In an article published in Boom: A Journal of California, David Lee reports that San Francisco is “becoming too expensive for many Asians.” Namely, the working class Chinese.
Lee calls San Francisco “America’s most important Chinese city,” a claim he backs with the facts that we have a Chinese American mayor, board of supervisors, and president of the school board, that 18% of our registered voters are Asian, 40% of our small businesses are owned and operated by Asian Americans, and many of our property investors are Chinese (not Chinese American) buyers. Yet, he states, the city’s new wealth and opportunities are not being shared with most of the Asian population living here. Lee focuses on Clement Street, a commercial strip in the Richmond District that is mostly run by and caters to the area’s dense Chinese population. He says the city’s changing economy and demographic are altering the street. He writes, “One sees more white young people and fewer small Chinese shops and shopkeepers that cater to working-class Chinese … Clement Street is losing its Chinese character, even as the streets are full of the city’s Chinese, young and old.”
Lee notes that the Chinese in SF have dealt with displacement before. In the 1850s, Chinese immigrants were restricted to live in the area we now know as Chinatown, which later spread west to the Richmond and Sunset Districts. But these days, there’s no new place within San Francisco to move, and “middle- and lower-income Chinese Americans may be responding to the city’s affordability crisis by having fewer babies or by moving to the suburbs.” In 2012, the San Francisco Chronicle reported findings from the 2010 Census that show the Asian American population grew faster than any other ethnic group in the Bay Area in the past decade. SF’s population, according to the census, is 35.8% Asian American and 21.4% Chinese, which the Chronicle attributes to the abundance of tech jobs. The same article, though, reports that nearby Daly City had the largest growth of Asian Americans, but fails to explain why: affordability. It’s cheaper to live in the suburbs, especially for those with a family, and not all Asians are highly skilled workers with tech jobs. There’s a huge population of Asian Americans who work service jobs and run small businesses, along with a variety of other working class professions who just can’t afford to live here anymore.
As Lee notes, there is no new official demographic data since the 2010 Census, but it will be interesting (and probably sad) to see the results of the next census in 2020, when we’ll really be able to see how the economy has affected San Francisco’s working class Asian population.