Seven Surprising Facts About Asian-American and Middle Eastern Boys

A new report from Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy takes a rare look at an often overlooked subgroup of young people.

By Julianne Hing Jun 11, 2013

new report released Monday by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy takes a rare look at an often overlooked subgroup of young people: Asian American, Pacific Islander and AMEMSA boys and young men. AMEMSA stands for Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian–it’s a handy acronym worth remembering in a post-Sept. 11 U.S. context, where members of these communities often have overlapping experiences, but more typically, are seen as indistinguishable from each other.

So what ought we know about the boys and young men of these communities? Some of the facts may surprise you–and to the extent that they do, serve to highlight the grave misunderstandings the wider public has of Asian-American and AMEMSA communities broadly. Misunderstandings abound in part because of a stubborn model minority myth that suggests that all Asian Americans are wealthy, high-achieving and well-educated. The reality is far from that blanket picture. The U.S. Census Bureau’s own "Asian" category now encompasses 23 different Asian subgroups, all of whom have vastly different migration histories and cultural backgrounds. Some Asians came to the U.S. as refugees of war in the 1970s, some as laborers in the 19th century, some as newly recruited engineers to the tech industry. With all that difference and with no unifying linguistic or cultural binder, Asians are a truly difficult community to categorize. 

So what about those facts?

  • Racial profiling is a routine part of life for Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander boys. In 2006 in Oakland, Calif., those of Samoan descent had the highest arrest rate of any racial or ethnic group, coming out to 140 arrests for every 1,000 Samoans in Oakland.  
  • Asian-American, Pacific Islander and AMEMSA youth are the most frequent targets of school bullying. More than half of Asian-American teens are bullied in school. At 54 percent, the rate far exceeds the rates reported by white teens (31 percent), Latino teens (34 percent) and black teens (38 pecent). And yet, youth rarely report the incidents of harassment, fearing retaliation or because they lack the linguistic capability to voice their needs.
  • The rates of bullying are higher for turbaned boys. For South Asian boys who wear turbans, nearly three-quarters, or 74 percent, report facing some religious or racial bullying. It’s common for turbaned youth to be called terrorists.
  • Asian-American LGBTQ youth in particular deal with homophobia, transphobia and racism in school. Nearly one-third of Asian-American LGBTQ youth reported dealing with harassment based on their race. And in a California report of LGBTQ youth, Asian-American youth reported the highest incidence of bullying of any group of students of color.
  • More than 40 percent of Hmong youth live in poverty. Rates for other Southeast Asian youth are similarly high. Thirty-one percent of Cambodian youth live in poverty, compared to 27 percent of black youth and 26 percent of Latino youth. Almost half of Bangladeshis too (44 percent) are considered low-income, along with 31 percent of Pakistanis.
  • Many Asian-Americans are undereducated. Among the broader U.S. population, 19 percent of people in the U.S. lack a high school degree or GED, but more than 40 percent of Cambodians, Laotians and Hmongs, do not have a high school degree. 
  • One in four Koreans in the U.S. is undocumented. And one in six Filipinos is undocumented. And between 2000 and 2009 the undocumented Asian Indian population grew 40 percent. The nation’s immigrant community is broad and multifaceted; these statistics attest to that.

For more, including what we can do about all of this, check out the report and recommendations here.