Racial diversity has been growing in Southern California, but it might be reaching its peak, according to a new University of Southern California analysis.
As Asian and Latino populations continue booming, cities with significant numbers of multiple races and ethnicities are increasing, especially in the suburbs outside of Los Angeles County, according to the report released yesterday by the Population Dynamics Research Group at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. Other cities, meanwhile, are losing their "racial balance" as either Latinos or Asians become dominant, the report said.
"We’re going to be in a good period for a long while here, but we may be in the heyday (of diversity) right now," said report co-author Dowell Myers. "The trend is going to be slowly to have more consolidation than we have now."
The growing diversity in the suburbs is remarkable, said Myers, who labeled San Bernardino County a "poster child" of the trend. Increases in black and Asian residents there led to three cities in the county – Highland, Loma Linda and Rancho Cucamonga – with substantial numbers of whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians.
"Usually, you get diversity in smaller places, but our mix is throughout the region," Myers said. "People aren’t fleeing away from one group or another. People are pretty comfortable with diversity."
The study looked at Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties over two decades. It found the white population has declined in nearly every city in the region, while the area's black population – the smallest of the four groups – has gradually decreased as well.
In terms of their percentage of the population, Latinos showed the most gains in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, whereas Asians grew most in Orange and Riverside counties.
But the terms Latino and Asian belie a much greater complexity, said Leo Chavez, professor of anthropology at UC Irvine.
"Neither one of those is homogenous," Chavez said. "Within them are incredibly diverse populations."
Among Latinos, he noted, the proportion with Mexican heritage is declining as those from Central and South America increase.
The study noted that the city of San Gabriel became less diverse because the white population shrank in comparison to the Asian majority there.
But City Manager Steve Preston said the city's Asian population has a wide variety of backgrounds, including Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. There's also the difference between immigrant and non-immigrant communities.
"You've got people in different phases of cultural change," Preston said. "There's no easy or simple description of these populations."
Southern California has a unique demographic mix that can't be found in New York, Chicago or the Bay Area, said Eric Avila, professor of history, Chicano studies and urban planning at UCLA. Avila calls the combination of Latino and Asian communities "distinctly a Southern California phenomenon."
"It’s producing new cultural experiences, new identities, new political alliances," Avila said.