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  • Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America
  • Thomas D. Boswell (bio)
Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America, by Wei Li. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2009. Xvii + 214 pp. $56.00 cloth. ISBN: 978-0-8248-3065-6.

This book provides a new model for the analysis of ethnic and racial settlement patterns in the United States. It develops the concept the author terms "ethnoburb." These are suburban ethnic clusters of residential and business areas that are multicultural, multilingual, and often multinational communities in which one ethnic group has a significant concentration but does not necessarily constitute a majority. Li documents the processes that have evolved with the spatial transformations of the Chinese American community of Los Angeles (LA) and that have converted the San Gabriel Valley into "ethnoburbs" in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Li notes that traditional ethnic and immigrant settlements have customarily been described in the ethnic literature as being ghettos or enclaves. Ghettos are areas of forced ethnic or racial segregation, small in scale, located in the inner cities, with few ethnically owned businesses, mainly inward looking in terms of community interactions, and often poor. Enclaves can be characterized as either forced or voluntary segregation, located in either inner cities or the suburbs, and mainly inward looking in terms of their community relations. However, enclaves do have ethnically owned businesses, but these concentrate on services and labor-intensive enterprises. "Ethnoburbs," on the other hand, are strictly voluntary areas of ethnic concentration, are located in suburbs, contain ethnic-owned businesses of all types, with much internal diversity in terms of both ethnicity and socioeconomic class, and their constituents interact both within the local community and externally with the rest of the city and country, as well as internationally.

The central thesis of Li's book is that traditional descriptions of the Chinese community in LA's San Gabriel Valley as being another Chinatown are erroneous. [End Page 305] LA's Chinatown, located downtown, is more properly described as an ethnic enclave, whereas the Chinese concentration in the San Gabriel Valley is a more prosperous, more diverse, and lower-density suburban "ethnoburb." Through comprehensive interviews with local residents and business owners and analysis of census data and data from other sources, Li is able to provide an expert analysis of the evolution of LA's newer Chinese American communities, with a concentration on the San Gabriel Valley.

Li suggests that what she has found with respect to the Chinese "ethnoburb" in the metropolitan area of LA has transfer value in explaining certain types of ethnic concentrations in other cities, such as San Francisco, New York City, Vancouver, and Toronto. It also might apply to concentrations of some other Asian groups, such as Koreans and Indians.

This book contains eight chapters. The first is a review of the literature dealing with the concepts of ethnicity and space. The second expands on Li's concept of "ethnoburb" as an alternative to thinking in terms of only ghettos and enclaves. Chapters 3–7 explain the specific development of the Chinese "ethnoburb" in LA's San Gabriel Valley. The final chapter brings together the diverse elements of the "ethnoburb" concept and speculates about its applicability to other areas and groups and as a general theoretical construct.

This book should be considered a "must read" by any geographer seriously interested in race and ethnicity. Li's development of the concept of "ethnoburbs" is sure to inspire many studies in the future, as it provides a new way of viewing middle-and upper-class immigrants moving to the United States and other developed countries, free from the more restrictive concepts of ghetto and enclave that have often been used to describe immigrant behavior and characteristics.

Thomas D. Boswell
University of Miami
Thomas D. Boswell

Thomas Boswell is professor of geography in the Department of Geography and Regional Studies at the University of Miami, Florida. He has written widely about the immigration of Hispanics to the United States and has concentrated particularly on Hispanics and other minorities living in South Florida. He is the author or a co-author of five books and more than 50 articles...


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