By Ryan Velez
The modern stereotype of an Asian-American is generally one of success, conjuring images of successful doctors, bankers, and other professionals. However, a recent Huffington Post article calls attention to another side of this group, one that is struggling to get by as much as ethnicities we associate with struggle.
A major reason Asian-American poverty issues get overlooked is due to what is called the “model minority myth.” Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the social services nonprofit Asian American Federation, explained to The Huffington Post that the “model minority myth chooses to highlight the successful immigrant examples and brush aside the high rates of poverty. The myth assumes that we somehow have the capacity to work ourselves out of poverty without any help.” In fact, in New York City, a bastion of wealth, more than one-quarter of Asian-Americans live in poverty, with the 26.6 percent in 2014 a raise from the year before.
Part of the reason for this is the fact that certain subsets of Asian-Americans are more likely to be poor, with seniors being the most vulnerable financially. 1 out of 4 seniors lives in poverty. Other groups at risk include those from refugee communities like Cambodians and Vietnamese, as well as recent immigrants, like Bangladeshi-Americans. Raising the issues is the fact that many in these groups have limited or no command of English.
In some cases, the media have a role in the blame. For example, Pew Research’s 2012 “Rise Of The Asian-Americans” piece got heavy criticism for failing to delve into the experiences of subgroups. For example, the stories and history of people from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are quite different from those of China and India. However, aggregated data, the source of many of these studies, fails to take these differences into account.
“We are invisibles and [are] living in many intersections of oppression,” Chhaya Chhoum, executive director of Mekong NYC, a group that helps Southeast Asians in the Bronx, told HuffPost. “To address this problem, it is vital to address not only the consistent collection of disaggregated data but also its reporting and accessibility.” Another major issue stemming from this misinformation is the lack of resources being dedicated towards these groups, resulting in non-profits having to work from a position of scarcity.
Mekong NYC provides support to Southeast Asians in the city with case management, including navigating public services, as well as running art and culture programs to keep in touch with their heritage.