Five ways to engage Chinese immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley

Photo by Nathan Solis1Photo by Nathan Solis


The San Gabriel Valley is home to a growing number of Chinese immigrants. Monterey Park is now more than two-thirds Chinese along with more than half of San Gabriel, Alhambra, and San Marino, China Press reports. But while the Asian population continues to grow nationwide — it’s the fastest growing ethnic group in the country according to the Pew Research Center —a new study from Brown University shows that the community is still just as segregated from whites in Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas as they were 20 years ago.

Photo by Nathan Solis

I believe this segregation is a problem, especially for social and health organizations in the San Gabriel Valley that are trying to reach the Chinese community. The word “outreach” is a combination of the words  “out” and “reach.” To engage new immigrants, we must go “out” and “reach” them in their comfort zone.

As an immigrant myself who works closely and cross-culturally with immigrants as a court interpreter, I pay close attention to how Chinese and Asian immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley consume media. Here are five ways policy makers and community organizations can better connect with them.

1. Jump on to China’s social media
There are no Twitter or Facebook feeds in China due to the country’s censorship laws, but Chinese versions of these sites do exist. Take Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. With more than 500 million users, the microblogging site has attracted Asian residents and immigrants alike who use the site to communicate with friends, exchange news, and stay connected. Follow the conversation!

2. Go mobile
With the rise of mobile technology, many Southern California residents have a smartphone these days, including new immigrants. In fact, since they often have to move from place to place, new immigrants may rely on their smartphone as their primary way of accessing the internet. Making your information mobile-compatible is a smart way of ensuring they will be able to reach it. Try creating a mobile site or smartphone app.

3. Chat it up
Most smartphone users in China are sending instant messages to their friends and family on WeChat. The mobile chat application is also very popular with Chinese immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley. WeChat’s most distinguishing feature is its ability to search for nearby users. You can run a search anywhere in San Gabriel Valley and find hundreds of WeChat users in the area. WeChat also offers a “channel” feature to broadcast to thousands of young immigrants in the community at once.

A mini-mall on Valley Boulevard | Photo by Payton Chung from Flickr

4. Get some face time
While online engagement is important, don’t forget about the impact of in-person interactions. Try heading to local ethnic supermarkets and shopping centers during the evenings or weekends to talk to immigrants out for some shopping or dining. Check out 99 Ranch Supermarket in San Gabriel or the Yogurtland plaza in Alhambra to start.

5. Learn some Chinese
Or at least have a translator on hand. You don’t want important ideas getting lost in translation. Nothing ruins an outreach campaign more than looking unprepared, or worse, disrespectful. If you’re working on a social or health issue, try reaching out to local Chinese or Asian organizations for help.

With a combination of these strategies, you can reach new immigrants, both young and old, rich and poor.


