The OC’s (always) changing face

ORANGE COUNTY’S diversity is getting more diverse (Shutterstock).

“Distant hands in foreign lands are turning hidden wheels/Causing things to come about which no one seems to feel

Invisible from where we stand, the connections come to pass/And though too strange to comprehend, they affect us, nonetheless.”

That song (“Migration”) by James Taylor never became a hit like “You’ve Got A Friend” or “Fire and Rain,” but it’s very much on my mind these days.

Orange County is going through what looks like a sea change. In 2018, all the Congressional districts in the OC turned blue (for a while, anyway) and now, the county Board of Supervisors – although a non-partisan body, allegedly – has a Democratic majority.

Politics are not all that is changing. The county’s demographics are shifting and sometimes in ways that are not always obvious.

The influx of Hispanics and Asians (primarily Vietnamese and Korean) have already had a mighty impact on our cities. We think of Garden Grove and Westminster as being especially transformed by refugees from Southeast Asia), but people of Mexican and Central American backgrounds nearly match those from the former French Indochina.

But even that is changing. Many Vietnamese are moving south to Fountain Valley. Drive down Brookhurst Street and see pho restaurants dotting the commercial landscape. Names like Nguyen are showing up in high school sports team lineups.

The Korean population of Orange County is now finding a center in Buena Park, leaving Garden Grove’s Koreatown (Garden Grove Boulevard between Brookhurst Street and Magnolia Avenue) as a slightly less hip gathering spot.

The most striking change that I see developing is the influx from the Middle East in the form of Arabic-speaking and/or primarily Muslim nations.

Stores and eateries featuring Middle Eastern cuisine such as hummus (a dip or spread made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon and spices) or meats prepared in the Halal (Arabic for “permissable”) tradition, roughly analogous to kosher in Jewish foods are popping up along Brookhurst and Euclid streets as the “Little Arabia” of Anaheim extends south.

In south Garden Grove, the Islamic Society of Orange County on 13th Street (just south of Westminster Avenue) mosque and campus has created an enclave of that population.

Indian and Pakistani restaurants are opening as well to serve small but growing communities.

It’s even possible that we may be getting our share of refugees from Ukraine, as millions of people have been displaced by the war there. The U.S. government has agreed to accept 180,000 people. So far, 12,619 already have American sponsors  in California, mostly in Southern California, according to the State Department.

I hope this doesn’t scare anybody. This country is now, and has always been, a nation of immigrants. As Walt Whitman said about the U.S., “here is the hospitality that indicates heroes.”

We are said to be proud of our diversity. If so, we may have a lot more to be proud of soon.

Jim Tortolano’s people are from Italy, including one great grand-parent who may not have completed all the paperwork to enter the U.S. entirely legally. Maybe.

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