Asian-American Assimilation: A Critical Research Analysis
Comprising 4.4% of the American population and growing, Asian Americans are classified by researchers as being one of the most rapidly growing minority populations in the country. Being such an ingrained part of American immigration and ethnic composition, the Asian American experience and phenomenon is critical for sociological understanding. Minorities in the United States, however, have historically been faced with stereotypes and double standards that are specific to how the majority culture views that particular minority at a given interval of time. Facing harsh conditions under the first wave of Asian immigration, the modern perspectives of Asian assimilation are much different than those assigned to other minority and ethnic groups. In this capacity, Asians are typically regarded by U.S. society as being "model minorities" (Ji-Sun Kim, 2010, p. 211). A model minority status, though arguably advantageous to more negative stereotypes, is still not of sufficient scope for a true understanding of the Asian experience in the country. To examine the intricacies related to Asian American Assimilation, a review of peer reviewed literature will be employed to fully articulate the complicated dynamics associated with the topic. Through understanding the complex nature of the Asian American experience, myth and truth can be separated to advance efficacious social policy.
Comprising 4.4% of the American population and growing, Asian Americans are classified by researchers as being one of the most rapidly growing minority populations in the country (Sze-Fai Shiu, 2006; Choi, 2009). Being such an ingrained part of American immigration and ethnic composition, the Asian American experience and phenomenon is critical for sociological understanding. Minorities in the United States, however, have historically been faced with stereotypes and double standards that are specific to how the majority culture views that particular minority at a given interval of time. Facing harsh conditions under the first wave of Asian immigration, the modern perspectives of Asian assimilation are much different than those assigned to other minority and ethnic groups. In this capacity, Asians are typically regarded by U.S. society as being "model minorities" (Ji-Sun Kim, 2010, p. 211). A model minority status, though arguably advantageous to more negative stereotypes, is still not of sufficient scope for a true understanding of the Asian experience in the country. Dwelling on positive stereotypes and championing Asians as model minority, however, has oversimplified the Asian assimilation experience to a level that is not sufficiently robust to accurately articulate challenges facing the Asian community. In this regard, if no problem is perceived, then no solutions are being sought. The reality of Asian American assimilation does contain some of the elements of the stereotypes; on the other hand, it also contains a more complex story that is stilling evolving now into the 21st Century. To examine the intricacies related to Asian American Assimilation, a review of peer reviewed literature will be employed to fully articulate these dynamics. Through understanding the complex nature of the Asian American experience, myth and truth can be separated to advance efficacious social policy.
Asian, depending on one's geographical location, can constitute a variety of locations throughout the continent of Asia. In the United States, however, Asians typically are considered to be those individuals of East or Southeast Asian descent including but not limited to China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam. As a community and political identity, however, Asian Americans can really be said to encompass more than 52 different ethnic groups. By 2050, Asian Americans are estimated to comprise 10 percent of the total U.S. population. As a result, simply generalizing all of these individuals as Asians is an oversimplification unto itself. In terms of racism, stereotypes and even legislation, however, the intricacies related to differing Asian people are generally not considered. Discussing Asian assimilation, therefore, can be generalized as the popular perceptions of these individuals is also generalized. The bulk of the generalizations have been influenced by the Chinese and Japanese American men who came to the United States in the mid 19th Century to work. It was these groups that first attracted media and legislative attention toward the race (Shek, 2006).
The early Asian experience of these individuals was quite daunting. Asians were perceived as inferior, less masculine and weaker than European settlers living in the United States and conditions were crafted to make staying in the United States an unwelcoming prospect. Though they were not chattel slaves in the African sense, there were a number of restrictions placed on the ethnic group. The early Asian populations were virtually all male. The Asian women present in the country were generally prostitutes or the wives and offspring of the relatively few wealthy Asian merchants (Shek, 2006). The average Asian male worker was either forbidden or could not practically consider marriage and family due to either the lack of females present or the inability to support a family economically. Asians were not expected to assimilate, they were expected and encouraged to return home after the work was done. Events like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War also further complicated the relationship between the races. The U.S., however, is an immigrant society and waves of immigration continued to bring Asians to the country and by the Twentieth Century, Asian families were becoming increasingly visible despite artifacts of racism that were still present in the U.S. psyche.
Whereas other ethnic groups like African Americans and Latinos struggled for equality and respect through civil rights movements, the Asian community embraced culturally approved channels of success and focused the pursuit of social mobility through education and free enterprise. In this capacity, the stereotype of the model minority proliferated. According to Sung (2010) "Academic success among East Asian students is well known and almost stereotypical. Yet the attention to emotional well being continues to be minimal" (p. 199). The glamorization of a small number of individuals within the Asian American community has established a normative perspective to all of the ethnic groups of Asian descent. This factor ignores some less affluent Asian communities and the gangs and other social problems present in those communities. In this capacity, being Asian is not necessarily a predictor of success or lack-thereof despite the positive model minority stereotypes. In a study of high and low Korean American youths in New York Public schools, it was found that socioeconomic status predicted academic success rates of high and low achievers much the way that it would with other minority and non minority students (Lew 2010). As a result, there is a wide class of immigrant success variance within the asian communities.