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When I first moved to SGV, I was surprised to be turned away at a few businesses that seemed to only cater to Chinese people. Sometimes, this was because they did not speak English, and I clearly am not Asian. But, other times, they spoke English as their 2nd generation Asian American clients did, but they simply did not prefer to serve non-Asians, it appeared. For example, a hair salon turned me away, indicating that they did not speak English. I made an appointment at a different, well-rated hair salon. Since they have many Chinese clients who don't speak Chinese since they were born here to immigrant parents who spoke both Chinese and English, they didn't know by the phone call that I was not Chinese. I showed up, and they tried to turn me away. I insisted that I had an appointment. They asked the hairdresser if he would take me, pointing to me. He agreed hesitatingly. I loved his work. I went back a few times. To break the ice, I indicated that I had a Chinese boyfriend with a prestigious position and advanced degree. He was impressed but still very quiet. After the third or fourth visit, he began to ask me about me, talking to me as though I were a regular client, and joking with me. This surprised and delighted me. I got through the first few uncomfortable visits because of the quality of his work, and now I feel as though I'm a valued customer. I don't know the reason for my initial near rejection, but I am glad I persisted. I would say that it's important for Asian run businesses to be welcoming to all races and cultures to avoid giving the impression that they are racist. I don't know whether there are any racist attitudes at this salon. It may simply be that there is a shyness or distrust of non-Asians, a greater comfort with similar looking people, a preference for working with Asian hair, or something else. Also, in my affluent neighborhood, Asians who have been here for decades and who are well educated welcome me, especially when I mention my boyfriend. They relax when they realize I'm well accepted by a prestigious Asian in their neighborhood. Are they concerned about prejudice or cultural differences? I don't know, but I just accept their friendship and promote it as though they are any other person. I do find that many of my Asian friends tend to have amoral values compared to many of my nonAsian friends, but some are more moral than others. So, it does disturb me when some of my Asian friends try to game the system or get unfair advantage. But, not all are like that. And, some of my Asian clients, frankly, are not that hard working academically and expect their money to trump hard work when engaging my professional services to help them with college admissions. I have started to only accept clients who can prove their past hard work and accomplishments to me because it takes too much time to try to get those who don't work hard to do what it takes to get good college admissions. I don't buy into the stereotypes of Asians or non-Asians because in my experience they are not dependable and I would never want to be limited by someone else's stereotypes.

I understand both sides of the equation.

1) Asian immigrants, and particularly Chinese, are very very different than a "native American".

2) They add value in different ways. Other groups may be more friendly, but also more harmful as well. Chinese stay out of trouble, stimulate the economy, and most importantly - invest large sums of money from overseas. They may not ever participate in PTA or Little League, but their kids are going to UCLA.

Pros vs. Cons of every group. Even us "native American" *cough* whites have pros & cons.

Look at all these generalizations. I just love my neighbors. Also, "native" Americans? Really? White Americans are not indigenous to America and should not be considered "original" Americans.

Don't know about you, but if I was a new immigrant and couldn't speak English, I would not feel very welcomed at PTA meetings. A few weeks ago, I was the only Asian American at a concert in a local guitar shop. A white woman cut me in line and would not stop staring at me. I was born in the San Gabriel Valley and grew up here, yet at times I still feel alienated from my community. Imagine how much worse it is for immigrants. We definitely need to make our community more open and accessible. I think the suggestions listed in the article are alright, but there still needs to be ways to reach working class Chinese immigrants. They're increasingly living in the suburbs instead of Chinatown/East LA and many of them aren't the most tech savvy.

Why don't the these immigrants attempt to smile or say hello to the natives of their new home? I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to engage these people and have been rudely ignored or worse.

Folks, if you are moving to a new country, at least make an attempt to integrate somehow, OK?

With that attitude, even I wouldn't smile at you. Many immigrants don't feel comfortable or accepted as new residents. Maybe instead of forcing them to assimilate, you can try to make that connection by getting to know your Chinese American neighbors.

They are uninvited guests to this country. They are the ones who need to make the effort, not me. Sorry.

Dan Bednarski

Please remember your humanity. "Uninvited guests" is the kind of term reserved for burglars, roaches, and other pests, not neighbors. If a person is here legally -- the vast majority are -- then they are clearly invited and if they're residents or hold long-term visas then they're beyond guests. Regardless, you are in the minority of people who feel compelled to treat our neighbors as less-than-human and show your true colors with mean comments.
That aside, we should all make an effort to smile and greet each other with pleasantries. Lest, we all turn bitter and mean.

@Janey, you're a perfect example of this country's manifest destiny and why this country is dysfunctional.

I would have to agree with the above comment: the kids of immigrants are definitely involved in the community. It shouldn't be the jobs of whites or any other native to engage immigrants in the community. They need to learn how to take the initiative.

"a new study from Brown University shows that the community is still just as segregated from whites in Los Angeles ..."

Only segregated from whites? Only whites?

I find the kids of the immigrants are very involved in the community.

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