Surging Asian-Americans encounter tendency to keep them a 'model minority'

February 27, 1991|By Arch Parsons | Arch Parsons,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Asian-Americans constitute the fastest growing, most diverse and, in some ways, the most "paradoxical" racial minority in the United States, according to a report released yesterday.

All of this is causing them problems with whites and other minorities in this country, the report said.

The nation's Asian-American population grew by 80 percent in the 1980s -- twice the growth rate of Hispanics, six times the rate of black Americans and 20 times that of whites -- and by now probably numbers more than 7 million, the Population Reference Bureau, a non-profit, private research organization, has found.

That growth, which the bureau termed "phenomenal," is likely to continue into the 1990s, its report said.

The paradoxes arose in the study's analysis of the socioeconomic status of Asian-Americans, which the report described as "a mixed picture." Despite the fact that many Asians in the United States are new immigrants, historically a low-income group, the average family income for Asian-Americans in 1989 -- $35,900 -- was higher than that of white American families -- $35,000 that year.

Meanwhile, the poverty rate of Asian-Americans is increasing and is now nearly twice the rate of whites.

Against this background, the report said, Asian-Americans are receiving "mixed and inconsistent treatment" from "the majority white society."

"On one hand, Asian-Americans are lauded as a 'model minority' that is fulfilling the American dream and confirming the image of America as a 'melting pot,' " the report said. "On the other hand, Asian-Americans are hampered by invisible barriers -- a so-called 'glass ceiling' -- that keeps them from climbing to the top rungs of power."

William P. O'Hare, one of the authors of the report, offered a possible explanation for the ceiling: "Discrimination may be too loaded a term, but it sure fits the facts," he said.

At the same time, the report found, the economic success of Asians has made them "likely targets" of the frustrations of other minority groups, as well as of whites, "who fear the growing economic power of Pacific rim countries."

As for diversity and change, the report found that in 1980 more than 80 percent of all Asian-Americans could trace their roots to one of five countries: China, the Philippines, Japan, India and Korea. Immigration from Vietnam in the 1980s has also placed that country among the major nations of Asian-American origin.

In addition to immigrants from those six nations, the study also covered people who have come from Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Pacific islands.

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