the problem with the rise of asian americans

The other day, I woke up to find a deluge of emails regarding a new report by the Pew Research Center, which described the "Rise of Asian Americans," with all sorts of proclamations about education, income, intermarriage, "tiger" parenting and other key findings.

Shortly after the release of the report, which was widely covered by mainstream news outlets, several Asian American advocacy groups expressed concern that the study, while helpful as a "conversation starter," had some serious problems: Advocacy groups concerned about new Asian American study.

Frankly, I think the damn thing is an oversimplification of the Asian American community, and runs the risk of perpetuating monolithic stereotypes of Asian Americans as high-achieving, wealthy, educated and extremely well-adjusted in these United States. We know that's definitely not the case.

By the end of the day, several organizations had weighed in on the report with their respective statements. Here are some excerpts...

Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE):
APIASF and CARE believe the Pew Research Center report is disparaging on many fronts, including: Failure to explore the higher education experiences of Southeast Asians, omission of data on Pacific Islander students, suppression of poverty rates, and dismissal of un-satisfaction levels. In fact, there are significant differences between AAPI student sub-groups in their rate of college enrollment, persistence, and degree attainment. While many Asian Americans have a high rate of college attendance, a large concentration of Pacific Islanders (50.2 percent) and South East Asians (40.3 percent), ages 25-34, have not attended college. A large concentration of Pacific Islanders (56.1 percent) and South East Asians (45.1 percent), ages 25-34, who attended college, left without earning a degree; more than half of these students left before completing one year of college. Similar to Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders have a very high rate of attrition during college. Among Pacific Islanders, 47.0 percent of Guamanians, 50.0 percent of Native Hawaiians, 54.0 percent of Tongans, and 58.1 percent of Samoans entered college, but left without earning a degree. In addition, among its scholars, APIASF says nearly 60 percent are first-generation students and nearly 60 percent are from families living at or below the poverty line. Finally, AAPI students have some of highest rates of stress, anxiety, and depression--in response to the "Tiger Mom" influence--which all lead to high suicide rates.
Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC):
"...as Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), I would strongly caution against using this data to validate the “model minority” myth. Our community is one of stark contrasts, with significant disparities within and between various subgroups. The ‘Asian Pacific American' umbrella includes over 45 distinct ethnicities speaking over 100 language dialects, and many of the groups that were excluded from this report are also the ones with the greatest needs. For instance, while the Pew report touts the community's success in educational attainment, this claim also ignores the fact that over a third of Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian Americans do not even hold a high school diploma. While the Asian Pacific American community should celebrate its accomplishments, we must also avoid drawing oversimplified conclusions that ignore the many real challenges facing our diverse population." [more]
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL):
"While we commend the Pew Research Center for undertaking this critical research on Asian Americans, we hope readers won't mistake these findings as all-encompassing of the entire AAPI community. Asian Americans make up 5.6% of the U.S. population and include over 45 different ethnicities speaking over 100 different dialects. While our community reflects diversity, this research does not; instead, it sweeps Asian Americans into one broad group and paints our community as exceptionally successful without any challenges. This study perpetuates false stereotypes and the model minority. The JACL strongly advocates for further research and analysis specifically regarding disaggregated data collection."
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA):
The Pew Research Center's study is an important conversation starter, but it should be balanced with a comprehensive understanding of community-based needs and concerns facing Asian Americans. We must acknowledge that there are a wide range of issues and concerns related to the economy, civil rights, and immigration that are on the minds of our communities. We need to move beyond one-dimensional narratives of exceptionalism about Asian Americans in order to better understand and address the diverse experiences facing our community members. NCAPA is committed to collaborating with researchers and policymakers to ensure that accurate and balanced information is provided about Asian American communities. [more]
In the report, shallow analysis based on self-report data of Asian Americans propagates the "model minority" stereotype in the very initial stages of its findings, stating: "Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States." While the consensus of less than 4,000 Asian Americans who had participated in this survey responded see the community as being on an upward trajectory by most socio-economic indicators, they do not represent the over 14.5 Asian Americans throughout the country.

What is particularly disturbing is that these types of broad generalizations can have serious implications in public policy, civil rights, as well as perpetuation of bias, discrimination, and racial tension between communities of color. Even though the study fills a void for more statistics and information on the APA community, the framing of the contextual data in the report is troublesome. [more]
Asian American Center for Advancing Justice:
The Pew Research Center report holds up Asian Americans as the most educated. Yet data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that Asian American adults are less likely than Whites to have finished high school and that Chinese and Vietnamese Americans are among seven Asian American ethnic groups to have below average attainment of a high school diploma. These same data show that Southeast Asians, including Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans, are among those least likely to hold a college degree.

The Pew Research Center report also notes that Asian Americans have the highest median household income. Yet household income is a poor measure when applied to immigrant communities, which feature a greater number of workers per household and include a greater number of persons who rely on the income those workers produce. Census Bureau data on per capita income indicate that Asian American incomes fall below those of Whites nationwide. Per capita income data by ethnic group further show that Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian, and Bangladeshi Americans have incomes more similar to those of African Americans and Latinos than Whites. [more]
Asian American Pacific Islander Policy and Research Consortium (AAPIPRC):
While there are merits to the Pew report, the selection of what information to present and highlight is highly biased, and the framing and interpretation of the analysis are incomplete and implicitly misleading and damaging for Asian American communities.

We believe it is important to acknowledge the many accomplishments made by Asian Americans, but not at the expense of a fuller understanding of the diverse, complex and nuanced reality.

The publication presents overly generalized descriptive and aggregate statistics, fails to critically explain the causes and limitations of observed outcomes, and falls short of examining tremendous and critical differences among Asian ethnic groups.

We echo the comments by many Asian American scholars, advocates and lawmakers who point out how the study could lead policymakers, the media and the public to draw conclusions that reflect inaccurate stereotypes about Asian Americans being only a community with high levels of achievement and few challenges. [more]
More statements to come. It's certainly a conversation starter... the only worry is that the Pew report appears to leave a lot of people out of that conversation.

UPDATE: If you want a more comprehensive demographic portrait of the Asian American community, you should actually take a look Advancing Justice's recent report, A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans in the United States, 2011, which documents the social and economic diversity within Asian American communities across a variety of indicators.

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