Report shows that Philadelphia's Asian Americans defy stereotypes

Posted: February 06, 2014

Often highly skilled and high-achieving, Asian immigrants are frequently portrayed as America's "model minorities" - cliched as hardworking green grocers, or math-whiz entrepreneurs from the Far East.

But a new report on Asian Americans in Philadelphia released Wednesday challenges the stereotypes with a complex portrait of a community composed of more than two dozen countries of origin and mixed levels of attainment.

Disaggregating Asians by their ethnicities, the report finds pockets of poverty, gaps in education, trouble securing affordable housing and other critical needs.

It also finds the potential for growing electoral power as the advocates for Asians in Philadelphia focus on raising their rates of naturalized citizenship, voter registration and participation in elections.

The report, drawn from census, employment and business data, and produced by local Asian advocacy groups in collaboration with the national nonprofit group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, looked at the state of Asian Americans in Philadelphia, with separate sections produced by immigrant advocates in Boston and New York City.

"Asian-American communities are often stratified on extreme ends of the spectrum, especially with regards to wealth and educational access," said Helen Gym, a board member of Philadelphia's Asian Americans United (AAU).

The tradition of lumping all the Asian ethnic groups into one category and calling it "Asian," said Gym, "masks" their demographic differences and the range of ways they experience the city.

Among the highlights:

Although fewer than 1,000 Bangladeshis live in Philadelphia, their population grew the fastest, up 400 percent between 2000 and 2010. By contrast, the Vietnamese population grew 25 percent.

Among Asian-American ethnic groups, Chinese own the most businesses, Koreans employ the most people, and Indian-owned businesses dispensed the most in total payroll, about $99 million a year, according to a 2007 survey of business owners.

At the same time, despite that record of achievement by Asians, about 52 percent of Cambodian American youth live in poverty in Philadelphia, surpassing the citywide youth poverty rate of 35 percent.

"Contrary to the myth of Asian Americans as the 'model minority,' " said AAU executive director Ellen Somekawa, "the data we see in Philadelphia calls upon us to seriously rethink our investments in this community. We need to consider investments in poverty, in education and affordable housing. ... This conversation is just the beginning."



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