Asians fastest-growing ethnic group in Minnesota


Fresh U.S. Census data shows Asians to be the fastest growing ethnic group in the state, their numbers driven by immigrants pursuing high-tech jobs and young families having babies.

Minnesota’s Asian population increased 3.4 percent between 2011 and 2012, an increase of 7,750 persons in a single year.

What’s unique about the Asian population is its “tremendous diversity’’ on many fronts, explains state demographer Susan Brower. Take, for instance, the fact that 82 percent of Asian Indian Minnesotans have bachelor’s degrees or higher compared to 14 percent of Hmong, the largest Asian group in Minnesota, Brower said Friday.

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Income closely follows educational attainment, with about one-third of Hmong Minnesotans living in poverty compared to about 3 percent of Asian Indians. “A large proportion of our Asian population is facing some pretty serious barriers,’’ Brower says.

The long-term trend, she stresses, is that the state will continue to see growth among populations of color.

Migration began in 1970s

Minnesota became more diverse beginning in the 1970s with the migration of Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos, and then Southeast Asians in the late 1970s and 1980s, including Hmong, Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese. For the past couple of decades refugees from Tibet, Burma and Thailand have made Minnesota home.

About 6.9 percent of Minnesotans are foreign-born, according to data posted on Minnesota COMPASS, and about 17 percent of Minnesota’s residents, according to the Census Bureau, are minority — a significantly smaller portion than the rest of the nation at 30 percent. Blacks make up the state’s largest minority group, followed by Hispanics, Asians and American Indians.

“We do well as a group,’’ says Sia Her, new executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans. But keep in mind, Her says, that the Asian Pacific community is made up of groups from more than 40 countries.

“Look at Asian Indians and Chinese communities,” she says. “They are some of the most educated and wealthy. Then look at some of the most recent arrivals: Hmong, Karen, Karenni, a small ethnic minority from Burma.’’ Her is of Hmong descent.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Note: The census figures released last week focus on population differences from 2011 to 2012. The numbers in this table and the table below reflect population changes over a 10-year period, from 2000 to 2010.

You’ll find, she says, they are culturally different in many ways and vary in health, income, educational attainment, whether they are immigrants or refugees, whether they’re first generation immigrants or more established here.

“There are big differences, but similarities as well, the ties that bind us,’’ Her says, pointing to Asians groups’ tendency to focus on the importance of family, traditional gender expectations and Asian parents’ expectation their children will succeed.

‘American story’

Some things change the more Americanized and more individualistic these populations become, she says, and birth rates drop. “That is the American story,’’ Her says.

Education turns the social dynamics upside down with children becoming more powerful than parents in many ways because they speak English better than their parents and know how to navigate social systems, she says.

The effects of those dynamics are showing, says MayKao Y. Hang, president and CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in the city of St. Paul. The city leads the state with 7.22 percent of its population being Asian and Wilder has an established history of serving that population. The social service organization has many programs directed at Southeast Asian groups particularly, including settlement services for newly arrived immigrants and mental health services for children and adults.

“Now, with multiple generations of Asian-Americans here, we’re seeing real change in the social strata: people who have moved out of poverty, like my family, and then those who have fallen into intergenerational poverty and are unable to move themselves up and out of poverty and into the middle class,’’ says Hang, who at 4 years old immigrated to the United Sates with her parents.

The Asian population increase is no surprise to Mark Pfeifer, editor of the Hmong Studies Journal and consultant to the Hmong Cultural Center in St. Paul, given the group’s high fertility rate, he says. The Journal published a special edition focused on an analysis of 2010 U.S. Census data.

Pfeifer sees the Census data as valuable. “I hope policy makers and others will recognize the importance of the Hmong and Asian community, how important they are to the economic growth,’’ he says.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

A grant writer for the Hmong group, Pfeifer says he hopes foundations and government will funnel more money to programs he says these communities value, including arts and cultural programming. Minnesota is respected for its Hmong institutions, including the cultural center, libraries and charter schools, he says.

Hang says we need to recognize the changing demographics in Minnesota and across the nation.

“I think the demographics drive service decisions, business decisions, how we educate people. It’s good for us to know we are changing,’’ Hang says.

She points to two small examples to make the point: “Asian-Americans don’t eat dairy products. Asian-Americans tend to be shorter, they like smaller cars. So Camrys sell better.’’