Is it the booming businesses? The good food? The top-rated schools? The diversity?
By Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly
A rising immigrant population can be taxing for many developing cities. However, Bellevue is not one of those cities. The Asian immigrant population in Bellevue increased from 17.6 percent in 2000 to 24.6 percent in 2008. Asians account for almost three-quarters of Bellevue’s non-white population.
Prosperity and economic growth
“Bellevue is now home to the headquarters of many small and large businesses, many of which are technology companies that started in the 1990s and are still growing with their global presence. Microsoft [which is headquartered on the Eastside] has their largest foreign office in Hyderabad, India,” said Debadutta Dash, co-chair of Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee
Based on per capita income, Bellevue is ranked as the 15th wealthiest of the 522 communities in Washington. According to a study done by ESRI Business Solutions for the Puget Sound Business Journal, 27 percent of Bellevue citizens are ranked as “high society,” affluent, married professionals with a median household income of $104,934 or more. Another 2.3 percent of Bellevue’s population is grouped into the “top rung” category, made up of people who play a prominent civic role and have substantial stock portfolios.
“Perhaps nowhere else than in the Bellevue area could you find such a high concentration of individuals and businesses with international connections,” said HSBC Bank Vice President-Manager Victor Melnik.
State and nonprofit efforts on the naturalization campaign and Bellevue’s efforts to integrate immigrant communities fostered a staggering influx of immigrants to the area.
Bellevue’s new immigrants
Bellevue’s prosperity has attracted Asians from other countries and from surrounding cities. The corporate job opportunities, low-crime rate, city facilities and services, high-ranking school district, low property taxes, and appreciating real estate values in Bellevue satisfy the criteria that many immigrants look for in finding a place that represents what they feel America has to offer, as well as a place where their children can thrive.
“We chose it because it’s a good place to raise a family,” said Chinese immigrant and Bellevue Deputy Mayor Conrad Lee. “It has helped me to raise two good kids. It’s a good place to live. It has good parks, good schools, activities, a good support system, [and] you make good friends.”
In 2008, the American Community Survey reported that Bellevue’s Asian population consists in large part of Chinese (8.9 percent) Asian Indians (6.2 percent), Koreans (3.1 percent), and Japanese (1.9 percent). The recent influx of immigrants is often associated with the growth of large local corporations like Boeing and Microsoft. Despite the Chinese being the largest Asian immigrant group in the area, Asian Indians have had the fastest growth in Bellevue, increasing in population by more than 930 percent since 1990, according to Bellevue’s 2009–2010 Needs Update report. In 2008, there were a recorded 28,529 Asians living in Bellevue; 10,339 were Chinese and 7,149 were Asian Indian.
“Bellevue is like any big city in India, with a great diversity in its population and an International flavor to it,” said Dash. “Bellevue has much to offer with regard to economic development, education, and entertainment, and very soon there will be an Indian Consulate in Bellevue, which currently waits for the State Department’s approval at this time.”
Over the years, the city of Bellevue and its local outreach organizations have responded to the needs of their citizens by providing services and immigrant assistance.
Customized services for immigrants
The Executive Development Institute (EDI) was created to help Asian immigrants who work in large corporations. The institute helps to foster executive qualities immigrants need to acquire upper-level management positions that were once held by white Americans. The institute encourages immigrants to use their cultural values as strengths in dealing with American companies rather than assimilating into American corporate models.
“Many of these companies, including Boeing and Microsoft, are reaching out to companies internationally.
They need people who are aware of these cross cultural differences and can reach out to markets that are different from the American market. They want people that can really grasp the language and culture of different kinds of markets. People are looking for global leaders,” said Valarie Kusuda–Smick of the EDI board of directors.
Bellevue is reputed to consist largely of well-educated homeowners working for prestigious companies, but the city is also home to immigrants and refugees from various social and economic backgrounds. It has assisted the integration of refugees and other immigrants by providing ESL classes, citizenship classes, translators for city services, computer training, and financial planning.
For the immigrant families that have chosen to settle in Bellevue, the city is also home to Asian markets, various ethnic publications, and even a diversity radio program. Asian immigrants have also taken initiatives to support their own community by starting organizations that cater to their needs.
The Asian Senior Concerns Foundation was started with Asian seniors in mind.
“We thought about those who have stayed here longer and the immigrants in their 60s and thought, ‘Will they have to adapt to mainstream [culture]?’ ” said Chief Executive Officer Ralph Rei. “Bellevue has immigrants who work for Microsoft and bring parents from China. We wanted to provide them a community, too, with activities that they’re familiar with.”
Education in Bellevue
The higher influx of immigrants is also reflected in Bellevue’s school district where Asian languages are among the top 10 languages spoken among the student body. Immigrants valuing college education for their children cite the quality of the schools as one of the main reasons for moving to Bellevue. In 2009, five Bellevue high schools — International, Interlake, Newport, Sammamish, and Bellevue — were ranked in the top 100 public schools in the nation by Newsweek.
Bellevue also has its own Bellevue Community College, which officially became Bellevue College in 2009. The school now offers 4-year bachelor degree programs. Currently, Asian and Asian Pacific Islander Americans make up 20.3 percent of the student population and are the predominant minority group at Bellevue College.
“Bellevue College as a campus continues to work towards becoming a more inclusive community for students from all backgrounds. Bellevue College has a critical mass of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) student affinity groups that can serve as a natural psychological and social anchor for AAPI students,” said Dr. Ata Karim, director of multicultural services of Bellevue College.
In addition to groups that offer social camaraderie, there are Asian student organizations that offer immigrants opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Students also interact with faculty and staff who belong to the same community and serve as mentors.
Quality of life for immigrants
“[Bellevue] has been able to maintain the same quality of life, the same delivery of services. … In most cities, when the city grows, those services deteriorate. They struggle to meet the demands. But Bellevue has been able to keep up. Maybe not even keep up, but actually improve. That’s the reason why more and more people have decided to come to Bellevue,” said Lee.
The efforts of the city and outreach organizations have made it so immigrants, young and old, from any background and at any stage of their life, can find a community and a source of support. From the schools to the workplace and beyond, Bellevue and its local organizations work to provide every member of the immigrant family with tools to ensure growth and success. These improvements are reflected in the fact that immigrants have chosen to stay, do business, raise their children, become leaders, and contribute what they have to offer to the community.
“We have grown so diverse without even realizing it. … People wonder why, and that is because Bellevue has made adjustments, made a transition without much fanfare. We’ve been able to cope with it. We have been able to make the transition with people, with patience, with willingness to make adjustments where we don’t emphasize the problems; we just try to solve [them],” explains Lee.
While Lee appreciates the prosperity that has come to his city, he also fears complacency.
“If we’re going to continue to preserve what we got, we’ve got to put in more effort,” said Lee, who advocates more civic, political, and social involvement from Asian immigrants.
As Bellevue can expect a steady rise in immigrant populations in the coming years, its mission to maintain the status quo will become more difficult. Bellevue is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and such efforts will be watched by other communities tackling similar issues. ♦
For more information, visit www.ci.bellevue.wa.us.
Tiffany Ran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.