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This diary is a companion piece to a diary I did earlier on Latinos. I am interested in trying to unpack the broad ethnic/racial classifications that get reported and discussed. The US is going through another demographic upheaval and we need a better understanding of it than just the headlines.

The Pew Research Center has published an extensive report about Asian Americans. It is in many ways a very useful document. However, it has come in for a good bit of criticism from some members of the Asian community. The report very much follows the popular trope of Asians as the model minority.

They have a higher average level of educational attainment and income levels than white Americans and much higher than blacks and Latinos. This has opened up lots of debate. Let's start by looking at the make up of the total group in terms of ethnicity and national origin. This much is not a matter of debate.

This covers a broad range of people from very different cultures. The label Asian American alone really doesn't tell you very much. There are huge differences between third generation Japanese or Chinese Americans and recent immigrants from Bangladesh.

One very significant fact about Asian Americans is that in 2009 they surpassed Latinos as the largest source of new immigrants to the US. The Latino population in now growing more from births in the US than from immigration. However, because Asians started from a much smaller base and Latinos have a higher birth rate they are not projected to become nearly as large a group as Latinos. At this point Asians are estimated to constituted the largest number of undocumented immigrants. Here is a breakdown of current green card holders in the US and how that is changing. It reflects the growing Asian presence.

Asians presently make up 4.8% of the US population. The fact that they tend to be clustered in a few areas gives their presence greater visibility and political impact. Hawaii and the west coast were the historical destinations of Asian immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries. California still has far and away the greatest concentration. Other clusters are in NYC, Chicago and the Austin/Houston area. Here is a more detailed breakdown by national origin.
There is a long and complex history to Asian American immigration and citizenship. It has many ugly chapters. That is a diary for another time.

There is a running controversy about the notion that Asian Americans have gone from being considered the yellow peril to the model minority. This new meme comes in the context of 21st C America where the European immigrants such as Jews, Italians, etc. who were treated as minorities have become generally assimilated to the white population. The comparison of Asians to other minorities is being made with them and blacks and Latinos. There are a number of advocates and scholars within the Asian community and elsewhere who are questioning the accuracy and value of this newly minted trope.

Asian Americans Respond to Pew: We’re Not Your Model Minority  

It’s not every day that deep and rigorous research about Asian Americans is released to the public. So when the well-respected Pew Research Center released “The Rise of Asian Americans,” a comprehensive report on the community on Tuesday, it should have been reason enough to celebrate. Instead, the report, which hailed Asians as the fastest-growing and highest-achieving racial group in the country, drew widespread criticism from Asian American scholars, advocates and lawmakers who raised alarm about the report, and warned against taking it seriously at all. Poor research of an oft-overlooked community, it turns out, might do more damage than no research at all.

We are “deeply concerned about how findings from a recent study by the Pew Research Center have been used to portray Asian Americans,” the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, a network of civil rights advocacy groups said on Wednesday. The report’s authors, the AACAJ said, “paint a picture of Asian Americans as a model minority, having the highest income and educational attainment among racial groups. These portrayals are overly simplistic.”

Critics say the Pew report mixes some fact with too much mythology about what people imagine Asians to be. While a portrayal of Asian Americans as high-achieving, and adept at overcoming humble beginnings to reach great financial and educational success seems flattering, many Asian Americans say this frame is not only factually inaccurate, it’s damaging to the community.
The greatest point of controversy is data about income. The Pew report uses median household income as its data source and comes up with these rankings.
The criticism of this approach is that Asian households are not typical of US households in general in that they often include three or more wage earners. Critics maintain that per capita or individual income would be a more valid measurement. Here is a version of what that looks like which also includes other ethnic groups that come from different cultural backgrounds and have smaller population numbers.
The general per capita income numbers for 2009 are:

Total $26,530

White $28,034

Black $18,135

Latino $15,063

Asian $30,653

While this does point up the great diversity within the total Asian community, the reality seems to be that using either household or individual income, the majority of Asian Americans are doing better than the general public. There are numerous factors involved in this trend. Selective immigration of people with technical skills plays a part with groups such as Indians and Taiwanese. There are also more basic cultural factors and traditions that make a contribution to education and financial achievement.

