Coalition aims to raise the fast-growing population's concerns
By Paul Bradley
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Sunday, May 16, 2004
ARLINGTON - Virginia's rapidly growing Asian-American population is
to make its collective voice heard as it strives to overcome persistent
and language barriers.
That was the message heard yesterday by the Virginia Asian Advisory
held a its first public forum as part of its effort to develop
for Gov. Mark R. Warner.
"This is a historic occasion," said Eric Liang Jansen, president of the
Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans of Virginia. "It has never happened
in the state of Virginia, with various Asian-Pacific-Americans coming
The state of Virginia will be listening."
Liu-Jen Chu, a Richmond woman who leads the advisory board, said, "This
first time the commonwealth has held a forum to hear from the state's
Asian-American communities about their issues and concerns."
Residents of Asian descent are Virginia's fastest-growing minority
according to the Census Bureau. Between 1990 and 2000, the Asian
increased 62 percent, to more than 261,000 people. Over the same time,
Virginia's non-Asian population increased by 14 percent.
Asians now make up about 4.3 percent of the state's population,
census figures. In some areas of the state, the percentage is much
Fairfax County, for example, Asians are 13 percent of the population. In
Arlington County, the figure is nearly 9 percent.
But those numbers have been slow to translate into political clout. If
to change, the varied groups - including those whose members trace their
to China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, India and elsewhere - need to work
said Francey Lim Youngberg, who runs a consulting firm in Washington.
"You have to demand a place at the table," she said. "No one is going to
to you. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. That is the reality."
Paul M. Igasaki, a former member of the Equal Employment Opportunity
said persistent stereotypes about Asian-Americans as brainy achievers
efforts to capture the attention of political leaders.
"One of the most frustrating and damaging realities is the stereotype of
model minority," he said.
"We are seen as technocrats and nerds rather than managers and leaders,"
said. "Some do very well in our community, but some don't. The greater
lost in the stereotype."
Igasaki cited statistics that show 10.7 percent of Asian-Americans live
poverty. The poverty rate for Vietnamese-Americans and Laotian-Americans
percent. In places across Northern Virginia, low-income Asian-Americans
being squeezed out of their homes as inexpensive apartments convert to
condominiums, said Kim Cook, director of the Vietnamese Resettlement
Asian-Americans also face barriers because they do not share a common
as do Hispanics, another fast-growing minority group. Within the overall
category of Asian-Pacific-Americans, there are nearly 50 ethnic
The language barriers mean that Asian-Americans often live in isolation
not become part of the larger American culture or take advantage of
public services, the board was told. Nationwide, more than 40 percent of
Asian-Americans struggle with the English language. Among some groups,
percentage of those who do not speak English is much higher.
Kim Miller, a Korean-American activist, said many newcomers avoid
because they are unfamiliar with the American system and are too busy
living to get involved. Only aggressive outreach will change that, she
"It takes time, energy and a lot of effort to improve civic
Asian-Americans," she said. "We need leaders from each community to put
necessary emphasis on this important issue. . . . We must learn to speak
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