N.J.’s Asian Americans gaining influence — but not all in same way, report emphasizes

By Anjalee Khemlani
New Providence | May 23, 2019 at 12:00 pm

A new report released Thursday highlighted the growing influence of Asian Americans in New Jersey, as well as attempts to open a dialogue to highlight the differences between the various subgroups that make up Asian Americans in New Jersey.

In political discussions, the community is generally perceived as a singular voting bloc, despite the various cultures, languages and issues among each subgroup, according to the report published by newly established advocacy group Jersey Promise, and funded by The Fund for New Jersey.

As the authors note in their introduction, despite being the fastest-growing racial group in the state, “with growing significance in many different spheres of N.J. life … we are the least-understood and least-studied community among the general population, policymakers and civic leaders. Misconceptions and stereotypes of the Asian American community are prevalent in mainstream media and culture, in our public schools and courtrooms, on the factory floor and shipyards and the numerous Main Streets that make up the 565 municipalities of our state.”

The report was, in part, authored by Ronald Chen, chair of Gov. Phil Murphy’s EDA Task Force, who is also a board member of the advocacy group.

Other authors include some known movers and shakers in the Asian American community, including:

  • Khyati Joshi, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University;
  • Jun Choi, principal at Menlo Realty Ventures and a former mayor of Edison;
  • Kyunghee Choi, vice president at Holy Name Medical Center; and
  • Naveen Mehrotra, pediatrician and co-founder of SKN Foundation.

Other authors include Maneesha Kelkar, executive director of Jersey Promise; Richard Sun, former councilman in Summit and student at Harvard Law School; and Dr. Steve Sung Kwon, surgical oncologist and health service researcher at Holy Name Medical Center.

Asian Americans have already reached 10 percent of the population, and about two-thirds are immigrants.

What is less known is that, despite the “model minority” stereotype, many of the 940,000 Asian Americans are a part of the lower socioeconomic class, according to the report.

“While they do earn the highest median household income ($82,096), that masks the growing inequality between the lowest and highest income groups, where 26% of all Asian American households lived below the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) threshold of $74,748 for a family of four in 2016,” according to the report.

“Also, when taking into account that the average NJ Asian American household tends to be larger (3.62 persons) than the average NJ White American household (3.08), the median household income figure suggests Asian American households are not doing as well as they appear.”

Overall, Asian American buying power has grown tenfold since 1990, when it was $5.7 billion, to $57 billion in 2017, according to the report.

It is projected to grow to $75 billion by 2022.

The most prevalent Asians are Indians, who make up more than one-third of the Asian population in New Jersey, and the densest population of Asians overall are in Bergen, Hudson and Middlesex counties.

Here’s the breakdown by statewide population:

  • 384,072 Indians;
  • 168,323 Chinese;
  • 136,721 Filipino;
  • 104,899 Korean;
  • 31,431 Pakistani;
  • 26,400 Vietnamese; and
  • 21,115 Japanese.

The report also highlights little-known facts about subgroups, including that Filipinos signed up to fight in U.S. wars and that Bangladeshis are prevalent on the Jersey Shore, and especially in Atlantic City, with roots going as far back as the 1890s.

Several business and political leaders in the state weighed in on the report, including state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.); former West Windsor Mayor Shing Fu Hsueh; Murphy’s former transition counsel and a partner at Genova Burns, Raj Parikh; Gordon MacInnes, former state senator and assistant commissioner of education; Linda Schwimmer, CEO and president of the New Jersey Healthcare Quality Institute; Kevin O’Toole, managing partner at O’Toole Scrivo law firm and former state senator; and Chris Daggett, former president of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Others who also provided expertise include Sylvia Chan-Malik, professor at Rutgers University; Sheetal Ranjan, professor at William Paterson University; Aruna Rao, former associate director of NAMI NJ; Bill Librera, former commissioner of education; Sora Suh, professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University; Johanna Calle, director of the NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice; and Rose Cuison Villazor, professor at Rutgers Law School – Newark.

Read the report below.

Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem