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Asians struggling with health, social and economic issues

By PHILIP PALERMO

The Mirror

While the ongoing immigration debate has called attention to the Latino population entering the U.S. from Mexico, a recent report sheds new light on another population of minorities with similar struggles.

The report, “A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” discusses the health, social and economic issues facing the minority group.

According to a press release, the report reveals a number of statistics about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including:

• Pacific Islanders rank last in per-capita income among major ethnic and racial groups in King County.

• The rates of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders finishing high school are below average.

• Hmong, Guamanian, Indonesian and Cambodian communities are among King County’s poorest racial or ethnic groups.

The report was published by the Asian-American Justice Center and affiliates, including the Asian Counseling and Referral Service based in Seattle.

“This information is critical in shaping the public policy around health and human services, education access, employment, economic development and civil rights,” said Diane Narasaki, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service.

The report suggests the more than 20 ethnic groups that make up the Asian-American/Pacific Islanders demographic face ongoing issues with poverty and education.

“That is really correct,” Kim Hensley, Korean community liaison for the city of Federal Way, said of the report’s findings.

While she said she can only speak to the issues facing the Korean community in the city, Hensley said the report corroborates what she’s seen firsthand.

Discovering the differences between American and Korean culture may be difficult for some, Hensley said. For example, discipline methods that are considered acceptable in Korea may go against child abuse laws here.

“That was really challenging,” she said of the effort to compare the two cultures.

Korean business owners can also face difficulties setting up shop in America if they’re unfamiliar with local business laws and permitting.

“All those things, they are new,” Hensley said.

Language barriers, she said, present a major problem for the city’s Korean population, with many possessing only a basic understanding of English.

The report states 37 percent of Asian-Americans in King County are classified as LEP (limited English proficient).

Limited knowledge of English, Hensley said, can lead to difficulties not only at home and in business, but also in emergencies. Those with little or no knowledge of English can face serious issues trying to explain their situations and express themselves to police officers, she said.

Federal Way has offered programs to teach English and provide computer training, Hensley said, but budget constraints and a lack of funds have meant cutting the programs this past year.

“I couldn’t get any donations or grants” to replace the money trimmed from the budget, she said.

Hensley said the programs were popular among the community. Parents, she said, wanted computer training because it helped them understand what their children were doing on computers.

“The parents were really appreciative and happy about it,” Hensley said. “Also, they can communicate with kids and the kids were proud of them.”

Financial issues haven’t stopped Hensley from trying to restart the program. She said she’s still searching for funds for more English and computer training classes, but “I don’t know where to get the money to pay the instructors.”

Carina del Rosario, interim development director for Asian Counseling and Referral Service, said the report’s title, “A Community of Contrasts,” highlights the different, sometimes opposing experiences that exist in the community.

“It really speaks to the diversity within our community,” she said.

While many Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders succeed in business and in the community, many more aren’t as successful. The success and prominence of some, del Rosario said, can cause society to overlook struggles that still exist.

“I’ve been able to see these contrasts every day,” she said.

Possible changes to the country’s immigration laws wouldn’t just affect the Latino population, del Rosario said. As with practically any ethnic or racial group, she noted, there are many undocumented immigrants within the Asian-American/Pacific Islander community. Whether they stowed away on ships or entered the country through Canada or Mexico, they face the same vulnerabilities Latinos face when it comes to exploitation by employers, she said.

Despite the dangers involved, del Rosario said, undocumented immigration still happens. The average wait time for those wishing to legally come from the Philippines to the U.S. is about 20 years, she said, adding she’s not surprised people are seeking out other means to enter the country.

“People are desperate to improve their lives now,” she said.

Staff writer Philip Palermo: 925-5565, ppalermo@fedwaymirror.com

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