Asian Americans are more than the collection of stereotypes that follow them doggedly. And in California, home to the nation’s largest immigrant population and the second-largest community of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, they are an especially diverse and contrasting community.
So says a new report out this week by the Asian Law Caucus and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of Asian Americans and NHPIs living below the poverty line in California increased 50 percent, while the number of unemployed Asian Americans and NHPIs grew by nearly 200 percent. Mongolian, Hmong and Cambodian-Americans in particular have higher poverty rates and lower per capita income than whites. And while Asian Americans are broadly thought to be high-achieving, high-earning and highly educated, Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese and Fijian-Americans face significant barriers to education, and some of the lowest college attendance rates in the country.
In health, too, Asian Americans in California struggle with language barriers that make getting health services a real challenge. And in part because many lack health insurance, Asian Americans deal with very real health challenges. Asian Americans are the only racial group in California for whom cancer is the top cause of death, researchers found. Not only that, but rates of diabetes in the Asian American community remain disproportionately high, and in the case of suicide, are even on the rise.
The report cuts away at the myth, perpetuated by reports like the Pew Research Center’s 2012 study, that Asian Americans are universally successful, happy, well-educated and wealthy. But it’s more than just political reframing. Accurate research, the organizations argue, is essential to responsible policymaking.
Because of such pervasive misunderstandings about the nuances of the Asian American community, “the needs of the most disadvantaged Asian Americans and NHPI are often overlooked when policy makers base critical decisions on data that only capture the characteristics of our communities as a monolithic whole,” the report’s authors wrote. “We hope the report promotes a better understanding of our growing and diverse communities,” Joanna Lee, senior research analyst at APALC, said in a statement. “California can’t craft good public policy on Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders without good data.”