The stereotype of Asian Americans as stellar students who flock to the best universities and graduate into high-paying jobs as doctors and engineers ignores some deep-seated problems, says a report issued by two Asian advocacy groups.
With nearly 600,000 Asian Americans, Orange County is home to the nation’s third-largest Asian American population, according to 2010 Census data. But “Asia” technically encompasses more than 20 countries, such as the Philippines, Pakistan and Thailand. That does not include roughly 20 additional ethnic groups culled from Pacific Islands, which make up the second-fastest growing group in the county.
“While some have achieved success, others struggle to make ends meet,” according to the report, A Community of Contrasts. It was written by Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, which expect it to be used partly by community organizations in appeals to policy makers for funding.
It is true that Asian Americans lead other ethnic groups in the U.S. in education and income. Forty-nine percent of Asian Americans 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or more, and median household income is $66,000, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey data. That compares with 31 percent and $54,000 for whites, the group with the next highest number of degrees and median household income.
But the report uses government and academic data to argue that collapsing diverse ethnic groups into monoliths masks the needs of the most disadvantaged members, reinforcing “dangerous model minority stereotypes.”
For example, Cambodian and Vietnamese Americans in Orange County are less likely than the average adult in the area to achieve a high school or bachelor’s degree, according to 2006 to 2010 Census Bureau American Community Survey Five-Year Estimates.
The same Census data showed that the per capita income of Asian Americans in Orange County was $29,598, less than that of the total population ($34,017) and less than that of whites (about $48,220). In fact, more than 57,000 Asian Americans in Orange County live in poverty and nearly 140,000 are low-income.
In terms of size, Vietnamese are still the largest Asian ethnic group in Orange County, with more than 190,000 members. But the number of Koreans in the county has increased by 60 percent over the last 10 years, to over 90,000. Bangladeshis saw the most growth, increasing by 118 percent, though they still only number fewer than 1,000.
“As they grow, [these groups’] needs become more pronounced,” says Daniel Ichinose, project director of the Demographic Research Project at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles.
“Many think that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have achieved the American dream, but when we look at data from the census bureau and other government sources, it’s not the case,” Ichinose says. “These data undermine that stereotype, and one main purpose of the report is to provide a more detailed and sophisticated understanding of [their] social and economic diversity.”
In terms of political engagement, the Chinese have a high proportion running for elected office, says Melany De La Cruz, assistant director at UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. “But you haven’t seen that much from the Laotians, Cambodians or Hmong.”
“While folks are more civicly engaged, there’s more work to do be done if they’re going to reach their full potential in political progress,” Ichinose says. “The community’s growing, becoming increasingly diverse, they have needs contrary to model minority stereotypes.”