The Asian assimilation and academic stereotype phenomenon has greatly complicated other sociological studies that have cited race and minority status as an indicator of academic success. In a study by Reynolds, Sneva & Beehler (2010), it was found that race related stress factors psychologically influenced the academic success of 151 Black and Latino college students enrolled in primarily White university. According to the researchers, "Institutional racism related stress was negatively correlated with extrinsic motivation but positively correlated with intrinsic motivations" (Reynolds, Sneva & Beehler, 2010, p. 135). This same pattern is general regarded as not being true or applicable to Asian Americans who have faced similar degrees of institutionalized racism. Perceived Asian academic success, from Eurocentric perspective, would postulate the question as to why African American and Latino students cannot succeed within the same frameworks. Using the Asian assimilation success paradigm often translates to projecting similar expectations on other ethnic groups rather than examining those ethnic groups as a sociological phenomenon unto themselves.
On the levels of deviant behavior and crime, the level of Asians incarcerated in the U.S. is not asymmetrical with their population composition as it is with other ethnic groups including African American and Latino groups (Parenti, 1999). A cursory overview of this factor could suggest that problems like alcohol, drugs and gang related crime are not applicable to the Asian American experience. This is not true as previously articulated, poor Asian communities, though perhaps less common than poor Latino or poor African American communities, have the same types of social problems thereby making economics again a more telling influence on behavior than race. Substance abuse among Asian Americans is one problem of many that is under represented in the current paradigm of conventional understanding of the ethnic group. Amongst Asian youth, it has been found that they share many of the common correlates of alcohol use as their peers from other minority and majority groups. Like other socially deviant behavior, the exploration of substance use and abuse in Asian Americans is underrepresented in current academic literature as a result of the predominance of positive stereotyping that actually works as a disservice in this capacity. For example, it has been identified that genetically there are metabolizing factors related to substance use that are unique to Asians that are not being studied with sufficient gusto due to the fact that substance use is not associated with Asian behavior.
This same pattern holds true on the psychological level. As a result of the Asian assimilation process being considered so favorable, the impact of being a minority and minority pressures psychologically has also been under examined. For many Asians, self reliance and traditional gender roles keep them from seeking psychiatric help due to the potential stigmas associated with the process. Whereas the same cultural dynamic of self reliance has served Asians well on an assimilation level for social success in many instances, it also hurts them on the level of seeking help when help is required. For mental health counsellors, understanding the driving forces behind Asian culture without bias toward stereotypes is necessary for efficacious treatment and identification of problems. Higher rates of perceived social success and educational success do not make Asian Americans immune from psychological problems and substance abuse related problems. While the positive stereotypes surrounding Asian assimilation undermine other social problems related to the Asian experience in the United States, it is important to acknowledge that there are negative stereotypes or ceilings placed on Asian culture in general in the United States.
According to Huang (2009), "There are still stereotypes. In pop culture, Asian Americans are usually recognized as hardworking and smart, but as having different cultural values and lacking the courage to become leaders" (p. 11). Huang (2009) suggests that the implications of weak leadership typically associated with Asian Americans are constructs related to perceived notions of less masculinity. Masculinity, which is generally considered to be a favorable leadership paradigm in Western U.S. culture, is generally not attributed to Asians. As a result, though there is an acceptance that Asians are hardworking and smart in U.S. popular culture, this does not extend into the frameworks of leadership. This subtle institutionalized racism has a psychological impact on the Asian assimilation experience. Huang (2009) states, "Minorities with adequate leadership skills who are quieter and exude less confidence in giving a speech are less likely to be elected as leaders. The reason is that they lack the uniqueness or presence to distinguish themselves from other candidates" (p. 11). This can be seen in the entire U.S. political representation system.
Where other genders and minorities are seen virtually in all levels of elected officials, the Asian presence is holistically non existent. Only six members of the U.S. senate have ever been of Asian American or Pacific Islander descent (Nation, 2010). Currently there are 8 members of the House of Representatives that are Asian Americans and only three in the Senate (Nation, 2010). Asian assimilation, though considered a success story, has not occurred on the legislative level and therefore arguably has less political impact that African American or Latino ethnic groups who have far less flattering stereotypes associated with their culture. The leadership dimension, as the glass ceiling for Asian mobility, is adversely affecting the process of Asian assimilation.
The Asian American experience is one that contains its own culturally unique attributes. Though by conventional societal standards the process of Asian assimilation is considered to be favorable, it is far from complete. Asian Americans came to the United States and established families and a societal presence under harsh institutionalized parameters of racism and exclusion.
Their perceived rise and ability to work with societally approved frameworks, has created an illusion of self sufficiency that has led to other areas of the Asian experience that are negative to be overlooked. Psychologically and economically, Asians are still under the same type of pressure as other ethnic groups though these pressures and solutions to the these pressures are understudies and under considered. In addition, though the image of the Asian American is one that is hard working and smart, the image is also one that lacks masculinity and leadership capability. As a result, the American political system is largely absent of Asian leadership therefore illustrating a telling dimension to the degree in which Asians have truly assimilated.
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Microaggressions and Asian Americans
According to Wing Sue, et al. (2007), there are 8 major microaggressive themes related toward Asian Americans that Include:
(1) Alien in in their own land (Untied States)
(2) Intelligence Stereotype
(3) "Exoticization" of Asian Women (p. 72)
(4) Not recognizing ethnic differences between Asians
(5) A Denial of Racial Reality
(6) Undermining communication and values
(7) Second class citizen status
Note. List adapted from Wing Sue, et al. (2007).
U.S. Cities With The Highest Asian American Population
City Number of Asian Americans1. New York, NY 8008278
2. Los Angeles, CA 3694820
3. Chicago, IL 2896016
4. Houston, TX 1953631
5. Philadelphia, PA 1517550
Note. Source: United States Census Bureau (2000).