NORTH POTOMAC – When Lisy Lara, 23, looks around the six homes in her cul- de-sac in Montgomery County’s Dufief Mill development, she sees four Asian families and two white, including her own.
The Laras’ quiet North Potomac neighborhood is part of the census tract with the most Asians in the state, with 3,135 of the 7,957 people in the tract or 39.4 percent, being Asian, according to the 2000 census.
But anyone looking for a little Chinatown in North Potomac would be disappointed.
Local school officials said most students are first-generation Americans who are “completely acculturated” into mainstream America, although they may speak a foreign language at home. One elementary school has only about 15 students in its English for Speakers of Other Language class.
Homes in the area are the same relatively new, two-story colonials with tidy yards that could be found almost anywhere in Montgomery County.
No one can say for sure why census tract 7006.07 has attracted a disproportionate number of Asian families. Residents and county officials can only say that they were likely lured to the area by the same factors that draw most families to the suburbs — quality schools, safe neighborhoods and convenient shopping.
Binod Nayak, who immigrated from India in the early 1970s, has lived in this neighborhood just west of Interstate 270 for the past 14 years with his wife and two children.
“We heard about it through word of mouth from other families,” said Nayak, who is now retired after working at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. “There are quite a few Asians here . . . it’s a happy mixture.”
Local high schools and elementary schools say their student bodies are anywhere from 28 to 33 percent Asian. One elementary school in the tract said that while many of the parents are immigrants, who speak varying degrees of English, almost all of their children speak English fluently.
“Sometimes when we call home, we talk to the kids who interpret for their parents,” said Gloria Livingston, an administrative secretary at Stone Mill Elementary School. “And the grandparents barely speak any English.”
Nayak and many others in the area were not surprised to hear that their neighborhood has the most Asians in one tract in the state, saying “it sounds about right” because of the large number of Asians employed by the biotech and information technology companies along the nearby I-270 corridor. His wife, Bandita, works about five miles away along the corridor at Westat, a statistical survey research organization.
But not all Asians in North Potomac work in high-paying jobs and have multiple degrees, like many of those in Nayak’s neighborhood. Many are “hands-on workers, working on jobs that many don’t want,” said Cho Ryon Kwon, the Asian- American affairs liaison for Montgomery County. Or they may own small businesses where up to three generations of family members work, to cut costs, she said.
“I think it’s unfair to categorize all Asians as wealthy and well-to-do. . .we have a whole spectrum of Asians in Montgomery County,” said Kwon. “We have many Asians living in the poorer parts of Montgomery County as well.”
Just a couple miles east, the census tract with the highest concentration of Asians in the state is much more modest. Asians make up 48.2 percent of the 1,772 residents of that tract, which hugs a stretch of Rockville Pike between Congressional Plaza and Winter Green Plaza. It is dotted with older apartments that go for about $750 to $950 a month.
Of the 12 census tracts in the state with the heaviest concentrations of Asians, 10 are in Montgomery County, according to the 2000 census. The other two are in Howard and Prince George’s counties.
Montgomery County is home to 47 percent of the state’s 210,929 Asians, according to the census. Asians make up 11.3 percent of the county’s 873,341 residents, well over the statewide average of 4 percent of the population.
“There are pockets of wealthy Asians. . .but there are pockets of less visible Asian immigrants” in the state that are not as well-off, said Shu-Ping Chan, the executive director of the governor’s office on Asian-Pacific American affairs.
Chan said many newer Asians in the Wheaton and Silver Spring area are not wealthy and still struggle, working at more than one job.
By contrast, Kwon said, some Asian families in the North Potomac tract are fifth- and sixth-generation Americans. Life in the tract, which is bounded by Darnestown, Dufief Mill and Travilah roads and in the shadow of I-270, is more settled and suburban than it is for the newcomers.
That lifestyle is what the newcomers are striving for, said Chan. It is “the embodiment of the American dream.”