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Beyond “Asian”: Immigrant Identity Challenges When Building a Life in the U.S.

This summary about perceptions of Asian identity was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.

For many immigrants and Americans of Asian descent, “Asian” as a label or identity just doesn’t fit, finds a new report published Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. The report explores the experiences and views of immigrant- and U.S.-born Asian Americans in their own words. 

In a wider context, it sheds light on the identity challenges many immigrants of all races face when building a life in the U.S.

Beyond “Asian” or “Asian American”: The participants — 264 people of Asian descent — describe how other Americans see their identity as only “Asian” or as “foreign.” They feel like neither “Asian” or “Asian American” adequately reflects how they see themselves. 

“​​[When I fill out] forms, I select ‘Asian American,’… [It is difficult to identify as] Nepali American [since] there are no such options in forms,” said an immigrant woman of Nepalese origin in her late 20s. 

“…There are some people who have no idea about Bhutan, so we end up introducing ourselves as being Asian,” said another immigrant woman of Bhutanese origin in her late 40s. 

Like other forms of identities, the word “Asian” represents only one part of how they think of themselves. 

Recently arrived immigrants grapple with being identified as what they see as a generic term: Immigrants who have arrived recently said they are more drawn “to their ethnic identity than to the more general U.S.-created pan-ethnic Asian American identity,” the study’s authors, Neil G. Ruiz, Sunny Shao and Sono Shah write.

Many immigrants find it is easier to socialize when they are around others belonging to their ethnicity. When interacting with others who don’t share the same ethnicity, they feel they must be more self-aware about cultural differences to avoid making mistakes in social interactions and must learn to “fit in” to avoid feeling excluded. 

Daily challenges identifying as Asians: Some people recalled struggles to meet their teachers’ expectations in math and science in school. Others said that although being Asian sometimes worked in their favor in the job market, they also encountered stereotypes like: “Asians can do quality work with less compensation” or “Asians would not complain about anything at work.”

Ignorance and misinformation about Asian identity can lead to uncomfortable or dangerous encounters: Individuals have had to debunk stereotypes and correct misunderstandings about their identities in some situations. Sometimes, they are met with hostility; they’ve faced racial slurs and attacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after the 9/11 attacks; and during World War II. 

Finding home in America: Despite their challenges, participants shared many ways they take and express pride in their cultural and ethnic backgrounds while also feeling at home in America. 

Read the full report here, and watch a 30-minute accompanying documentary. They both offer insights into how the participants identify themselves, how others see and treat them, and more generally, what it means to be Asian in America.


New York

Update: ICE says 61 detained immigrants were transferred from Orange County Jail: ICE said 61 immigrants were transferred to Mississippi, and four others to the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, New York. —  Catch up on our coverage of the transfers 

Street vendors organize association amid complaints from nearby businesses: The new Street Vendor Association will lay out rules for keeping Corona Plaza in Queens clean, as many vendors gather there. — an exclusive from THE CITY also published by Documented

Adams declares emergency to provide shelter for people seeking asylum: The declaration will let the city quickly procure legal support, health care, and education for people seeking asylum, who are increasingly arriving in the city’s shelter system. — Read more

Around the U.S. 

Black immigrants in ICE custody report abuse and neglect: In the last month alone, detainees have made over 2,100 complaints of forced strip-searches, unprovoked pepper-spraying, prolonged solitary confinement, medical negligence and more.  — The Guardian

Sikh men have headwear confiscated and trashed by Yuma’s Border Patrol: The ACLU recently sent a letter to Border Patrol documenting several cases of agents seizing and trashing the turbans of Sikh asylum-seekers — a violation of federal law. — Arizona Luminaria

Former acting ICE director to resume executive role with ICE detention contractor: Next month, Matthew Albence will resume his former job with GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies that contracts with ICE to hold immigrants. — Market Screener

Immigration backlogs leave Venezuelans without good work options: Initial TPS applications for Venezuelans are taking roughly 10.5 months on average to process, leaving them just months before they must reapply. — BloombergLaw

USCIS revised form I-526 to accommodate EB-5 reform act: The revision made significant changes to the filing and eligibility requirements for investors under the EB-5 program. The form is now split into two versions. — Mondaq

Washington D.C.

Groups urge senators to reject anti-immigrant amendments to Inflation Reduction Act: More than 280 organizations request senators vote down any amendment that would end asylum at the border, harm immigrants’ education or health, or further militarize the border. — Read the letter

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