The San Gabriel Valley's Asian-Majority Cities Would Be Split Up Under This Redistricting Plan
In the 50 years since immigrants from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan began settling en masse in the San Gabriel Valley, this swath of suburbia east of Los Angeles has become synonymous with Asian eateries and shops. It’s also turned into a base of Asian American political power.
From the San Gabriel Valley came the first Chinese American woman mayor and the first Chinese American woman to join Congress. Ten cities in the region are now Asian-majority, with civic leaders who reflect the population and wield political clout they say was years in the making.
Now some of those same leaders are warning that a redistricting reshuffle could undo their hard work.
A proposal before the state redistricting commission would redraw two congressional districts currently represented by Judy Chu and Young Kim. Critics say the move would significantly reduce the percentage of Asian Americans in those districts and diminish their voting power regionally.
The plan arrives at a time when Asian Americans are in urgent need of strong representation in Congress, said Nancy Yap, executive director of the Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment (CAUSE).
“With all that's happening with anti-Asian hate and COVID-19, and the impact that it’s had [on businesses] in the area, having that community together is meaningful,” Yap said.
CAUSE is among the dozens of Asian American civic organizations and leaders who have been blasting the proposed changes since a draft map came out Nov. 10.
- In west San Gabriel Valley, Asian-majority cities in what is currently the 27th Congressional District represented by Democrat Chu, the country’s first Asian American female congressmember, would be split up. Alhambra, Monterey Park and Rosemead would be moved away from Arcadia, San Gabriel, San Marino, and Temple City to their north and grouped instead with predominantly-Latino cities to their east such as El Monte and Baldwin Park. Yap said the Asian voting population in the 27th district would fall from 38% to 31%.
- In east San Gabriel Valley, Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights and Walnut are currently in the 39th Congressional District served by Kim, a Republican, and spans Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. The current redistricting plan would separate those San Gabriel Valley cities from Orange County cities with large Asian American populations — Buena Park and Fullerton — and place them with Latino-majority Gateway Cities such as Norwalk and Whittier. The drop in the Asian American voting population would be even more dramatic, going from 33% to 21%, Yap said.
Yap added that what happens with the redistricting in the San Gabriel Valley has ramifications for the entire country, noting that Chu and Kim advocate for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders nationally.
"They have been not just California's representatives,” said Yap, “but also for the areas across the country who aren't able to get those numbers or vote for people who understand the Asian and Pacific Islander experience and lens.”
Yap and other coalition members are trying to make themselves heard ahead of a Dec. 27 state deadline to approve new redistricting maps.
The redrawing of congressional districts is part of a nationwide process that happens every 10 years after the census has been taken.
In California, a group of 14 private citizens is charged with producing new congressional and state legislative maps that account for population changes to ensure districts are as equal in size as possible, while also considering ties between “communities of interest" such as shared school systems or cultural points of interest.
Linda Akutagawa, a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, said while “the draft maps are currently breaking up, unfortunately, the San Gabriel Valley, we have been hearing, fortunately, lots of feedback from the community.”
Akutagawa, who heads a non-profit that promotes Asian American Pacific Islander leadership, and another commissioner, Angela Vázquez, a policy director at a non-profit focused on child welfare, have long-standing ties to the San Gabriel Valley. Both expressed willingness during a public meeting earlier this month to taking Alhambra, Monterey Park and Rosemead out of their current district.
“They have pretty varied interests from the higher-income Foothill communities that they're currently districted in,“ said Vázquez, citing the affluent cities of Pasadena and Sierra Madre.
Akutagawa agreed with Vázquez’s points, noting during the meeting that her own father lives in Rosemead and has more in common with other working-class residents in the San Gabriel Valley.
“He is not wealthy,” Akutagawa said. “He is on a fixed Social Security income, very similar to many others” in Rosemead.
But others from the San Gabriel Valley reject the prospect of splitting up what they consider sister cities that are culturally and politically intertwined.
Growing up, Juily Phun lived in Monterey Park — dubbed the first suburban Chinatown — but she said home was really all of west San Gabriel Valley.
“You literally would walk across the street to go to your school in Rosemead, or walk across the street and go shop in Alhambra, or go down the street to go to the [San Gabriel Mission Playhouse] for one of the plays happening there,” Phun said.
Phun has the added perspective of teaching Asian American studies at California State University, Los Angeles, and understanding the “literal blood, sweat and tears” that went into coalition-building among Asian American civic groups striving for representation in the San Gabriel Valley.
“It feels very personal,” Phun said of the current redistricting proposal, “because not only is it my home, my region, my votes that they're declaring null if they divide us, but it's also the fact the people I trusted to represent me [don’t.]”
Akutagawa, the redistricting commissioner, said in an interview that the maps are still drafts and that the panel will accept public feedback through December. She encourages anyone who lives and works in the San Gabriel Valley to give notes to the commission, while keeping in mind that some changes must be made to keep populations in each district even.
“Don't just say you don't like the maps,” Akutagawa urged. “Tell us what you don't like, but also tell us what would you want to see change.”