‘This is my home now’: More Asian Americans are moving to this Sacramento County community

After his citizenship ceremony at Memorial Auditorium in 2015, YK Chalamcherla stepped out into downtown Sacramento, picked up a small American flag handed out by children and took a “fresh breath.”

He recalled thinking, just an hour prior to the ceremony, that the U.S. was not his home and could ask him to leave at any time.

His mind had changed.

“This is my home now,” he recalled thinking as his eyes welled up recently with tears.

Chalamcherla, 51, has lived in Folsom since 2006 and now serves on the city council. He said he fell in love with the city after visiting for his friend’s son’s birthday party four years prior, which is when he originally bought his house. Folsom was where he ultimately decided to settle down with his family after leaving India in 1998, and making two-year stops in Singapore and in the Bay Area.

Chalamcherla is one of thousands of Asian residents who have moved to Folsom during the last 20 years.

The number of Asian Americans calling Folsom home nearly doubled in the last decade and has more than quadrupled since 2000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 there were about 8,900 Asian residents. In 2021 there were about 15,900 Asian residents.

About 20% of Folsom residents identified as Asian in 2021, compared to 12% in 2010, according to the data. The census definition of Asian does not include Pacific Islander, and the largest Asian ethnic groups in Folsom are Asian Indian, Chinese and Filipino.

Christine Brainerd, the communications director for the city of Folsom, said it is difficult for the city to say there’s something unique that brings Asian community members to Folsom, but they are likely attracted to the city for the same reason why many residents choose to call Folsom home.

“I do know, anecdotally, that we see members of the Folsom Asian community, (and) all community members, who are really invested in their city, who participate, who regularly spend time volunteering in our community serving at community service day, helping to volunteer in schools and contributing to that high quality of life that Folsom is known for.”

SAC_xm1007measureB057537.JPG New housing construction is seen in Folsom along White Rock Road in October. The number of Asian Americans calling Folsom home nearly doubled in the last decade and has more than quadrupled since 2000. Xavier Mascareñas xmascarenas@sacbee.com

Folsom is a business hub

Tracey Schaal heads the economic development team for the Sacramento Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce. She said that tech-based businesses in Folsom could be the reason for the influx of Asian residents in the last decade.

“It would make sense that the large concentration has to do with the highly (sophisticated), technology-based companies that have chosen to locate in Folsom,” Schaal said via email. “With the presence of employers such as Intel, PowerSchool, Micron, all of which have significant need for engineering, expertise certainly plays a role.”

Chalamcherla also said that technology is a large factor in why the Asian population is growing. He said he got welcome letters from companies in America suggesting he come into the country and help with Y2K.

“Because Intel is here, our contributions are more toward that: Technology,” Chalamcherla said. “The second contribution is we are I.T. So many people join the state workforce for technology to go to state departments. You see it by and large, quite a few of us contributing to serve Californians.”

Representatives from Intel said the company does not report site-level demographics. Its national-level data, however, says that 36.3% of the company’s workforce is Asian, second only to White employees at 44.1%.

Representatives from PowerSchool, which is headquartered in Folsom, said they also do not have site data, however, the company’s 2021 environmental, social and governance report found that its technical staff is 13.85% Asian, its management staff is 11.51% Asian and the Asian population fulfilling all other employee types totals 3.71%.

The median household income for Asian Folsom households was about $142,000 in 2021, roughly 50% higher than the region-wide median, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. About two-thirds of Asian households in Folsom own their homes.

“We are not limited to technology,” Chalamcherla said, reaching into his wallet to pull out a singular banknote. “We are growing also towards financial innovation. This is what my mom said: If you have $10, save $1. If you earn something, save one. So, as a remembrance of my mother, I always keep the Indian rupee.”

Moneta Ventures is a venture capital firm founded in Folsom in 2014 by Lokesh Sikaria, 51, and Sabya Das, 30. It helps young businesses by investing in post-product, early-revenue companies, with initial checks ranging from $1 million to $5 million.