In California which has the greatest concentration of both Asians and Latinos the politics of all this get very interesting. The face of America is clearly changing. Asian Americans are playing a growing role in that change.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  why the 8th largest economy will return to 6th (4+ / 0-)

    soon enough

    While this does point up the great diversity within the total Asian community, the reality seems to be that using either household or individual income, the majority of Asian Americans are doing better than the general public. There are numerous factors involved in this trend. Selective immigration of people with technical skills plays a part with groups such as Indians and Taiwanese. There are also more basic cultural factors and traditions that make a contribution to education and financial achievement.

    In California which has the greatest concentration of both Asians and Latinos the politics of all this get very interesting. The face of America is clearly changing. Asian Americans are playing a growing role in that change.  

    California's economy is the 8th largest economy in the world (2012),

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "If we appear to seek the unattainable, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable." (@eState4Column5)

    by annieli on Wed Aug 13, 2014 at 11:01:59 AM PDT

  •  Excellent (and necessary) diary (4+ / 0-)

    Different languages (not variations in language like the versions of Spanish Latino/as speak based on where they came from), different cultures, different reasons for immigration, different experiences once they arrived here. Almost a replication of the diversity of Native Americans at the time of the Columbian encounter. You can thank Confucius for the economic achievements, too.

    And they vote. Only the Vietnamese seem to vote Republican (and that may just be in Orange County with the post-Vietnam War immigration). Yes, the politics are VERY interesting.

    All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed Aug 13, 2014 at 11:28:40 AM PDT

  •  Indian-American here (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon, koNko

    This was a good summary.  The numbers I saw indicate that we vote about 8-1 Democratic, but it is too bad that most of our visible politicians are right-wing Repubs.

    I am born and raised in the U.S.  I get a lot of (sometimes condescending) comments from folks who are shocked that I have no accent, folks who cannot believe that I do not eat spicy food, etc.

    I do not make a lot of money, and I hardly consider myself a "model".  I am fairly certain that I hit glass ceilings in my past career due to my heritage.

    Sorry for the long rant.  As you can imagine, this is very personal to me :-)

    •  There are a lot of differences (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, wu ming

      in any group between the native born descendants of earlier immigrants and recently arrived immigrants. I have know Indians who are third generation Californians and a lot of others who are tech workers recently arrived. They are very different groups of people.  

      •  yeah, the multiple overlapping aspects of identity (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        koNko, Richard Lyon

        among this census-created group makes it really hard to say much of anything beyond the vaguest generalizations. it gets a bit better if you narrow in on a given region/state/city, or better yet a single community, and get into the weeds of the local history of various waves of immigration.

        part of what makes talking about it so complex is that the category itself (and the accompanying history of exclusion, discrimination and persecution) is forced on a diverse group of people by outsiders without regard to those people's own ideas of their identity, but since the institutional structure of racism is powerful enough, it creates social facts through its existence, by creating a shared experience of prejudice.

        making it more complicated is that in some places, and with some communities, you do actually get pan-asian-american identities/groups/political coalitions/culture, but it often coexists with national origin identification/communities (or you'll get one generation aligning more with a national origin identity, and another that aligns with asian-american identity). sometimes that is tied to how many generations one is removed from immigration, but not always.

        and then there's intermarriage with people of non-asian descent, and the whole hapa phenomenon, which started as a hawaiian thing but has recently grown popular as a concept/identity in parts of the broader asian-american community.

        fascinating stuff, but incredibly difficult to sort out.

        *disclaimer: i'm not actually asian-american, i just have a chinese username

  •  "The forgotten war against Chinese Americans" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Driven Out: The forgotten war against Chinese Americans
    by Jean Pfaelzer
    University of Delaware

    The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war. ♥ ♥ ♥ Forget Neo — The One is Minori Urakawa

    by lotlizard on Wed Aug 13, 2014 at 04:50:44 PM PDT

    •  While Chinese took the brunt of ... (0+ / 0-)

      ...persecution, disenfranchisement and the effect of anti-Chinese exclusion laws starting in the late 19th Century, related laws and regulations, particularly extremely restrictive immigration quotas, were used as de facto racial barriers against Asians in general, particularly from the turn of the 20th Century.

