A spike in the number of people listed as white in Glendale says more about changing cultural identities than an actual demographic swing, experts say.
According to the latest U.S. Census figures, even as Glendale’s total population has shrunk, the number of whites in the past 10 years has increased to 62%, or 117,000 people, compared to 54% in 2000.
But experts and community leaders say that’s largely because fewer Armenians are claiming two racial identities on census forms. In 2000, 22% of those who identified as Armenian said they were white and some other race, but that figure dropped to about 1% in 2009.
“The numbers show changes in the identity among Armenians,” said Amon Emeka, a race and ethnic relations expert at USC. “There’s been a huge switch in how Armenians in Glendale identify themselves.”
Glendale’s Armenian population, which is one of the largest outside of Armenia, has been on the rise for years, but the biggest gains have come since 1970. Most Armenians have long identified themselves as white, but some have been slower to do so, Armenian community leaders said.
“We have a population now that’s not as much of an immigrant population as 10 years ago,” said Elen Asatryan, executive director of the Armenian National Committee’s Glendale chapter.
What’s happening in Glendale has happened in other Armenian communities in the past. City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian pointed to Fresno and communities outside Boston as examples.
“When you observe the different Armenian communities in the U.S., the overall pattern has shown that over time they are assimilating more and more,” he said.
Vazken Madenlian, principal of Chamlian Armenian School, said he wasn’t surprised about the change and likened part of the shift to children who are born here being more integrated.
‘Some people don’t know what they are and ask me if they’re white. I tell them ‘What do you think? Look in the mirror,’” Madenlian said.
The Census Bureau gave people the option of choosing two or more races for the first time in 2000. With the addition came a major public relations effort, but that wasn’t repeated for the most recent census, which could also have played a role in a significant drop of people who chose the dual-race option, Emeka said.
Despite the trend, Councilman Ara Najarian said it doesn’t necessarily mean Armenians are shucking their roots.
“Although they still feel Armenian, they don’t necessarily feel like they have to fill it out on a form,” he said.
Meanwhile, the proportion of Latinos in Glendale dropped from 20% to 17% over the 10-year period, according to census figures. Experts said it nearly impossible to track where they were going, but said the trend could be tied to higher local housing prices.
“It seems lower-income folks have moved away. They were priced out of the city,” said Jeff Hamilton, a senior planner for the city.
He noted that in 2008, Glendale’s median household income increased 22% to $50,804, likely the result of low-income earners moving out of the city.
Total population: 191,719