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Day 1 - TRENDS

Quincy’s Asian-American community is growing, changing

By KAREN ESCHBACHER
The Patriot Ledger

QUINCY — In 1980, Quincy’s Asian-American community numbered 750, hardly making a blip when census counters tallied the city’s population.

By 2000, the year the last federal census was conducted, the population had swelled to more than 13,500 - and that figure does not include the unknown number of residents who did not fill out federal forms because of language barriers, a desire to remain hidden or various other reasons.

While no one expects the Asian-American community to continue growing at the same rate, it is all but guaranteed to get bigger.

“The likelihood is that the population (increase) will, in fact, continue,” said Paul Watanabe, co-director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. “You’re seeing some of the more tangible results of that. You’re seeing businesses being established, the second and third large Asian supermarkets are going into Quincy. You’re seeing an expansion of restaurants. You have some talk about some political representation.”

New people are moving in, but just as importantly, those who already live here are staying. The home ownership rate among Quincy Asian-Americans is more than 50 percent, slightly higher than the population as a whole, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Among Chinese-Americans specifically, the home ownership rate is even higher, at 65 percent.

Adam T.F. Wong works for CityView Real Estate on Billings Road. He said some Asian-Americans will rent for five to 11 years, saving up enough for a down payment. While some move on to other suburbs, many want to stay in Quincy for access to the MBTA, a good school system, a relatively safe environment and an already existing network of other Asian-Americans, he said.

“People here are friendly,” said Wong, who also lives in the city. “Asian people like to stay in the friendly community.”

As Quincy’s Asian-American community grows, it is also changing. Aside from becoming more diverse, with a growing number of immigrants hailing from Vietnam, India and other countries, the majority Chinese population is also shifting.

While many newcomers two decades ago came from Hong Kong or Taiwan, today, most are from mainland China, said Kao T. Li, executive director of Quincy Asian Resources Inc.

“People have stopped coming from Hong Kong and Taiwan because, if you’re educated, you can do better staying and working in Hong Kong and Taiwan than coming to America, where it’s an uphill battle,” Li said.

Specifically, many new arrivals are from Fujian (also called Fukien), a mountainous region across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan. That trend is not only seen in Quincy, but across the country.

No one keeps count of the number of Fujianese (or Fukiense) in Quincy, but several people interviewed said there has been a noticeable increase in the community in recent years.

When David Zou emigrated from Fujian in 1981, he figures there were probably less than 100 people from the province in all of Greater Boston. Now, he said, most new Asian-American homeowners in Quincy are Fujianese.

“The Fujian people, it’s growing,” said Zou, who is also a board member of Quincy Asian Resources Inc. “Five or 10 years, probably the majority of the Chinese will be from Fujian.”

He said that’s in part because the province’s location near the sea has always made the allure of travel strong. And as more people leave, others feel increasingly compelled to follow, especially when they hear tales of the dream life available in America, Zou said.

Many do not have a strong financial foundation once they get here.

“They’re a lot poorer because that part of the country is poverty-stricken, a lot of farms,” said Kent Yee, a community police officer assigned to North Quincy who has seen an uptick in the number of Fujianese in the city. “It’s similar to Vietnam. There’s people all over the place but there’s no work for them.”

In fact, the State Department lists Fujian Province as one of the prime places where illegal immigrants hail from. No one will even venture to guess how many illegal immigrants might be living in Quincy.

Yee said he’s “sure there is” an illegal population, but said the police department won’t usually inquire about immigration status unless there is a crime.

He said Fujianese residents are often the ones found in homes that have been illegally converted into rooming houses. Inside, each door will contain a separate lock, and sometimes whole families will live in one bedroom, he said.

“It’s houses that are bought by Asian businessmen who had the opportunity to purchase a house and they take care of their own,” he said. “They rent to Fukienese.”

The Fujianese either speak a local dialect or Mandarin, the official language of China.

When asked how new immigrants from regions like Fujian differ from those who arrived a decade ago from Hong Kong, Li cited education. Hong Kong has a sophisticated British education system, something rural villages lack.

He said that change could theoretically pose new challenges.

“You have a population that does not have a strong educational base, many of them don’t read Chinese,” Li said. “They are illiterate even in Chinese. They can speak the language but they don’t read well. If you are trying to educate them about issues that are important and to get them involved in a civic process, that’s a stretch.”

Karen Eschbacher may be reached at keschbacher@ledger.com.

 

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