Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Model Minority and the "other Asian" at UCLA

Apparently UCLA students of Asian and Pacific Islander descent are joining together to ask the UC system to disaggregate APIA student data to overcome the "Other Asian" box to include ethnicities such as Hmong and Bangladeshi.

The title of Asian Pacific American can give and take. It can empower and at the same time engender the feeling of being a minority within a minority group.

APAs make up 34.6 percent of the University of California's new freshman admits in 2005 - the second largest group next to Caucasian, according to university data. The same report defines APAs as: Chinese, East Indian/Pakistani, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Other Asians.

For Nefara Riesch, who is of Samoan descent, being "other" or just "Asian" doesn't encapsulate a Pacific Islander's struggle for access to higher education. The 19-year-old history major is one of about 40 Pacific Islanders on the University of California, Los Angeles campus of over 24,000 undergraduates. For Riesch, the numbers just don't add up.

In order to call attention to the plight of smaller APA ethnic groups, UCLA's Asian Pacific Coalition (APC) is leading a campaign to pressure university administrators to disaggregate the "Other Asian" category, which critics say traps some APAs under the Model Minority Myth.

(Let me just marvel for a second at being able to fill out a form that includes a box for "other Asian" and the tremendous diversity that implies. Out here, I'm lucky if I get the option to check the "Asian" box is included in a survey, as opposed to being the generic "Other.")

That said, this campaign is a great idea because here are some of the objectives:

• the inclusion of 10 more APA ethnic groups such as Bangladeshi, Fijian and Hmong in the university's collection of data;

• the creation of a Pacific Islander racial category; and

• financial support for outreach projects targeted at disadvantaged APAs.

Some of these groups have the leas per capita income of all AAPIs, according to Census figures included in United for a Fair Economy's Racial Wealth Divide report.

Disaggregated data for per capita income shows how many Asian subgroups are falling behind. Most staggeringly, the Hmong ($6,600), followed by Cambodian, Laotian, and Tongans are well under the poverty threshold. Though the stereotype that all Asians are good at math, their recent immigration status and language barriers may still translate into lack of education. More than half of Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotians (52.7%) have less than a high school degree—a rate higher than Latinos (48.5%) and Blacks (29.1%). Melany de la Cruz, from the Asian Pacific American Community Development Data Center speculates that “Southeast Asian groups tend to be a very young population, which might account for their low educational attainment rates, home ownership rates, etc.”

Although the median household income for Asians and Pacific Islander ($54,827) was larger than whites ($48,500), our per capita incomes ($21,823) still fall short of whites ($26,744).

Per Capita Income in 1999 by Ethnic Background
Total Population $21,587 Total Asian $21,823 Total NHPI $15,054 Other Asian $20,699

*NHPI is abbreviated for those who identified themselves as Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

Asian Indian$27,514Hmong$6,600Pakistani$18,096
Cambodian$10,366Japanese$30,075Sri Lankan$27,428
Fijian$14,745Native Hawaiian$17,697Vietnamese$15,655

Table 1. Per Capita Income by Ethnicity in 1999 Source: U.S. Census Bureau Summary File 4, SF4-PCT 130

Hopefully if this campaign is victorious, it will go a bit toward address the income disparity in our community.

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