Buddhist temple to restart in Mesa
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 5, 2006
Venerable Yong Shan strode to the front of the altar in a flowing burnt orange
robe and, under the gaze of three life-sized statues of Buddha, beat a drum
The diminutive Buddhist nun, her head shaved, picked up a tiny bell and gave it
one ring, letting the sound tingle through the silent room that was pungent with
Twenty-five men and women forming perfect rows knelt and bowed toward the altar.
Then the chanting in Mandarin began. It would last more than an hour, as it does
every Sunday at the International Buddhist Association of Arizona. A fixture in
north-central Phoenix since 1994, the temple has drawn Chinese-speaking
Buddhists from all over the Valley. But it will soon begin anew in Mesa, a major
move and expansion that reflect larger demographic changes taking place in the
Valley's growing Chinese-speaking immigrant population.
Newer Chinese-speaking immigrants are better educated and more affluent than
preceding waves. They are bypassing urban areas where earlier immigrants settled
in favor of the East Valley suburbs, home to about a third of the Valley's
roughly 20,000 Chinese residents, immigrants and American-born.
"The East Valley, that has been where more of the trendy Asians have moved,
mainly because Arizona State University's main campus is in Tempe, and a lot of
the high-tech companies are there," said Manny Wong, publisher of Asian American
Times, a Chinese-English newspaper in Phoenix.
The growth of the East Valley's Chinese population, which tripled between 1990
and 2005, is drawing more Asian-oriented businesses and services. The East
Valley is home to more than half a dozen Chinese or Asian Christian churches,
among them Metro Phoenix Chinese Alliance Church and Evangelical Formosan Church
in Tempe and the Greater Phoenix Chinese Christian Church in Chandler.
At Lee Lee Oriental Market in Chandler, shoppers can find products from many
Asian countries, including Japan, India and Thailand. The area is also
attracting other Asian markets and restaurants, Wong said. Sixty percent of his
newspaper's 10,000 circulation is in the East Valley.
Still, while the temple's move is an opportunity to expand and be closer to
members, it will leave Phoenix without a Chinese-speaking Buddhist place of
Historic move up
The International Buddhist Association congregation includes people from
mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, as well as a few non-Asian
Buddhists. A year ago, the association paid $800,000 for 5 acres near the
southeastern corner of Lindsay and McKellips roads in Mesa.
The association plans to start building a multimillion-dollar, two-story,
20,000-square-foot facility there within two years. Plans also call for
conference and meditation rooms, a library and tearoom, and a temple big enough
to accommodate 300 to 400 followers, Shan said. The new facility will be larger
and more expensive than the current 3,000 square-foot structure, which fits only
50 to 80 followers for Sunday services. It cost $150,000 in 1994, Shan said.
The association decided to build its new facility in Mesa for two reasons:
Land was more reasonable, and the location is closer to where many new Chinese
and Taiwanese immigrants live, Shan said. The move, she said, is calculated not
only to serve existing members, but attract new ones.
From the 1870s, when Chinese immigrants began arriving in Phoenix, through the
1970s, waves of Chinese immigrants tended to settle in Phoenix and Glendale,
community leaders say. They mostly came from small villages in southern China
with basic education in search of the American dream, for themselves and their
children. Many made a living by opening small businesses.
"It was the proverbial corner grocery store or Chinese restaurant. They used
these businesses as a base to raise their families and take advantage of the
educational opportunities for their children so that they wouldn't have to
endure the long hours and hard work in these businesses," said Barry Wong, 47, a
Phoenix lawyer and former state legislator.
He is the son of Chinese immigrants who settled in the Valley in the early
1950s, and opened a grocery store in south Phoenix. In contrast, Chinese
immigrants who have come since the 1980s tend to be highly educated
professionals, drawn by Arizona State University and the area's high-technology
manufacturing industry, including companies such as Honeywell, Intel and
New residents look east
The Chinese population in Maricopa County doubled from 1990 to 2005, increasing
to 19,574 from 9,374, according to data from the Census Bureau and Claritas, a
marketing research company. Most of that growth has been in the East Valley, and
includes new immigrants and Chinese Americans who have relocated from other
parts of the Valley.
The Chinese population in Chandler, Mesa and Gilbert almost tripled between 1990
and 2005, to 5,811 residents from 1,599. Seventeen percent of the county's
Chinese population lived in Chandler, Gilbert or Mesa in 1990; by 2005, it had
increased to 30 percent.
Many newcomers are people like Kuo-San Ho, an engineer who works for Honeywell
and lives in Mesa. At the International Buddhist Association of Arizona temple
one recent Sunday, he pulled a black robe over his clothes and took a spot
inside the temple next to a cushion on the floor, joining about two dozen other
Ming Chen, 52, came to the Valley 26 years ago from Taiwan. Chen, who has a
master's degree in architecture from ASU, lives in Gilbert and runs his own firm
in Chandler. Chen, a former president of the temple in central Phoenix, said the
new location in Mesa will be more convenient for members in the East Valley but
still accessible to others.
"It's close to the freeway," Chen said.
Worshiping in Phoenix
The Buddhist International Association of Arizona in Phoenix is home to the
Valley's only Chinese-speaking Buddhist temple, although there are other
Buddhist temples here.
The congregation is affiliated with the Buddha's Light International
Association, which traces its roots to the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, the
largest Buddhist organization in Taiwan.
Before the temple opened in 1994, many people drove to Los Angeles for services,
said Wen Chyi Chiu, 30, a temple member and editor of Az Asian World magazine in
In 1994, the association opened a branch in Phoenix to serve the growing Chinese
immigrant population, she said.
"In 1994, the Chinese population was concentrated in Phoenix and Glendale areas,
and this was a centrally located area," she said. "But now, the population has
transferred more to the East Valley."
The association started in Phoenix with about 100 people but has grown to more
than 600, said Shan, a native of Malaysia of Chinese descent.
One recent morning, Shan, 55, stood in front of a blueprint of the planned
facility taped to a wall inside the temple on 15th Place in Phoenix. She pointed
out the different amenities the association hopes to include that will make the
facility not only a temple but also a community center: A library and lounge
where people will be able to read Chinese-language newspapers. A kitchen and
dinning area for preparing and sharing meals.
Classrooms and meditation rooms for studying and practicing Buddhism. Shan said
the new facility, still in the design stages, will cost $2 million to
$3 million. In addition to bank loans, the money will be raised through
fund-raisers and private donations, much of which will come from new members in
the East Valley.
"Because of the rapid increase, we feel we need a larger facility," she said.
Staff reporter Matt Dempsey contributed to this article.
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