Even with Irvine’s diverse mix of cultures, some residents feel they don’t ‘fit’

By Anh Do

The Woodbury Town Center in Irvine looks like so many other sparkling new shopping villages in suburban California with its Trader Joe’s, HomeGoods, Home Depot framed by swaying palm trees and Spanish tile.

As customers make their way through the outdoor mall, the words they leave in their wake are less uniform: Arabic, Tagalog, Hindi, Cantonese, Korean.

In a region known for its cultural mix, Irvine stands apart. It is more Asian than white, affluent and booming — its population now surpassing 250,000 as it continues to be an economic powerhouse of Orange County.

The master-planned city has become synonymous with a certain kind of lifestyle, a magnet for high-achieving families of all races and backgrounds looking for the best public schools for their children and safe, immaculate neighborhoods for themselves.

But even in this haven that residents call “a mini-United Nations,” diversity sometimes brings strain.

For recent immigrants, it can be hard to fit into the Irvine ideal. Some feel self-conscious about their heavy accents, while others talk about encounters with the occasional longtime resident who resents the influx of Asians and other immigrants.

For white residents of Irvine, the boom has brought much to like — rising home values, stellar test scores and an explosion of ethnic restaurants, cultural celebrations and retail spaces that have brought international sophistication to a place once known as cookie-cutter suburbia.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times