By Evangeline Cafe
Northwest Asian Weekly
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Asian Americans are the highest-earning and best-educated minority group in the United States. It also concluded that Asian Americans are more satisfied than the general public with their personal finances and their lives overall. Though the findings seem to present Asian Americans in a positive light, community members and leaders argue that the research does little but to prolong the “model minority” myth. In other words, they worry that the report falsely suggests that social needs within the community are widely being met and that assistance programs are becoming increasingly unnecessary.
The Pew report, entitled “The Rise of Asian Americans,” is based on a nationwide telephone survey of 3,511 foreign and U.S.-born adults of Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese heritage. The study acknowledged some existing social issues within Asian American subgroups. For example, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese Americans have a higher poverty rate than the U.S. general public. The report also made more generalized conclusions. It determined that Asian Americans do not feel the “sting of racial discrimination” or “otherness” as much as their predecessors who immigrated during the 19th and 20th centuries did.
“I think that the Pew survey is useful to the public only to the degree that it is adequately discussed and debated. Like many other group identities in the U.S., the Asian American [category] is rife with internal complexities that are frequently misunderstood or ignored. And the ways in which this survey was conducted and is being presented definitely raises concerns about the persistence of stereotyping, the pitting of groups against each other, and the devaluing of those who are not as visible or successful. I hope this survey also provokes us to continue questioning the ways in which we make meaning of collective identities and the centrality of race in our society — larger, deeper, and more critical issues that problematic surveys like this will likely fail to address, if they’re not contested.”
— Rick Bonus, Associate Professor, Dept. of American Ethnic Studies, University of Washington
“The Pew Center study is very interesting, but potentially very misleading. I do like the survey generating this type of conversation about our diverse Asian American community. Asia is a continent, a geographic location, not one group with one culture. We hardly ever identify ourselves exclusively as North Americans. The study emphasizes the problems of using broad-brush strokes to paint the Asian American community and ignores the fact that there are over 45 different ethnicities. In Seattle, we have over 80,000 residents who may identify themselves as Asian or Pacific Islander. We need to independently address the economic, educational, [and] social service challenges facing each Asian ethnicity. I see it first hand through the eyes of my children’s Asian American friends, that there are many who are extremely hard working and who place great value on succeeding in school. Yet there are others who succumb to the pressures of being underrepresented and under-resourced.”
— Bruce Harrell, Seattle City Councilmember
“I am very upset and disappointed with the Pew Research survey. That is, again, reinforcing the Model Minority Myth and very harmful for Asian Pacific American communities. When I was with CAPAA, we fought for the disaggregation of data and a study and report was made on that, and up to now, we are still fighting the same stereotype. I hope that they will retract their survey.”
— Ellen Abellera, former Executive Director of Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA)
“I think the term ‘Asian American’ itself is misleading, so any statistics attached to such a broad demographic is also going to mislead. There was a time when people fought to be recognized and empowered as a community and the term arose from that collective struggle across ethnic lines. But to statistically lump all our people together and draw cultural assumptions that conveniently fit some American socioeconomic myth does Asians of all backgrounds a big disservice, especially when that myth died a long time ago for many of us.”
— George Quibuyen (MC Geologic), Blue Scholars
“To be honest, when I first heard about the report, I felt a bit of ethnic pride in the accomplishments of my fellow APIs. Wow, I thought. We’re making inroads. We’re the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. We are the … well, 6 percent! Growing up Chinese American in this country — not to mention having a sister who lives and breathes Asian American social justice activism — teaches you to temper such thoughts in light of the now-cliche ‘Model Minority Myth.’ Because it doesn’t matter how good these statistics sound. A broad brushstroke, even when painting a sunny landscape, is still a broad brushstroke. Just ask any Black quarterback who has been labeled ‘a freakishly athletic scrambler.’
What concerned me even more was when I got 22 paragraphs into the report. Past the sections about how we’re happier as a race (really?), how we feel unduly pressured by our parents to succeed (ugh), and how while each Asian subgroup ‘has its own unique history, culture, language, religious beliefs, economic and demographic traits, social and political values, and pathways into America,’ Asian Americans are distinctive as a whole (um, red flag?) … that’s when the Pew report hits you. … Bottom line — there are a lot of things I like about Pew’s research. It’s thorough. It had a huge sample size. The numbers really seem to ring true. Ultimately, it’s the presentation that worries me. Maybe I’m right to be hyper-critical.
There’s a section near the end of the report that notes Asian Americans identify more with specific country origins (i.e. Chinese American, Korean American, or just American) than the general term ‘Asian American.’ That alone should tell you looping us all into one giant continental ethnicity creates a gauntlet for stereotype and bias, which can affect anything from affirmative action policies to social services availability.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I rarely hear Irish or Italians in the U.S. identifying themselves ‘European American.’ That being the case, I sincerely hope my Laotian, Bhutanese, Hmong, Mien, and Tongan brethren get their own fair brushstrokes, however small, in our 6 percent of the American portrait.”
— Owen Lei, former Seattle broadcast journalist
“I, too, was somewhat taken aback by the conclusions of this ‘research.’ To paint the entire Asian American community in this light is not only misleading, but dangerous. In addition, the Chinese community suffers particularly from the Model Minority stereotype. While there are those of us 2nd, 3rd, and even 6th generation Chinese Americans who benefited from strong family support, access to higher education, and many other opportunities, many of the newer immigrants we serve at CISC do not have these advantages. Many of our newest immigrant youth come from families with little or no parental supervision or support to help them in their academic success. They are not exposed to the same opportunities that their more well off, better-educated mainstream classmates have. They face many of the same challenges and barriers as their immigrant friends from Somalia and Mexico have. In fact, in a study done by the City of Seattle’s Human Services Department, it found that Chinese immigrant youth scored as low on an expressive English vocabulary test as children from Latino and Vietnamese immigrant families. They were outperformed by kids from Somali, Oromo, and Amharic families.”
— Alaric Bien, Executive Director of Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC)
The Pew Research Center report, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” can be read online at http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/06/19/the-rise-of-asian-americans.
Evangeline Cafe can be reached at email@example.com.