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L.A. County is the Capital of Asian America

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A map of the Asian/Pacific Islander population of L.A. County, by census tract.
A map of the Asian/Pacific Islander population of L.A. County, by census tract.  | Photo: Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Earlier this week, the nonprofit organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles released its demographic research report, "A Community Of Contrasts: Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County." The document quantifies the growth and issues facing L.A. County's 1,497,960 Asian Americans (15 percent of the county's population) and 54,169 Pacific Islanders -- including the non-immigrant Native Hawaiian sub-demographic -- (the largest number in the continental U.S.) between 2000 and 2010.

According to the report, in the last decade, the Asian American population of L.A. County grew 20 percent, and the Pacific Islander population grew nine percent, even though the total county population grew only three percent. In contrast, the growth rate for the Latino population was 11 percent, and both the white and African American populations shrank, with decreases of eight and five percent, respectively.

The report also confirms Los Angeles County as the capital of Asian America, with the largest number of Asian immigrants of any county in the nation, and the home of the largest Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Korean, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, and Thai populations outside their respective home countries. Chinese and Filipinos comprise the two largest Asian American groups both nationwide and in the county.

Bangladeshi Americans are the Asian ethnic group with the highest rate of growth, with a 122 percent increase in population in the past decade. Other South Asian ethnic groups, such as Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and Indian Americans experienced high growth rates in L.A. County as well. Japanese Americans had the least highest growth rate (one percent), but also the highest domestic-born population (70 percent) and the highest percentage of senior citizens (19 percent). The fastest-growing Pacific Islander ethnic group are Fijian Americans, with a growth rate of 68 percent.

The L.A. County city with the largest number of Asian Americans is Los Angeles, with a little under half a million. Monterey Park boasts the largest percentage of Asians per capita at 68 percent, while the city of Arcadia experienced the highest percentage of Asian American population growth at 38 percent. Of the 88 cities in L.A. County, 13 have majority Asian populations.

For Pacific Islanders, Los Angeles has the largest number at 15,000, Carson boasts the largest per capita, and the city with the highest growth rate of Pacific Islanders is Glendale, with a 74 percent increase.

The report from AAAJ-LA (formerly known as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center) is largely based on on 2010 U.S. Census data, as well as findings gathered from USC's Center for the Study of Immigration Integration, the California Department of Education, the California Department of Public Health, and the California Health Interview Survey.

Surely such an aggregation of demographic data can reveal trends and indications in community-wide issues such as immigration, economics, employment, housing, education, health, and civic engagement.

The large growth rate of the Asian/Pacific Islander population as revealed in AAAJ-LA's report reflects the change in the image of the American immigrant through the years: From the huddled masses of Europeans arriving via Ellis Island by boat to Spanish-speaking inmigrantes coming from Latin America, it will inevitably shift to Asians and Pacific Islanders flying by airplane across the great ocean, arriving at emotional gateways such as LAX. Only this time, with American entertainment and popular culture easily downloadable, cultural integration and assimilation might be somewhat faster -- although the cultural influence can originate from the other side of the Pacific as well.

Much more importantly, the image of Asian Americans in the American mainstream as a "Model Minority," consistently blessed with a comfortable income and higher education couldn't be more shattered through the findings of the AAAJ-LA report. Though groups such as Indian, Japanese, and Taiwanese Americans made an annual per-capita income of over $30,000 -- well above the total L.A. County average of $27,344 -- Cambodian Americans fared the lowest of all the Asian groups at $14,276. They also registered with 53 percent of their population as low-income and a a quarter living in poverty. The Bangladeshi population in L.A. County has 57 percent of them considered low-income (The Latino population, by comparison, is 51 percent low-income and 21 percent living in poverty). And although many Asian ethnic groups have at least 90 percent of their population possessing a high school degree or higher education level, Cambodian Americans fared at just 58 percent; Vietnamese Americans had 67 percent. And although Korean Americans fared slightly above the average annual per-capita income level, they rank among the lowest in home ownership and are the highest in terms of the lack of health insurance. The "Model Minority" label is meaningless in today's world; Asian Americans are instead seeking models for equity, empowerment, and change. For the next 10 years, there's a lot of work to be done in the community.

The complete report, "A Community Of Contrasts: Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County" can be downloaded here from the AAAJ-LA's website.

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