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June 23, 2004

Slouching toward mediocrity, yes, heading off the precipice, not yet....

Ed Rubenstein has a piece over at VDARE titled Bad News About Those South Asian Model Immigrants. There is plenty of bad news to report, or, more frankly, less good news. In the early 1980s most of the South Asians who were working class my family was aware of were illegals, or the odd poor relations of a professional (in other words, they were rare). Now, we live in a nation where convenience stores, taxi cabs and motels are as much the haunting grounds of brown folk as the halls of academe or hospitals. Things could be worse (at least they work), but the important thing to note is that the American immigration system has shifted a stream of highly educated professionals into a river of mediocrity in one generation! [1] From a selfish perspective, all South Asians who live in the United States have a stake in reorienting the immigration system toward more selectivity from an individual (as opposed to familial) vantage point, because the convenience store clerk rivals the medical professional in the minds of many Americans as the stereotypical brown person . One can easily imagine the consequences of this trend on the sexual or professional plane for those who do not strike a high enough individual profile, and get tagged with rational assessments based on group identity.

That being said, I have to express some reservations toward Ed Rubenstein's piece. He notes:


The Census makes it hard to break out South Asians. But at the end of the 1990s, the poverty rate for Asian immigrants (15.2 percent) was significantly above that of U.S. natives (12.0 percent)...The poverty rate for native-born whites was only 8.6 percent in 2000.

Poverty rates do vary considerably among South Asian ethnicities, from 9.6 percent among Indian immigrants to 62.0 percent among the Hmong. (Table 1.)


When were the Hmong among the South Asians that are profiled in laudatory tones in major glossies??? The educated American usually makes obvious typological distinctions between East Asians, Southeast Asians and South Asians [2]. The Hmong came as refugees, so they don't even fit the pattern that Rubenstein points to when he characterizes South Asians, that they came as professionals in the 1960s and 1970s, with family reunification kicking in later. Look at the table that Rubenstein provides, and the "South Asian" ethnicities are pretty obvious (the ones Rubenstein must have been imagining when he speaks of professional first waves in the 1960s and 1970s), Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans. When I calculated the poverty rate for these four groups, I got 10.6% (still 2% above native born whites, so Rubenstein could have played up that angle!) [3]. I'm sure VDARE readers are smart enough to focus on the long term trend, less individual capital influx per person, rather than the reality that the present isn't quite that bad. No need to behave as if the numbers are more obscure than they are.

[1] Anecdotally, I know many children of motel owners and convenience store clerks who are in graduate or professional school, or in the private sector after gaining their college degree. I am not convinced that the descendents of the poor relations are destined to become members of the underclass. Nevertheless, if a lineage has individual capital, it should show up at some point down the line, and would be rewarded by a meritocratic system of immigration.

[2] I was asked by a Safeway clerk about how to pronounce an Indian name that she saw often. She wrote down "Nguyen." But again, I assume the target audience of VDARE is not Safeway checkout clerks.

[3] Interestingly the Japanese immigrant group has very high poverty rates (17%). This is probably due to the destitution of aged Issei, as most Japanese Americans are native born, so "immigrants" would skew to the post-retirement cohort. The general senior citizen poverty rate is about 10%.

Posted by razib at 01:45 PM