      If Chinese exclusion is not well-known, some even less visible but nevertheless draconian laws were imposed on other Asian American communities that marginalized and isolated them outside the mainstream for decades.

      For example, as Chinese laborers became the target of violence, discrimination and expulsion in California, a wave of Japanese immigrants were invited to replace them, and in the beginning, they were actually treated better and faced fewer restrictions than Chinese. But it was not long until they in turn became a target with the Gentleman's Agreement of 1907 becoming a de facto exclusion law applied to them.

      Not long after, changes in US Immigration Law created exclusion mechanisms, including highly restrictive quotas the barred Asian Americans (just as they do to a lesser extent Latin Americans today).

      WWII obviously upset that balance in many respects, demonizing Japanese and (temporarily) elevating Chinese, Filipinos and Indians as "allies" if not equals, and caused the first few cracks in the wall to appear.

      But if people want the flavor of just how draconian these laws were, when the "reform" started with the Luce-Celler Act of 1946, it established a relaxed quota of 100 Indians and 100 Filipinos per year, pretty amazing when one considers the role and sacrifice of Filipinos during the war. 100. Wow.

      For Chinese it was still more complicated since, by the late 1940s, Mainland Chinese were again persona non grata, while Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese benefited from gradually relaxing student and working visas that enabled them to emigrate  and eventually gain citizenship. Later these split quotas would actually promote Chinese immigration.

      The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 finally enabled Asians to become naturalized citizens, a restriction I doubt many Americans are aware of. Finally, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 is what really set the stage for change when it abolished the "national origins" formula that under-pinned de facto racial exclusion.

      Also worth mentioning is the role Kenya Hawaii played in providing a path to it's many and diverse Asian communities, many of whom were 2nd or 3rd generation "guest workers" who found a path to citizenship. Particularly for Japanese, Chinese and Philippine people, Hawaii still is a special place with a mystique that draws us as tourists because it's kind of "Asian" turf (one day I want to visit, LOL).

      But it was not really until the mid-1970's and beyond, that Asian Americans started coming out of their shells and into the mainstream, and I think 4 events were very instrumental in that:

      - Liberalization of student and working visas for Asians, particularly Indians/Central Asians, Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese from the 1970s, where the numbers increased and education levels spiked.

      - The post war influx of political and economic refugees from South East Asia, which was diffuse, but established diverse communities in many places not previously populated by Asians in great numbers.

      - The murder of Vincent Chin became a political rallying point for the community as a whole due to the obvious miscarriage of justice, and that forged some stronger ties between groups for common cause that survive today as Pan-Asian organizations.

      - The second wave of Mainland Chinese immigrants (count me there) which was a larger and less stage-managed affair than the first wave (1978-1982 approximately) and eventually led to an influx of poor and often poorly educated illegal immigrants from the late 1980s, settling in large cities as a blue collar underclass (where many remain).

      I know you are pretty well-versed on the history, but I think most of the above would come as a surprise to most Americans outside of the AAPI community.

      What a lot of people don't get is how socially and politically isolated Asian Americans were for most of the 20th Century and the impact it had on their thinking, which became somewhat limited to match their circumstances.

      When I came over, it was a real life adventure full of hope and I was very outward bound like most of my peers. What we found in local Asian communities (myself in Oakland-Berkeley) was quite a surprise; some very reticent people fearful of stepping out of bounds in their own communities, and, at best, cloistered by choice. Of course there are always individuals that don't fit the mold, but the flowering of Asian political involvement happening now is really quite a change.

  •  Broad Generalization is Problematic (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wu ming

    Just as it is with other geographically defined but ethnically and culturally diverse groups. "Latin Americans"? "Europeans"? Shit, "Americans"?

    And so I'm really on-board with the criticisms of the Pew study (and I often quote Pew), but I think it's the beginning of a work in progress I hope Pew will expand, refine and continue, just as they have done with their, um, Hispanic American research, which has it's own homepage and a pretty useful resource.

    The biggest sin is applying the up-side positive stereotypes to the community as a whole, or even any particular segment. Seriously, even within the fairly populous Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian & Japanese communities of the Bay Area that I know pretty well, there is great cultural and economic diversity, and much of it has to do with factors of generational or regional differences. The Chinese community alone there spans 150+ years and includes a large contingent of "FOBs" that are looked upon like The Beverly Hillbillies by native born local Chinese; literally, from different countries and universes.

