigrants to the region that...

  11. APPENDIX: Cognitive Maps of Race, Place, and Region
    (pp. 213-220)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 221-256)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-274)
  14. Index
    (pp. 275-286)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-287)