San Gabriel Square, a large plaza with Chinese stores and restaurants, and a popular spot for Chinese families in the area. (Credit: : Los Angeles Times)
San Marino High School

The allure of San Gabriel Valley for Chinese immigrants

It is no secret that San Gabriel Valley is a mecca for Chinese families, as evidenced by the fact that schools in the area are highly populated with Chinese students. While many are second-generation Chinese whose families immigrated to the area, others have only recently moved here from China and Taiwan to study abroad.

In recent years, the new immigrant population in the 626 area has been growing at a rate exceeding that of other Los Angeles counties. This poses two important questions: Why do these immigrant families choose to leave their lives in their home countries to move to another country? And why do they choose to live in the San Gabriel Valley area? The answer can be explained in two words — American education.

In an analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California, it was revealed that immigration to California from Asia increased from 108,000 immigrants to almost 160,000 from 2010 to 2011 with the majority coming from China, Taiwan, India, the Philippines, and South Korea. This statistic is more than double the amount of Latin American immigrants to California.

The 626 area is known for cities such as Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Arcadia, and San Marino, where more than half of the population is Asian. During the late 1900’s, a wave of immigrants came from Taiwan and China to settle in this area. Now, a new wave of Chinese immigrants has moved in, leading many to wonder what aspects of San Gabriel Valley is so attractive to the Chinese immigrants.

San Marino High School, a public high school in San Gabriel Valley. (Credit: SMHS)

To get some perspective on the matter, I talked to two Chinese immigrant students who currently attend San Marino High School. The first, who wishes to remain unnamed, moved to America from Shanghai in 2012. Her parents believed that the United States education system that allows students to learn what they are interested in would be better for their children than the “spoon-fed” education in China. After hearing from her mother’s friend about San Gabriel Valley, her family planned their move to Arcadia. Later however, they decided to relocate to San Marino, attracted by its pleasant environment.

When asked about the differences between her school life in China and the United States, she commented, “[High school classes] in China consisted of classmates in one classroom unlike America, where you go to one class after the next. Everybody in each class is different. In China, you have a fixed circle of friends.”

Next, I interviewed Christy Li, another student at San Marino High School, who moved to San Marino from China in the summer of 2013. Her parents wanted her to receive an American education and during a visit to California, thought that the weather was nice. After researching public schools in Los Angeles, her mother discovered San Marino High School and soon after, Li was packing her bags and moving to San Marino.

Concerning her school life in the United States, Li said, “I don’t get much stress here in school and I think that the people here are polite and nice. Students here are more creative and confident, but the students in China have to worry about their grades.”

In interviewing these two students, I was more able to understand the perspective of Chinese immigrants. Leaving family, friends, and loved ones behind is never easy. But to these Chinese immigrants, the sacrifice is worth it because America holds the key to an educational experience that is hard to find in China. While Chinese schools place importance on academic achievements and test scores, American schools allow for more creativity and recreation. As opposed to the rather rigid education system in China, the free-thinking education of the United States appeals greatly to families in China.

Chinese families that consider moving to America find themselves wondering which area to move to. To decide, they turn to family, friends, or even the Internet. Many families that have ended up in the San Gabriel Valley were drawn in by the friendly environment, pleasant weather, and most importantly, high-performing school districts.

For these reasons, thousands of Chinese families are uprooting their lives in China and Taiwan, and moving to the San Gabriel Valley. This marks a new era of change in the area, and we should join together as a community to help them assimilate into society the same way Chinese immigrants did decades ago.