How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

More diversity among Asian Americans than meets the myth

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Patricia Nazario/KPCC

Victory Huey teaches the morning Citizenship Class at Evans Adult School in downtown Los Angeles near Chinatown. Eighty immigrants from all over the world are enrolled in the class.

Many observers regard Asian Americans as the nation's most successful immigrants. But a new report details how the nation's fastest-growing racial group is far more diverse a population, socioeconomically and otherwise, than “model minority” myths might indicate.

The stereotype of a generally well-educated, well-paid group doesn’t play out in the report by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, a civil rights and legal organization in Los Angeles. 

While some Asian American groups in Southern California do earn more than non-Latino whites, the study also found that some groups, such as Cambodians, Bangladeshis and Tongans, tend to earn less than blacks and Latinos. And Korean Americans in the region, for example, are as just as likely as Latinos to lack medical insurance.

“There is this myth that is prevalent that Asian American communities and Pacific Islander communities are uniformly successful," said Dan Ichinose, the legal center's demographic research director. "But when we look at the data, that is just not the case."


'Undocumented' (vs. 'illegal') at the Oscars

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Natalie Portman presents the Oscar for Best Actor at the 84th Annual Academy Awards, February 26, 2012

Might the use of the term "undocumented" during a speech at the Oscars on Sunday night signal a shift in how immigrants without permission to be in the U.S. are referred to?

The "undocumented" vs. "illegal" debate has been in the news again since the awards ceremony, during which actress Natalie Portman introduced the nominees for Best Actor. Among them was Demián Bichir, who earned his nomination for playing an immigrant gardener in "A Better Life." In the film, Bichir's central character aspires to have his own landscaping business so that he can better provide for his son, only to have his lack of legal status eventually thwart his ambitions.

The social justice magazine ColorLines, which last year launched a campaign called "Drop the I-Word," posted a clip from Portman's introduction speech yesterday. From her speech, addressed to Bichir as he sat in the audience: “As Carlos Galindo, an undocumented immigrant fighting to give his son the opportunities he never had, you made us face very true portrait of a human being no one had ever dared us to consider before.”