    HOWEVER.  However, history conspired to group us together and often paint us with the same broad brush, so there is validity, particularly political validity, in the concept of an Asian American community, and as the idea has gained political traction since the early 80s, AAPI's have found a lot of common cause to act together and occasionally vote or work as a block.

    There is also, for large segments of this community (particularly Japanese, Chinese, Philippine and Indian) a shared history of cultural and political isolation (detailed in another comment) that is a proximate common experience on quite a few levels; each has its own spin on the nuclear family, community clan and education/hard work thingy, so when we are not at each other's throats, we get along pretty well based on some common understandings of the experience and some shared values.

    (I digress: One of my best friends, someone I really see eye to eye with on a broad range of topics, is an Indian American who immigrated to Chicago and attended Ubana around the same time as I did CAL, and meeting in Japan - of all places - some years later, we became fast and close friends, and joke we are "twins". It so funny how much we are alike. NB - He hates Cheney too!).

    But I've got to say: Asians do NOT have a monopoly on good education, hard work and wealth, not by a long shot, and lots of Asian Americans get pretty fucking tired of certain of the stereotypes that fence them in.

    Like the idea Asians are not creative and don't invent stuff.

    Or are uniformly good at math.

    Or some unmentionables, LOL.

    I hope you will go with this as you have the Latino Community. Asian Americans actually tend to be liberal and vote Democratic, and are starting to be more of a political force outside of San Francisco (ha ha ha), so it's worth diving into that.

    •  I grew up in the south. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, wu ming

      When I moved to California in 1969 I had had almost no exposure to Asians and their history. I had no idea that they had endured discrimination and persecution on a level with other minorities. It never came up on the public radar.

      I think that is still true to a good extent for much of the country where people do not come into frequent contact with Asians. What is coming up on the radar is the model minority and the populist notion of foreigners stealing American jobs. That is why I think it is important to get beyond the headlines and stereotypes.

      •  Yes, that would be one part. (0+ / 0-)

        And perhaps another is how AAPIs are beginning to factor as a political force.

        Kind of an interesting thing is how African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans, who are all predominantly liberal Dems, seem to be competing for attention and influence.

        In terms of interests, they probably have more in common (save immigration reform) than not, and yet, the usual competitive psychology comes into play and it potentially divisive.

        Something to work on.

        Perhaps a series of polls might be interesting.

        I'm personally interested in perceptions in all directions, such as how A, B and C view each other as allies or adversaries in relative terms.

        •  What interest me (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          is the prospects of the various ethnic groups forgetting their own indigenous politicians elected. That is real political power rather than voting for white Democrats. California seems to be the only place where Asians have enough concentration for that to happen in the near future. Unfortunately they came up with Leland Yee.  

          •  "Leland Yee" (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Richard Lyon


          •  yes, in hawaii even more than california (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Richard Lyon

            but in the sort of ethnically complex urban communities where most asian-americans are located, coalition politics ends up being a necessity, and should not be overlooked as a force for political empowerment. a major factor in asian-americans getting elected is in the willingness of non-asian-american voters to vote for them, which really varies from place to place. in this regard, they can be a lot like jewish-americans, politically.

          •  forget about leland yee (0+ / 0-)

            john chiang is the one to pay attention to. i would not be surprised if he's the next governor, actually. he has really set himself up for the position, as controller and treasurer, and has shown a deft touch with political theatre in those usually rather boring positions.

            •  A non-WASP gov would be a very good thing. n/t (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              wu ming
              •  the current governor isn't a WASP, actually (0+ / 0-)

                jerry brown is a catholic irish-german mix, as was his father pat brown. white, but not WASPs.

                i expect the next governor will not be white, though. gavin newsom is too much of a lightweight to win what will be a very contested race in 2018, and there are a lot of ambitious nonwhite dems in CA who are well positioned to try: john chiang, antonio villaraigosa, kamala harris, hilda solis, loretta sanchez, john perez, alex padilla, and any number of state senators or members of the assembly.

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