The changing face of diversity: more Asians entering America than Latinos

More minority babies are being born in the country today than ever before. In San Francisco — a city where the majority of residents are people of color — about half of the babies born in 2013 were of Asian or Hispanic descent. These babies keep adding to the diversity of our country.

William Frey, author of the book, “Diversity Explosion,” says that this growing youthful diversity in our country adds youth and vitality to this country’s neighborhoods, “which will pay important dividends to our labor force and, just in general, vitality as a country.”

To add to this youthful diversity, even among millennials, a good thirty percent nationally have ethnic heritage and most foreign-born immigrants coming to America are between the ages of 25 to 49.

This means that as white America ages, an America of color is coming of age.

Besides age, immigration and ethnic trends show there’s another shift that’s occurring.

Examining 2010 to 2017 census data, Frey found that the number of foreign-born residents in the nation is the highest it has ever been in over a century. At 13.7 percent of the population, or 44.5 million people, immigrant faces are no longer a novelty even in hitherto homogenous bastions of the deep South.

It emerged from Frey’s analysis that there are more Asians entering the country than Latinos.

It’s interesting to note that the nation is heading toward reflecting San Francisco’s cultural cocktail, where the Chinese are the largest ethnic minority. The 2015 census estimates put Asians at 35.3 percent of The City up from 32.6 percent from 10 years ago. And Chinese are at 21.4 percent.

Prior to 2010, Mexico was the single largest country of origin for immigrants in the nation. Since 2010, however, the number of immigrants from China and India have surged and outpaced the flow of those from Mexico and other Central and Latin American countries. In 2016, India was the leading contributor of immigrants.

I see these diversity changes reflected in our Bay Area neighborhoods. In the stretch of El Camino in the city of Sunnyvale between Interstate 85 and Lawrence Expressway, there used to be one Indian grocery store and an Indian restaurant across the street in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Now, virtually every street corner on that stretch has an Indian store of some variety: groceries, music, restaurants, jewelry, clothes.

Frey determined that 45 percent of immigrants entering America between 2010 to 2017 had college degrees compared to 30 percent in the previous decade. And just over half the immigrants are English proficient.

It appears that even before Trump mentioned merit-based immigration as the cure for what ails our byzantine immigration system, our natural selection processes were adjusting to the demands of the labor market.

Though, America’s history has made it clear that at every stage of our evolution we have needed immigrants at all skill levels. The immigrant scientist designing that elevator to space is as important as the immigrant farm worker. The immigrant art historian is as necessary as the immigrant babysitter and the immigrant entrepreneur is as essential as the immigrant roof tiler.

As Frey indicated, adjustment of foreign-born inflow comes with a shift in skill set, but will it herald a change in mindset? What will an increased Asian presence mean to other Americans?

As more and more educated Asian immigrants enter the labor force, they will pursue higher paying jobs and be less susceptible to the forces of joblessness, poverty and homelessness.

There’ll be more and more overwhelming proof that immigrants can make it without handouts.

Yet, while shunning handouts, this growing population of educated immigrants will favor some form of government subsidies when it comes to policies on education, health care and poverty abatement.

It is likely that more Asian faces will be visible in the public arenas of government and community and the meekness and exaggerated politeness of the Asian temperament will find fewer representations in literature and on television.

We will probably continue to generalize attributes like math skills, music proficiency and Ivy league ambitions to all Asian bodies, not just those who boarded flights in Shanghai or Seoul.

And as the successes of Asians continue to be chronicled, there will likely be more outliers like Wesley Chang, author of “Paper Tigers,” who will write seminal essays on the dystopia of immigrant success.

Perhaps we will stop subsuming the Asian identity within the dominant culture. It’s possible that we already have, which would explain the unexpected success of the movie “Crazy Rich Asians.”

For sure, major shifts in attitude will not occur immediately. It’s not the first time that America has had to calibrate for a new demography. And each time, it’s been a struggle at first before America has settled into its new more vibrant identity. In time, we will come to acknowledge and normalize the increasing Asian presence as legitimate, attractive and essential.

It’s remarkably uplifting to contemplate a future where minority Asian, Latino and black babies grow into adulthood as part of an America that will significantly represent who they are: members of a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and less segregated society.

Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.

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