Census shows Bellevue becoming a cultural crossroads
Bellevue and other Eastside cities are growing increasingly diverse, but just how diverse might be a surprise to some who still think of those communities as white and well off.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Bellevue's increasing diversity
|Race 2010 Census||2000 Census|
|Asian or Pacific Islander 28%||18%|
|Mixed or other race 4%||3%|
Bellevue has a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at its library, and an office for an East Indian consulate is in the works.
The city's Crossroads neighborhood has "a mosque, temple and Christian churches right here in one little nook," said the Rev. Tom Belleque of St. Louise Catholic Church. "When they named this area Crossroads, they didn't know how appropriate it would be."
As anyone might have guessed, Bellevue and other Eastside cities are growing increasingly diverse, but just how diverse might be a surprise to some who still think of those communities as white and well off.
The 2010 census data show that 40.8 percent of Bellevue's population are minorities, up from 28.2 percent 10 years ago. And every neighborhood in Bellevue has at least 20 percent minority representation.
By contrast, Seattle's minority population rose only slightly, from 32 to almost 34 percent during the past 10 years, and some of its neighborhoods — Ballard, Magnolia and Alki among them — have fewer than 20 percent minority residents.
The affluent Somerset area in Bellevue is a pocket of diversity where more than 38 percent of the population is Asian. Crossroads residents are 64 percent minority.
Immigration certainly plays a role in the increase in Bellevue's minority population, said Bellevue demographer Gwen Rousseau.
According to a 2009 city survey, 30 percent of Bellevue's population was foreign-born. Among those, 42.9 percent, or more than 16,000, entered the U.S. in 2000 or later.
Often, immigrants move to Bellevue and the Eastside after they've arrived to work at Microsoft or other local tech companies.
Asians are the largest minority group in Bellevue. Sixty-eight percent of Asians who are employed in Bellevue work in management or professional occupations, compared with 60 percent of the employed whites and 21 percent of the employed Hispanics. About half of the employed Hispanics work in the service industry, according to a city survey a few years ago.
The change hasn't just been in Bellevue. Redmond's minority population has just about doubled since 2000, from 10,663 to 21,095. Now, about 39 percent of the city's residents are minorities, up from 24 percent 10 years ago.
And minorities now comprise 25 percent of Bothell's population, compared with 15 percent in 2000.
Schools are a draw
So what is it about the Eastside that's attracting minorities?
The quality of the schools is a draw for Eastside neighborhoods, Rousseau said. The June 2010, U.S. News & World Report ranked Bellevue School District's International School 10th in the nation and Newport and Bellevue high schools were within the top 100. And Newsweek ranked five schools in Bellevue within its top 100.
That's sure to be important to many of the engineers and other high-tech workers who get recruited by Microsoft and other local companies, says Rousseau.
And once members of a particular community move to a certain area, others often follow, especially as ethnic restaurants and religious and community centers come along.
"Once people start living in an area the concentration starts," Rousseau said.
That's true whether the influx is from another country, another state or just from elsewhere in Washington.
Two years ago, a group of Sikhs who lived on the Eastside and were tired of making the commute to temples in Renton or Marysville to worship banded together and built a center for worship in Bothell.
Now some 400 to 500 families attend, with most living within 10 miles of the center, said Jas Winder Singh, one of the members. There are a number of reasons for the community growth, he said. He said there's a large Sikh population in British Columbia, and he knows many people who have moved from California to the Eastside to be closer to relatives there.
That, in turn, draws others — especially families with older relatives who want to be near a Sikh center to feel more at home, said Singh, who lives near Bothell.
"If I am moving to the U.S. I try to find relatives or friends," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing I'm looking for."
According to Deba Dutta Dash, co-chairman of the Washington State and Indian Trade Relations Action Committee based in Bellevue, in the seven years he's worked on the Eastside, he's seen "a metamorphosis of the East Indian community."
He links it all to opportunities through high-tech growth that now even has the India Consul General in San Francisco taking notice. It's the nearest consulate, and anyone from the Eastside needing help has to contact San Francisco. A consulate in Bellevue awaits final State Department approval, he said.
The growth in the Eastside Asian population also is reflected in stores. The Bellevue Square Macy's, for example, has added very small sizes — zeros and twos — and gotten rid of its big and tall men's section, to accommodate more shorter, thinner shoppers, Betsy Nelson, Macy's spokeswoman said.
On Friday nights, St. Louise Catholic Church has lively prayer services — one by the Hispanic members and another by the East Indian members — and a multicultural youth group.
Over the years, the 50-year-old church in the Crossroads area has been a reflection of its community, moving from a small, white, middle-class parish in the 1960s to now 14,000 parishioners with large groups of East Indians, Vietnamese, Hispanics, Africans, African Americans and Eastern Europeans.
"Those of us here couldn't imagine living in a place that didn't have all ethnic groups living together and praying together," Belleque said.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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