Sikaria moved to the U.S. from India in 1990. He obtained his citizenship in early 2004 at the age of 32. Prior to starting the company, Sikaria said he previously worked in Folsom and found it was a great community to live in. He noticed that there was not venture capital activity in Folsom and wanted to change that.

“We wanted to be a venture capital firm that invested here and focused here (in Folsom),” Sikaria said.”

Das was born in India, moved to the southern United States around the age 2, and settled in Folsom by the age of 4. He obtained his citizenship at the beginning of 2011 with his parents and described the event as “an amazing experience.”

“Growing up and being here on a green card, not being a citizen, never felt different,” Das said. “Like that was not something that set me apart from my peer group, which was a great experience growing up, but being able to get citizenship was definitely a proud moment.”

Das currently manages Moneta’s investments on the west coast and internationally. He serves on multiple boards and assists founders in market strategy, product development and future fundraising.

Hady Abou ElKheir said the growing Asian population in Folsom factored into he and his business partner’s rationale to pick Folsom as the location for their first store.

Abou ElKheir plans to open a Teaspoon location in Folsom come January. Teaspoon, a bubble tea franchise, opened its first shop in Los Altos, California in 2015.

“There seems to be a reasonable amount of Asian population there, which Teaspoon benefits from, although Teaspoon is actually catering to all audiences. We aspire to deliver boba tea infused with classical American flavors,” he said.

Becoming a citizen

Steven Wang, 51, is Folsom’s city attorney.

Wang said his parents escaped China when Communists overtook the country. His grandfather put his father on the last flight out. His father met his mother in Taiwan but he said does not consider himself Taiwanese.

Wang became an American citizen in 1992, nine years after he came to the United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 60% of Folsom’s Asian residents are immigrants born abroad. About half of those born abroad are naturalized citizens.

Wang said the day he left Taiwan he met a big, blue-eyed blond man who approved or denied immigration visas. The man denied everyone else and Wang was scared when it was his turn.

When the man asked Wang where he wanted to go in the U.S., Wang said the only place he knew: Disneyland. Then, the man let him, his brother and his mother through.

Wang enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 2004 at age 33. He is now a lieutenant colonel.

Wang told The Bee that he was mobilized to the Pentagon from 2007 to 2008 serving in Operation Enduring Freedom. He deployed to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 for what was supposed to be a 400-day tour, but it was cut short near the end.

“We were losing something like 1.7 persons per day,” Wang said. “You can do the math — 365 days. It was tough.”

Wang has been employed with the city of Folsom since 2008, and it has continued to be supportive of him even in deployments after that.

“I don’t know if every employer is like this, but Folsom has been very supportive of the military,” he said.

Wang said when he first started his job in Folsom, he commuted from the Bay Area but moved for work. He lives with his wife, and they have three children. He said they are a blended family because he had two kids prior to them getting married, and his wife had a daughter.

He said he will leave the military when his body breaks.

Family first

Marcus Yasutake, 45, is the environmental and water resources director for the city of Folsom.

He said he considers himself half Japanese on his father’s side and half Caucasian. He is a fourth-generation Japanese immigrant.

Yasutake’s father worked in agriculture in the Oxnard area because his parents, Yasutake’s grandparents, owned a flower farm. Yasutake said a lot of the workers that his father and grandfather encountered were typically Spanish speaking workers, and his dad became fluent in Spanish because of this.

Yasutake was born in Oxnard and went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo from 1995 to 2001 where he met his wife.

He and his wife later both interviewed for work in Placerville and Roseville in 2003. They were offered jobs in both locations, so they looked at an apartment complex in Folsom, a good halfway point, and moved.

Yasutake and his wife have three children. His stepson, 27, was born in 1995 and lives in Washington as a pharmacist. One of his daughters is in high school and the other is in middle school.

