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Asian Immigration and the Myth of the ‘Model Minority’

Monday, November 14, 2011

Immigration is seen by most Americans as a Latino issue. The faces splashed on newspapers, television and blogs appear to be Hispanic, their names sound Spanish, and they are said to come from Mexico and other nations in Central and Latin America.

But the U.S. immigration system and the debate over how it should be reformed affect not only Latinos but all immigrant communities. Among the countenances rarely pictured and stories seldom told are those from Asia.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) reports that 28 percent of all immigrants in the United States – about 11 million – hail from Asia. Asians are the second largest immigrant group after Latinos, with nearly half coming from the Philippines, India and China and residing in California, New York and Texas.

Michelle Mittelstadt, MPI’s Director of Communications, believes that immigration is identified with Latinos because more than half of all immigrants to the United States are from Latin America, and much of the political discourse is focused on those without papers. “Much of the public discussion in Washington and beyond in recent years has focused overwhelmingly on illegal immigration – and more than three quarters of unauthorized immigrants are from Latin America,” Mittelstadt said.

Tarry Hum, associate professor of urban studies at CUNY Queens College and Graduate Center, agrees. “The American public assumes immigrants – in particular, undocumented immigrants – are Latinos who crossed the Mexican-U.S. border,” she said.

Melany DeLa Cruz, Assistant Director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center says the difference in perception of the two ethnic groups has to do with the history of immigration policy and where these immigrants fit into the U.S. economic scheme.

“U.S. corporations have heavily relied on cheap labor supply from Latin American countries. This has resulted in stereotyping Latinos as ‘taking jobs away’ or ‘bringing down wages’ when it is the corporate structure at fault. In contrast, recent U.S. immigration policies towards Asia and the Pacific have changed to attract wealthy investors and skilled workers. This has resulted in overlooking poor Asian immigrants that work in low-wage sectors,” Cruz said.

Asian immigrants are perceived as ‘model minorities’ who work hard, do well, and don’t complain. In the American imagination, they do not seem to share the challenges faced by other immigrant groups.

The statistics perpetuate the stereotype. Nearly half of Asian immigrant adults have a college degree or higher. Among all immigrants, Asians are more concentrated in management, information technology, and science and engineering. A majority of immigrant doctors and nurses are from Asia.

Hum, who characterizes the model minority ideal as “another type of racial stereotyping,” argues that this is bad for the Asian American community as “it sets Asians apart from other immigrant communities of color and reinforces our invisibility in the political sphere.”

“Countless Asian or Pacific Island immigrants are part of the 99 percent that are exploited in low-wage jobs and subsidize the comfortable lifestyle of the 1 percent that are privileged,” DeLa Cruz added. “These include Vietnamese nail salon workers, Thai massage workers, Filipino home health care workers, Chinese restaurant workers, etc. Their stories need to be told and be made more visible to the larger public.”

Indeed, not all Asian immigrants are highly educated, affluent or in the country lawfully.

MPI estimates that Asian immigrants accounted for 11 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in 2010. The Department of Homeland Security counts among the undocumented 280,000 Filipinos, 200,000 Indians, 170,000 Koreans and 130,000 Chinese.

Asians are no different from Latinos and other immigrant communities. Many families are threatened by separation since a family member or two, usually parents, are without papers. Young Asian women and men who were brought into the country as children and grew up thinking they are citizens often discover that they are not. Both high and low skilled Asian workers are wanting for visas and legal jobs. Gay Asian immigrants cannot be sponsored for permanent residency by their American spouses and partners.

A key issue for the Asian immigrant community is family separation which is exacerbated, rather than alleviated, by the current immigration system.

“Immigration is an area fraught with complexity, so the issues are many,” Mittelstadt wrote via email. “But among the top immigration challenges are the lengthy wait times for family-based visas for immigrants coming from China, the Philippines and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Asian immigrants and their family abroad often wait for as long as two decades to be reunited. In the meantime, children and parents get older and families grow apart.

The faces we see and the voices we often hear in the immigration debate might seem only Latino, but the often rancorous exchange and resulting consequences impact all immigrant communities, including the fabled “model minority.”

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blogFeet in Two Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund.


Comments [9]

Wakjob from USA

From: "Rajesh Kumar Ramachandran

Subject: Listen to me A******!!

Date: Wed, 19 May 2010 20:49:20 -0700 (PDT)

Now listen carefully to me a******.. dont just bark around in the corner like a rabies stricken stray dog about your pathetic views about politics and jobs. If your insecure about your skills and abilities thats your f****** problem not Indians or any other politicians.. Well you want me to provoke you well then hear this, we are gonna take all your jobs away.. we gonna make sure that you dont even have money to buy s*** and eat, we gonna take evrything thatwas yours.. we gonna drape the Statue of Liberty with a saree (you dont know wahta saree iis, well its a dress which Indian women wear).. now get your f****** stinking face out of here A******!!!!!

May. 27 2012 09:26 PM
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Wakjob from USA

Asians ruined the USA.

