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Advocacy groups concerned about new Asian American study

June 19, 2012 |  9:08 pm

People walk by mural in Chinatown in San Francisco, California.

Several Asian American advocacy groups reacted cautiously Tuesday to a major new study on U.S. Asians, saying it contains important findings but expressing concern that it could be used to perpetuate stereotypes of Asian Americans as high-achieving and with few challenges.

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, a coalition of 30 Asian American national groups, called the study, released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, an "important conversation starter." But it said the report could lead to conclusions that reflect inaccurate stereotypes of Asians.

"It is ... critical to understand that the community is not monolithic," the council said in a statement.

The Pew report found that Asian Americans -- from countries in the Far East, Southeast Asia and India -- are the nation’s fastest growing racial group, with that growth fueled mainly by immigration.

Asian Americans now number 18.2 million, or just under 6% of the U.S. population. They have outpaced Latinos as the largest stream of immigrants arriving in the U.S since 2009. Taken as a whole, U.S. Asians also have become the country’s best-educated and highest-income racial or ethnic group, the analysis found, with more than two-thirds of recent Asian immigrants either college graduates or college students.

Pew estimates that undocumented Asian American immigrants account for 10% to 11% of the nation’s illegal immigrant population. Latinos, in comparison, account for about three-quarters of the nation’s illegal immigrants.

The expansive report examines U.S. Asians’ views on many issues, including politics and parenting, education and career, marriage and identity. It is based on census and economic data as well as a nationally representative survey of 3,500 Asian Americans.

It identified a number of ways in which the Asian American community is distinctive as a whole, especially when compared with all U.S. adults.

Asian Americans outpace Americans as a whole when it comes to education, household income and family wealth. But the analysis also found differences among Asian American subgroups on educational attainment and on poverty and employment, sometimes belying their stereotype as a "model minority."

For example, while Asian American adults overall are slightly less likely than all U.S. adults to be poor, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese are more likely than U.S. adults overall to be living in poverty. The share of Asian Americans who hold at least a bachelor’s degree surpasses that for all U.S. adults, 49% to 28%. But Vietnamese Americans are below the national average, with 26% of those 25 and older having obtained at least a bachelor’s degree, the survey found.

Nonetheless, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans said the study –- and media coverage of it -- focused too much on "one-dimensional narratives of exceptionalism," and not enough on the challenges facing subgroups such as Cambodians and Bangladeshis, who have relatively low rates of educational attainment.

The council’s statement also said millions of Asian Americans are uninsured and said the poverty rate among U.S. Asians has risen sharply in recent years.

Another advocacy group, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said that Pew’s findings, which it called meaningful, should not be used "to further the myth of the model minority."

"American Pacific Islander women experience myriad health disparities, discrimination, long-term unemployment and more, but reports like this make it hard for those in need to have their voices heard," the group’s executive director, Miriam Yeung, said in a statement.


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-- Rebecca Trounson

Photo: People walk by mural in Chinatown in San Francisco. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images