The vast majority of Asian households in Folsom, about 76%, are married couple families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Yasutake said his heritage and his wife’s, who is Mexican, gives his daughters chances to learn more about themselves and their background. He said they can visit Japan or Mexico and learn about that culture.

“If you’re just strictly maybe Caucasian or strictly just Japanese or strictly just Mexican, you may not think, ‘Oh, I might want to go visit Japan or China or India or Germany or Sweden,’” Yasutake said. “Whereas, with our girls because they have Japanese and Mexican and Swedish and Irish and Dutch and German, they may feel more of a personal tie of visiting those different countries and learning a little bit more about those cultures just because they have a connection to it.”

The educational experience

Folsom’s school system also factored into Yasutake’s decision to move to the city.

Before moving, Yasutake discussed the idea with his cousin who worked in real estate and lived in the Sacramento area.

“He said they had a very good school system because he was also in real estate at the time, so he understood some of those things that were important to homebuyers,” Yasutake said.

Yasutake and his wife ended up enrolling their son into Carl H. Sundahl Elementary in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, and “it was great for him.”

According to data from the California Department of Education, in the 2021-22 school year, FCUSD enrollment shows that roughly 3,900 students out of 20,300 identify as Asian.

Das attended school in Folsom growing up and went to college at UC Berkeley after graduating from Folsom High School. There, he said, he realized how “incredibly tight-knit” the education community in Folsom was.

“(There are) engaged educators and teachers, and high quality programs especially on the academic side,” Das said. “In high school, there (were) a lot of extracurriculars for public school students.”

As the city’s Asian population grows, at least one of its many ethnic groups will soon have a museum dedicated to a detailed history of its journey to the city.

While its opening date is still to be determined, the Folsom History Museum will soon open a Chinese History Museum at 917 Sutter Street in the Folsom Historic District.

The Folsom History Museum’s goal with the site is to tell the history of Chinese residents in Folsom, according to their website. In the 1880s Folsom had a Chinese community of about 2,500 which was the second-largest Chinese community in California after San Francisco.

“We have the exterior completely finished and weatherproof,” said Rita Hoffstadt, executive director of the Folsom History Museum. “We are now looking to do the interior space, and that will take some additional funding, but we are on our way to starting that work.”

Not perfect

While Folsom can be a great fit for some Asian residents, where there is great diversity, prejudice may also occur.

For members of the Asian community that do experience incidents of racism, Chalamcherla encourages them to get involved with their community.

“That’s what I’m promoting more and more to the Indian community or even for that matter any community, be visible in the local community activities,” Chalamcherla said. “Expose them. It’s important. Expose them to our culture.”

SAC_20221122_PK_CHALAMCHERL Folsom City Council member YK Chalamcherla holds the family dog, Teddy, as he sits with his wife Aparna Throvagunta, left, and daughter, Tejasvi Chalamcherla, at their home in Folsom on Tuesday. He ultimately decided to settle down with his family in Folsom after leaving India in 1998. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Shortly after his election in 2020, Chalamcherla recalled a Folsom resident yelling at their Indian American neighbors for celebrating Diwali in their front yard with fireworks. Chalamcherla said in an instance like this, Indian-American residents should call the non-emergency number for the police department so they might come out and handle the situation through acknowledgment.

“That’s what I tell the Punjabi community who wears the turban. Some people (say) they look like the Taliban. It’s a different way of tying the turban,” he said. “Involve. That’s the only way you get to know the other culture. You can share your culture, who you are, and take out that stigma of, ‘You came to this country to steal my job.’”

Chalamcherla said he goes by YK because his first name is Yedukondalu and he wishes it was shorter. He said it is hard to pronounce. One time he was at an airport, the customs officer reading his passport saw his name and stayed silent for a while. He then started identifying Chalamcherla as “the Indian guy.”

“I wasn’t mad at that,” Chalamcherla said. “I am an Indian guy.”