Asian Immigration Leaves all Others Behind

New arrivals from the Far East are shaping a multiethnic America.
New U.S. citizens celebrate after taking the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at the Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Reuters/Mike Seger)
Jun 20, 2012· 2 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

Growing up, I never thought I’d see Asians doing some of the things I’ve seen. I never thought I’d see an Indian governor of Louisiana, I never thought I’d see a Korean American hip-hop band top the U.S. charts, and I certainly never thought I’d see a 6'3" Chinese kid from Harvard dunk over John Wall in the NBA.

Of course, all of these things have happened, and if recent growth is any indication, this sampling of Asian immigrant achievement is just the beginning.

Stereotypes, even positive ones, are not only counterproductive but increasingly out of touch.

According to a study from Pew Research released Tuesday, Asians are now the fastest-growing group of immigrants coming into the U.S. Much of that growth has taken place in the past 10 years: In 2000, when nearly 60 percent of all immigrants were Hispanic, Asians made up a paltry 19 percent. By 2010, those numbers had leveled out, with Asians making up 36 percent of all new immigrants, compared to about 31 percent for Hispanics.

A number of factors explain the change. The economic collapse of 2008 made immigration less attractive for many Hispanics. Coupled with tightening restrictions on illegals in many border states, more Mexicans are leaving than entering the U.S. for the first time since the Great Depression.

Current immigration laws, which favor the college-educated and wealthy, also play a factor. Nearly half of all Asian immigrants have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 28 percent of the country as a whole. In addition, Asian immigrants are three times more likely to receive their green cards through employment rather than family ties.

“Like immigrants throughout American history, the new arrivals from Asia are strivers,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and co-author of the report. “What’s distinctive about them is their educational credentials. These aren’t the tired, poor, huddled masses of Emma Lazarus’s famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty. They are the highly skilled workforce of the 21st century.”

Much of the report seems to extol Asians as the “good” immigrants, citing impressive statistics about happiness and finances and career success. But like any generalization, it comes with the risk of oversimplification.

Asians may be more college-educated, but within the group, the differences are striking: 70 percent of Indians receive their college degrees, compared to just 26 of Vietnamese. Politically, they tend to vote Democrat, but one of the most prominent Asian American politicians, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, is a Republican. And, although just 15 percent of Asian Americans are undocumented (compared to 45 percent of Hispanics), one of the most vocal undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is Filipino.

Stereotypes, even positive ones, are not only counterproductive but increasingly out of touch. There are more interracial marriages in the U.S. than ever before, meaning more children that identify with multiple ethnicities. In May, the Census Bureau announced that whites accounted for less than half of the births in the U.S for the first time in the country’s history.

If the numbers are any indication, we’re all becoming multiracial, multiethnic, and minorities. Not long ago, that was a hard-to-imagine reality.

Are you multiracial? How many degrees of separation are you from someone who is multiracial? Let us know in COMMENTS.

Oliver Lee has been covering social justice and other issues for TakePart since 2009. Originally from Baltimore, he lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Email Oliver | @oliverung