Legislators are one step closer to a big win for Asian-Americans.
The New York State Assembly recently passed a bill that would require state agencies to collect data on specific ethnicities like Vietnamese, Laotian and Pakistani rather than broad groupings such as Asian-American.
Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou (D), the bill’s sponsor, explained to HuffPost that the bill would help lawmakers better address the diverse experiences of Asian-American subgroups.
“This bill would improve our understanding of New York’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander community,” said the legislator, who serves as the first person of Asian descent to represent New York City’s Chinatown in the state Assembly. “Right now, the data collected paints a very broad picture and suggests that Asian-American and Pacific Islanders are a homogeneous group.”
The passage of the bill marks one of the first victories of the state’s task force on Asian-American issues, which launched in May. Niou noted last month that to garner support for the bill, she sent her colleagues a HuffPost report on the problems associated with treating Asians as a homogenous group. Shortly afterward, a legislative committee approved the legislation unanimously.
The change, experts say, would make a huge difference. Currently, the data paints a misleading picture of Asian-Americans, ignoring the vastly different experiences of individual ethnic groups.
People from Vietnamese or Pakistani communities, for example, are more likely to struggle economically compared to people from the Chinese or Indian communities, according to Christian E. Weller, a senior fellow at the Center For American Progress who co-penned a report on Asian-American wealth disparity.
Essentially, averages don’t tell the full story, Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the social services nonprofit Asian American Federation, told HuffPost.
“The needs of the refugee community may be different than a community that has been here for several generations,” Yoo said. “The Asian-American community ― or any other community ― cannot be painted with a single, broad brush stroke.”
The bill has the potential to address several pressing issues, including poverty and mental health. Asian-Americans have the highest poverty rate in New York City compared to people of other races. Older Asian-Americans and refugees also have comparatively high rates of mental health issues.
However, without the proper data to illustrate these challenges, along with the persistence of the “model minority” stereotype, the government has barely devoted any resources to tackling the issues, experts say. In fact, in New York City, Asian-Americans only received 1.4 percent of the city’s social service funds over a 13-year period.
“For the Asian American community, we continue to be stymied by the ‘model minority’ myth that we can succeed without support,” Yoo said. “That is not reality!”
The state Senate has yet to take action on the bill, but Niou said she’ll be working with Ron Kim (D), the only other Asian-American in the state Assembly, to advocate for the legislation. Niou is optimistic that with more awareness, her colleagues will place more importance on Asian-American issues.
“I have had many more conversations with folks about this issue over time, and people’s views have started to change,” she said. “I think we all hope that as our conversations move forward, that our colleagues in the state Senate will also prioritize our community.”