At first glance, it’s all good news: Asian Americans are the best-educated in the nation, have the highest-income and are the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., says a recent Pew Research study released in June. Yet, numerous well-known Asian American organizations and advocates are condemning the study as a cause for concern, claiming that it only perpetuates the Model Minority Myth while others feel the study is truthful in some aspects.
In addition to being highly successful, researchers claim Asian Americans are found to be more satisfied with their lives than the general public and more satisfied with the direction the country is going. Nearly 54 percent of Asian Americans say having a successful marriage is one the most important things in life while only 34 percent of all Americans agree. Compared to other groups, Asian Americans don’t feel they are affected by racism. These statistics and the highly affirmative coverage it has received (ranging from the Wall Street Journal to USA Today) has propagated stereotypes that Asian Americans are universally smart, well-off and family-oriented.
Results in “The Rise of Asian Americans” Pew Research study were derived from surveying nearly 4,000 individuals, each from one of the six largest Asian American groups: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese. The study claims these groups make up at least 83 percent of the total Asian population in the U.S.
The Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice), which promotes civil rights in underserved communities denounced the study as “one-dimensional and as having “serious consequences” by overlooking many groups within the Asian American community, including Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese Americans.
The study claims that 49 percent of Asian Americans hold at least a college degree, compared with 28 percent of the U.S. population overall. But according to the official statement released by Advancing Justice: “Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show[s] that Asian American adults are less likely than Whites to have finished high school and that Pacific Islanders and Vietnamese Americans are among seven Asian American ethnic groups to have below average attainment of a high school diploma.”
While the Pew Research study applauds Asian Americans for having a median household income of $66,000 in comparison to the total U.S. population’s median of $49,000, it also notes that Indian Americans disproportionately have the highest median income of $88,000. Compare that to the Korean median income of $50,000 and it is easy to understand why the study’s claim is problematic.
Advancing Justice also points out that household income is a misleading measure when applied to immigrant communities. There are often a greater number of workers per household and a “greater number of persons who rely on the income those workers produce.”
Maureen Francisco, co-President of Ascend Seattle, a pan-Asian American professional association, said she doesn’t find the study “offensive” and said she could “see why the outcome of the study was the way it was.” She cites the hard-working ethic instilled in many APAs which drove them to success.
“There is no other option but to work for immigrants. It’s survival,” she said. “Having dinner together with my mother was a very special occasion because she was always working.”
She said the Pew Research study reflects the sense of “no entitlement” that Asian immigrants have along with the hard work they endured in this country that led to their rise.
Vishakha N. Desai, President of the Asia Society, points out that if Asian Americans had indeed “risen,” there would be many more API faces in the upper echelons of corporate and political America, which “study after study shows the reverse to be true.”
The Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education released a joint statement mentioning harmful effects of the study. Asian American students have some of the highest levels of stress and anxiety, leading to high suicide rates, because of pressure to do well academically. The study allows the public to overlook the over 50 percent of Pacific Islanders aged 25-34 and about 40 percent of Southeast Asians who don’t attend college.
Clumping together this highly diverse group and depicting them as homogenous is considered one of the greatest weaknesses of the study. Tom Hayashi, executive director of the Organization of Chinese Americans, labeled the study as “disappointing.”
“It is difficult to take the data at face value when the questions seem to play too perfectly into reinforcing the stereotypes of Asian Americans,” he said.