Pew Center’s Research on Asian Americans Does Not Fully Capture Southeast Asian American Experiences

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Washington, DC – The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is alarmed by new research from the Pew Research Center which paints Asian Americans overall as faring better than other groups in the United States. While it is important to highlight the successes of Asian American communities, SEARAC is concerned that the Pew research on Asian Americans can do much harm by masking challenges that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) face. The Pew Research Center findings are not representative of all Asian American groups, especially since only Asian Americans from the top six largest subgroups (Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese Americans) were surveyed for the research. Working on behalf of Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese American communities, SEARAC feels that additional information about these communities is missing from Pew’s research.

For example, in terms of education attainment, the 2010 U.S. Census reveals that more than 1 in 3 Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian Americans over 25 years of age had less than a high school education, compared with about 1 in 7 of the general U.S. population. In terms of poverty status, 11.3% of Americans overall were estimated to live in poverty compared to Cambodian Americans who had a poverty rate of 18.2% and Hmong Americans at 27.4%.

Additionally, the Pew Research Center reported that Asian Americans overall don’t experience discrimination, but SEARAC works with several local community based groups that have initiatives to end racial discrimination as a direct result of experiences of Southeast Asian American youth in those communities.

Cambodian youth at Khmer Girls in Action in Long Beach, CA recently produced a report titled “Step Into Long Beach: Exposing How Cambodian Youth are Under-resourced, Over-policed, and Fighting Back for their Wellness” which discusses discrimination experienced by youth both at school and while interacting with law enforcement. In Providence, RI, the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) is working to pass state legislation banning racial profiling because of their youth of color’s experiences with law enforcement.

Furthermore, even the Department of Education has recently taken steps to act on a policy to disaggregate data on Asian Americans and Pacific Islander students by putting forth a Request for Information to gather and share information about practices and policies regarding existing education data systems that disaggregate data on AAPI student populations. According to SEARAC executive director, Doua Thor, “After decades of working to de-bunk the Model Minority Myth—the misconception that all Asian Americans excel academically and face few obstacles—Pew’s research only makes it more difficult for SEARAC and our allies to advance equity for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. SEARAC will continue to push for more disaggregated data so that the most accurate picture of our communities can emerge, and we will be able to fully advocate on behalf of Southeast Asian Americans and underserved communities.”

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