Richard Hartog/California Watch
Girls laugh during a group debate exercise at the Khmer Girls in Action offices in Long Beach. Cambodia Town, officially recognized by the Long Beach City Council in 2007, is a hub for about 44,000 Cambodians living in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
There have been plenty of reports in the news media about Asians becoming the nation's fastest-growing ethnic group. In fact, immigration from Asia has outpaced that from Latin America. But there are many nuances to this story, something that a new report hopes to publicize.
Between 2000 and 2010, Los Angeles County's Asian American population grew nearly twice as fast as that of Latinos, and more than five times as fast as the general population. That's according to a report released Wednesday by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, the organization that compiled a new report using census, academic and government data.
For many, the report contains surprising information. For example, while Chinese Americans are still the region's largest Asian ethnic group, the fastest-growing group is Bangladeshis: Between 2000 and 2010, L.A. County's Bangladeshi population grew 122 percent. Of the five fastest growing Asian groups in the county, four are South Asian.
"The fastest growing groups are from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India," said Stewart Kwoh, the director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. "In fact, nationwide, South Asians are the fastest growing Asian ethnic group."
Another overlooked fact: While many Asian newcomers arriving in the U.S. come on family-based or work visas, at least 130,000 Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants in Los Angeles County are believed to be here illegally.
They include immigrants from Pacific Islander groups like Tongans, a community that's concentrated in the South Bay. Alisi Tulua of the advocacy group, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, says many Tongans arrived on visitor visas during the construction boom and stayed to work.
“A lot of people just overlook the fact that they are immigrants, and largely an undocumented population," Tulua said. "A lot of the community are really hoping for immigration reform to pass, because it would really benefit a lot of the families.”
In addition to a path to legal status, Asian American immigrant advocates have pushed to preserve family visa categories, two of which stand to be cut under the current Senate reform proposal.
But as far as policy implications go, immigration is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this growing population. There are deep divides in terms of legal status, income, education and access to health care. For example, the annual per capita income of Tongans and Cambodians in LA county is below that of Latinos – and just a fraction of that earned by Indians.
“If we don’t disaggregate and show the different ethnic groups, then those groups are going to get left behind and pretty much ignored,” Kwoh said.
Nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans in L.A. County are foreign born. Kwoh believes public policies that help integrate the many different types of immigrants – for example, better access to English classes for newcomers – will help guarantee these families can fully participate in the wider society.