In this episode, we discuss how myths of suburbia, the American West, and the American Dream informed regional planning, suburban design, and ideas about race and belonging in California’s East San Gabriel Valley as found in James Zarsadiaz’s debut monograph Resisting Change in Suburbia: Asian Immigrants and Frontier Nostalgia in L.A. Published by the University of California Press in October 2022, Resisting Change in Suburbia recently won the Organization of American Historians' Lawrence W. Levine Award, which is an honor acknowledging the year’s best book in American cultural history.
Throughout the six chapters, Zarsadiaz illustrates the demographic transitions of the suburbs making up the East San Gabriel Valley from the 1960s through the 1990s and how these communities, despite racial and class differences, sought to protect their connections to a perceived ideal of country living away from LA’s ever-expanding metropolitan center. Zarsadiaz constructs the region’s history of settlement, quite literally, from the ground up by taking us through the development of master plans neighborhoods emulating a rural suburban American experience such as Phillips Ranch and Rowland Heights, to the regulations on architectural aesthetics following the arrival of Asian residents found in Chino Hills and Walnut, to the dueling narratives of whether to incorporate or not incorporate found in Hacienda Heights and Diamond Bar. In short, Resisting Change in Suburbia “serves a window into the mindset, perspectives, and lives of typically upwardly mobile suburbanites” (15) of the East San Gabriel Valley and how the suburbs they lived in “grappled with spatial, demographic, and political change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries” (4-5).
Donna Doan Anderson (she/her) is a PhD candidate in History and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.