Atlanta’s Asian-American communities

Moderated by Rick Badie

This region’s Asian-American community has grown substantially in recent years, remaking neighborhoods and driving the economy. With growth, naturally, comes challenges, something today’s guest writers address. Co-chairs of an advisory task force explain the need for a commission to address issues statewide. The other writer outlines key issues the community faces.

New commission to address Asian-American issues

By Farooq Mughal and Bonnie Youn

The Georgia Asian-American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Task Force was recently organized to lobby state government to create a new AAPI Commission. A new commission would provide our communities an opportunity to engage elected officials and address AAPI needs statewide.

The first Georgia AAPI Commission was created by Gov. Roy Barnes in 2001. In 2003, Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed the second one. The Barnes Commission met quarterly and produced recommendations to improve AAPI access to government. The Perdue Commission served primarily in an economic advisory role to attract international investments and help local AAPI-owned businesses.

The commissions have now expired, while Georgia’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities have expanded exponentially. The U.S. Census shows our numbers grew 83 percent between 2000 and 2010. We now constitute 3.6 percent of the state — the fifth-fastest growth of AAPIs in the nation. Yet we continue to face challenges in achieving social, political and economic integration. As our demographics increase, our issues have amplified.

Policy makers should view the state’s AAPI communities as a huge asset. Most of us operate businesses that create jobs and attract international trade. A Minority Business Development Agency study revealed that we have more than 46,000 AAPI business owners with gross receipts of $14 million annually. This directly translates to greater revenue, job creation and stronger consumer buying power for Georgia.

Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have made progress in Georgia. In 1998, Judge Alvin Wong was elected to the DeKalb County State Court, the first Asian-American elected judge in the Southeast. In 2004, former state Rep. Charlice Byrd, R-Woodstock, was the first Asian-American elected to the Georgia Legislature, followed in 2010 by state Rep. B.J. Pak, R-Lilburn. In 2009, Alex Wan was elected the first AAPI Atlanta City Council member. This year, Gov. Deal elevated Fayette State Court Judge Carla Wong McMillian to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In 2012, the Georgia task force coordinated with the White House Initiative on AAPIs to host the Southeast Regional Action Summit at Emory University. The task force also organized the 2013 AAPI Legislative Day, which drew the largest number of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders  in history to the Georgia capitol.

Last month, the task force held a reception with Gov. Barnes, state representatives and the Atlanta City Council to honor the legacy of Georgia’s AAPI commissions. Finally, the task force recently hosted Kiran Ahuja, executive director of the White House Initiative on AAPIs, who toured Gwinnett County and met with city and county leaders.

 A new AAPI Commission would conduct studies and prepare recommendations for the Legislature and governor on multiple issues: economic development, political appointments and social issues. It would act as a liaison to improve access to state programs.

The task force aspires to develop strong bipartisan support to jump-start a permanent commission. It is imperative to reboot and re-ignite an initiative that our communities enjoyed more than a decade ago.

Farooq Mughal and Bonnie Youn co-chair the Georgia Asian-American & Pacific Islander Task Force. This article first appeared in  NRI Pulse, a newspaper that serves the South Asian communities of Georgia.

Asian-Americans remake the New South

By Jung Ha Kim

Who are your new neighbors?

Can you tell ethnic differences among Asian-Americans? Come to CPACS, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, to get a glimpse of your new neighbors and how they want to contribute to the New South. CPACS serves some 2,600 people a month. One of the first things you will notice at CPACS is multiracial and multilingual people across generations who utilize the facility all day long.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Asian-Americans are the country’s fastest-growing racial group, with a growth rate of 46 percent between 2000 and 2010. In Georgia, the Asian-American population grew by 83 percent in the same decade, and in Gwinnett County, by more than 300 percent.

Nationally, approximately 60 percent of Asian-Americans were born outside of the U.S., but close to 80 percent of Asian-Americans in Georgia are foreign-born. Roughly one of every three Asian-Americans are limited-English proficient, or LEP, and one in five Asian-American households is linguistically isolated.

Historically, metropolises like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City functioned as major reception areas for immigrants. Since the 1990s, especially after hosting the 1996 Olympic games, Atlanta has become the new hub of first-generation migrants from California, New York, Illinois and Texas. Most recent Asian-Americans are refugees from Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh — people who spent years in refugee camps prior to resettlement. Their needs, obviously, are different from other first and subsequent generation immigrants.

Here are three of the most urgent needs facing the local Asian-American community:

* Education: The LEP population needs to learn English to access better jobs, social resources and citizenship. Their children need to be educated in affordable, quality schools. Since approximately 65 percent of Asian-Americans are working-age adults between 18 and 64, more resources must be invested to educate this workforce, a benefit to the region and nation.

* Affordable, quality health care: Asian-Americans are one of the highest uninsured and under-insured people. Regionally, 45 percent of Koreans and 40 percent of Vietnamese are uninsured, based on a CPACS survey conducted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, 4 percent of Asian-Americans have not seen a health professional in more than five years.

* Comprehensive, family friendly immigration reform. Along with Hispanic Americans, Asian-American families are most likely to be mixed-status families that include a number of “dreamers.” The fate of aspiring new Americans hinges on fixing a broken immigration system that can remind us that we are all members of the family and not just isolated individuals.

The term “Asian-American” is contentious, as are the individual words “Asian” and “American.” Faces of Asians and, thereby, of Americans, are changing. What remains as constant is that they and all of us are in this together — making and remaking the New South to be a more hospitable and equitable home.

Jung Ha Kim, a Georgia State University professor, is a board member at the Center for Pan-Asian Community Services.


One comment Add your comment


July 25th, 2013
12:17 pm

While I agree that these individuals face certain challenges the truth of the matter is so do a large number of Georgians of all backgrounds. I’m not certain that creating organizations that focus on just one group is the answer. We need to seek ways to assist newcomers with assimilation not seek ways to separate them from the greater community. Rep. BJ Pak has been successful not because he sought to separate himself, but because he became engaged in the greater community. He won not because of his ethnicity or in spite of it, but because he was the best person for the job.

At the end of the day the biggest challenge we all face is an overall economic malaise that has gone on way too long. In Washington they spend time focusing on large programs that even they don’t understand and that we can’t pay for. We need to demand a real focus on the economy and not just more grand speeches that lead nowhere. The government needs to get out of the way and allow Americans of all demographics to do what we do best and that’s work. Only by improving the economy can we ever hope to achieve our goals.