May. 27 2012 09:25 PM
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Do you know how many poor white people there are in America? A lot. Appalachia and the rest of the rural South are the most well known, but poor white people are everywhere, including cities (Over 20% of non-Hispanic whites in Cleveland live below the poverty line, for example). In fact, there are more poor whites than there are poor people of any other race, not surprising considering white people are the majority. So of course there are poor Asian Americans. Successful Asian stereotypes are based on the statistical averages, which are just that, averages. No ethnic group lacks poor people. It's not news.

“These include Vietnamese nail salon workers, Thai massage workers, Filipino home health care workers, Chinese restaurant workers, etc."
And you're accusing other people of stereotyping? There are also Chinese burger flippers, Vietnamese construction workers, Korean cashiers, etc.

Apr. 13 2012 03:26 PM
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The world’s “best countries” seem to have this in common: they avoid war, live in the dark (Canada, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Austria) & maintain a steady state of depressive & productive activity. U.S. is the only country that has written “the pursuit of happiness” into its founding document, thus guaranteeing perrenial dissatisfaction for many, if not most, Americans. USA is a geographically and socially diverse nation doomed by law and custom to optimism. Americans are not too healthy, belligerent, borrow too much without thinking about how to pay it back. The costs are add up & like the former Roman, Portuguese, Spanish, British, French & Soviet empires, the U.S. one may collapse due to wars & debt. How might things improve? Encourge and incentivise more Americans especially those prone to skin cancer to move from southern states to the dark states e.g. those on the Canadian border and Alaska, and encourage and incentivise those Americans who need more Vitamin D from sunshine to move from states on the Canadian border to the states in the south. Encourage Portuguese-speaking Americans to partner with Japanese Brazilians to form joint ventures, Mandarin-speaking Americans to partner with PRC nationals/ Taiwanese / Singaporeans to form joint ventures. Allow more skilled & semi-skilled migrants, particularly from PRC & India to locate to places like Guam, Saipan, Am. Samoa, Puerto Rico, USVI, Hawaii etc making these places as densely-populated & competitive as Hong Kong, Singapore or Taiwan by making Mandarin & Hindi semi-official 2nd languages. Encourage Russians and ex-Soviet bloc immigration to Alaska by making Russian a semi-official 2nd language. Encourage Americans in the age group 65 - 75 to spend time living overseas doing peace corp type of work (e.g. in Africa, Haiti, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh & the poorer ex-Soviet bloc countries, or learning new languages or setting up new businesses overseas (but continuing to pay US tax). As for Latinos who want to migrate to US, do note the economic and social conditions in their home countries. If the focus was to help thier governments improve those conditions, Americans would be less hung up about the numbers coming from the south. Another approach may be to offer a free repatriation service (including assistance in relocating families to good schools in their home countries in Latin America & elsewhere - or even to third countries willing to take them and to where they are willing to relocate) & allow option for them to return to the USA (say after 5 years) provided they complete certain courses or get certain work experience in their home countries and raise enough funds to repay the repatriation costs, have a U.S. job waiting and have enough savings when they re-enter USA and put up a bond so that at the end of their visa term they will leave for their home country again (or forfeit the bond).

Mar. 03 2012 12:26 PM
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man the White Genocide propaganda machine is out in full-force for this post. smfh. Try blaming the businesses that capitalize on cheap labor instead of the immigrants themeselves. When there's a demand there will be a supply, simple economics.

Dec. 05 2011 11:42 PM
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Dave Francis from Indianapolis, IN

Enforcement through Attrition is the operation of Mandatory E-Verify. Call Washington and strongly demand that Lamar Smith’s ‘The Legal Workforce Act’ be passed now. It will save American jobs from unscrupulous business owners who are colluding with lawmakers to kill this bill. All illegal aliens must go and our laws enforced. Illegal Aliens by definition is a criminal fugitive from ICE and then to use a fraudulent document to get a job, makes it a—FELONY. Don’t hesitate; don’t wait as more reluctant lawmakers are co-sponsoring bill (H.R.2885.) The Washington switchboard at 202-224-3121 is already inundated with infuriated callers, who are justifiably contacting their representatives. Now it’s your turn? Study more about costs and the 20 million already here. Stop this travesty of the ‘Rule of Law.” NumbersUSA has all the facts and not lies from the Democrats. Join the TEA PARTY and throw out all the politicians, who are spending America into a third world country.

Nov. 18 2011 07:37 PM
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Groups like La Raza have deliberately spread the concept that only hispanics are illegal aliens. That way, they can bleat that Americans are "racist" if they oppose immigration crimes because there is no logical justification for allowing the illegal alien's invasion.

Nov. 15 2011 03:06 PM
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TrevMcD from Houston

Africa for the Africans,Asia for the Asians,white countries for EVERYBODY!

Genocide is genocide,whether accomplished by bullets and mustard gas,or mass immigration and social engineering.

Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-white.

Nov. 15 2011 12:56 PM
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Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

Nov. 15 2011 10:48 AM
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