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Report finds U.S.-born Asian Americans report more discrimination than immigrants

by Chris Fuchs /

Around one in four Asian Americans reported personally being discriminated against because they’re Asian when applying for jobs and trying to rent or buy housing, according to a new poll.

Immigrant Asian Americans were also much less likely to report multiple forms of individual discrimination, including violence and sexual harassment, than their counterparts born in the U.S. or Puerto Rico.

Those findings came from a report released on Wednesday, entitled “Discrimination in America: Experiences and Views of Asian Americans.” It is part of a series based on a survey conducted for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and National Public Radio.

The report details the results for a nationally representative probability sample of 500 Asian-American adults, with a margin of error of 5.8 percent at the 95 percent confidence interval. Interviews were conducted in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.

Some 3,453 adults in total — at least 18 years old and of various genders, races, ethnicities and identities — were interviewed by phone between Jan. 26 and April 9.

“The critical findings are that almost all groups think that in the aggregate they face some discrimination, including whites, but there are very substantial discrimination differences among minority communities,” Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-director of the poll, said in a phone interview.

Detailed in the report:

  • More than three in five Asian Americans (61 percent) believe discrimination exists against Asian Americans in the U.S. today, while about a third have experienced slurs and insensitive or offensive comments about their race or ethnicity.
  • A quarter or more of Asian Americans reported being personally discriminated against because they’re Asian when applying for jobs (27 percent); when being paid equally or considered for promotions (25 percent); and when attempting to rent or purchase housing (25 percent).
  • Nearly one in five Indian Americans (17 percent) reported they or a family member had been unfairly stopped or treated by police, compared to 12 percent of Asian Americans overall and just 2 percent of Chinese Americans who said the same.

The findings also painted a contrast between nonimmigrant and immigrant Asian Americans, noting that those born in the U.S. or Puerto Rico were much more likely to report threats, violence, and sexual harassment.

The poll found that 36 percent of nonimmigrant Asian Americans said they or a family member have been threatened or non-sexually harassed because they’re Asian; 20 percent said they’ve experienced violence; and 16 percent said they or someone in their family experienced sexual harassment because they’re Asian, according to the report.

The percentages in those same categories for Asian Americans born outside the U.S. were significantly lower — at 15 percent, 6 percent, and 4 percent, respectively.

Blendon said these results could reflect one of two things. The first, he said, is that immigrants live in more immigrant communities, so they don’t encounter different racial or ethnic groups in many different circumstances.

The other is that they can come from countries and cultures where they were treated very badly by police, the courts, and other institutions, according to Blendon. As a result, they may not report as frequently slurs or being treated differently, he said.

Healthcare, however, was different. Immigrant Asian Americans were 17 times more likely than Asian Americans born in the U.S. or Puerto Rico to report having been personally discriminated against when visiting a doctor or health clinic, the report found.

The findings also reflected a difference between Asian Americans’ personal experiences of discrimination and perceptions of it in their communities.

The percentages were lower when respondents were asked how often, if ever, they believe discrimination occurs to other Asian Americans where they live because they’re Asian.

Blendon said it went the other way around for many of the other groups.

“Usually more people felt things happened to people like themselves in their community, but not themselves,” he said. “But here it was reversed.”

Even as some Asian Americans reported discrimination, a majority believed that Asian Americans in general have equal employment and education opportunities and that they are paid equally to white people, the survey found.

Around two in three also said they believe their local government represents their views, and that they can influence what their local government does.

“Our poll shows that Asian American families have the highest average income among the groups we’ve surveyed, and yet the poll still finds that Asian Americans experience persistent discrimination in housing, jobs, and at college,” Blendon said in a statement when the report was released. “Over the course of our series, we are seeing again and again that income is not a shield from discrimination.”

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