Elite Chinese Residents in the United States Thrive in Exclusively Cultivated Neighborhods

**Shifting Settlement Patterns of the Chinese Diaspora**

*The Changing Landscape of Chinese Immigration*

The Chinese diaspora, consisting of approximately 60 million people worldwide, is characterized by its diverse origins, demographics, and settlement patterns. Recently, this diversity has been illustrated through two mass shootings that occurred during the 2023 Lunar New Year in California’s Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay. These communities are home to Chinese immigrants ranging from middle- to upper-middle-class residents to farmworkers. As researchers studying international migration, we have observed this changing landscape. In fact, one of us coined the term “ethnoburb” to describe suburban communities that consist of mixed racial and socioeconomic groups. Contrary to traditional assumptions, educated and wealthy Chinese immigrants arriving in recent decades have settled in upper- to upper-middle-class neighborhoods, challenging the notion that Chinese immigrants must first reside in urban Chinatowns before moving to the suburbs. Simultaneously, Chinese immigrants working low-wage jobs have increasingly settled in rural areas and cities that are not considered primary gateways to the United States. Chinese restaurateurs are also scattered across urban and rural areas in various countries. The evolution of these communities involves a two-way integration process, with both newer and older generations of immigrants, as well as long-term non-Chinese residents, adjusting and adapting to one another. The shifting settlement patterns of Chinese immigrants reflect changes in their profile, as well as the impact of globalization and geopolitics.

**Changing Chinatowns**

The establishment of Chinatowns can be traced back to the large-scale emigration out of China’s Guangdong province during the 19th century. Driven by poverty and oppression, Chinese immigrants sought better opportunities abroad, such as the gold rush in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., as well as railroad construction in North America. Chinatowns, with their high concentrations of Chinese residents and businesses, became the epitome of ethnic enclaves. The first Chinatown in the U.S. emerged in San Francisco in 1848 and served as a gateway and transnational hub for Chinese immigrants. As gold rush and railroad jobs dried up and anti-Chinese racism became pervasive, Chinatowns became sanctuaries for Chinese immigrants seeking protection from legal exclusion and racial violence. Over time, some Chinatowns were displaced due to urban development or violence. Racist legislation, such as the White Australia Policy and the Chinese Exclusion Acts in Canada and the U.S., severely restricted Chinese immigration, leading to the decline or disappearance of many Chinatowns. Since the repeal of these policies, the fate of Chinatowns has varied across different locations. For example, New York and San Francisco’s Chinatowns have become popular tourist attractions and gateways for new immigrants working low-wage jobs. Gentrification and international investment from Asia have led to the shrinking of Chinese communities and business districts in cities like Washington, D.C., while Chinatowns in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, have expanded into thriving neighborhoods. Some intentionally developed Chinatowns, like the one in Las Vegas, serve as commercial plazas dominated by restaurants and shops.

**Emergence of Ethnoburbs**

The emergence of a different type of immigrant community, known as ethnoburbs, can be attributed to changing immigration policies since the 1960s. Ethnoburbs are suburban settlements with multiethnic residential and business areas, where no single ethnic group constitutes a majority. Many countries implemented point systems to attract highly skilled and well-educated immigrants, evaluating applicants based on factors such as education, professional experience, and language proficiency. Economic growth in immigrants’ countries of origin allowed wealthy individuals to settle directly in the suburbs instead of urban Chinatowns. The geographic center of Chinese settlement in Los Angeles County exemplifies the development of an ethnoburb. In the first half of the 20th century, Chinese residents gradually moved away from downtown, leading to a southward shift. During the second half of the century, the center continued moving eastward as a significant number of new Chinese immigrants settled in the suburban San Gabriel Valley, marking the emergence of an ethnoburb. Each ethnoburb evolves differently due to the diverse local industries and immigrant demographics worldwide. Silicon Valley’s ethnoburbs, for instance, have developed around high-tech industries, attracting skilled and affluent Asian Americans who are highly politically engaged. Sydney’s ethnoburb, on the other hand, is characterized by multiple ethnic groups from various countries of origin, creating a “super-diverse ethnoburb.” Ethnoburbs coexist alongside Chinatowns in many countries, but they differ in terms of location, ethnic concentration, and class diversity. While ethnoburbs are racially and socioeconomically diverse, traditional ethnic enclaves tend to be more homogenous. This difference leads to greater potential for racial tensions and class conflicts in ethnoburbs. For instance, the presence of wealthy Asians in Arcadia, California, has fueled housing price increases and a boom in McMansions, causing concerns among local residents. However, the diverse nature of ethnoburbs facilitates interaction and economic ties with other groups, allowing for the establishment of political alliances. Asian Americans in Silicon Valley, for example, have formed business councils and parent associations consisting of members from multiple Asian ethnicities, displaying higher political awareness and engagement. Many ethnoburbs have taken over the role of commercial and cultural centers traditionally held by Chinatowns.

**Heterolocalism and Geopolitics**

While Chinatowns and ethnoburbs are prominent settlement patterns for Chinese immigrants, it is important to note that not all Chinese people live in these communities. Many reside in other locations, often without being surrounded by other Chinese individuals. The term “heterolocalism” was coined by geographers to describe immigrants and minorities who live in areas with less ethnic diversity while maintaining their cultural identity. The impact of geopolitical tensions on Chinese diasporas and immigration trends cannot be ignored. The rising anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes against Chinese communities amid geopolitical friction with the People’s Republic of China, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, have had far-reaching consequences. Chinese individuals have experienced backlash and racial violence in countries like the United States, Canada, and Europe. Chinese scientists face racial profiling, Chinese business owners have seen their properties vandalized, and Chinese Americans have become victims of violent attacks. Additionally, some states have implemented or proposed laws restricting or prohibiting citizens of China from purchasing properties, reminiscent of the 20th-century U.S. Alien Land Laws that targeted Asian immigrants. It is crucial to learn from the mistakes of history to ensure a fair and just society for all, including the Chinese diaspora.

In conclusion, the settlement patterns of the Chinese diaspora have undergone significant changes, reflecting the diversity of Chinese immigrants and the influence of globalization and geopolitics. Chinatowns continue to evolve, with some thriving as tourist attractions and gateways for new immigrants, while others have experienced gentrification and a decline in Chinese communities. Ethnoburbs have emerged as suburban settlements characterized by racial and socioeconomic diversity, coexisting with Chinatowns but differing in their composition and potential for conflicts. Furthermore, heterolocalism describes Chinese individuals living outside of ethnic enclaves or ethnoburbs, yet still maintaining their cultural identity. Geopolitical tensions pose challenges and risks for the Chinese diaspora, emphasizing the importance of creating inclusive and equitable societies that value diversity.

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