ASIAN-AMERICANS tend to be perceived as the ``model'' ethnic group: industrious, over-achieving, yet bound by a commitment to family and tradition that in many cases sets them apart. That's a stereotype, however, that makes many Asian-Americans uncomfortable. It overlooks the challenges - such as language difficulties, poverty, and alienation - faced by some Americans of Asian background. But one factor seems increasingly evident in scores of US cities: Asian-Americans are no longer hidden minorities. Indeed, spurred by rapid immigration during the 1970s and 1980s, Asian-Americans constitute perhaps the fastest-growing segment of the overall US population. To just walk through large parts of Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York is to be reminded of a stroll through old Saigon, Manila, or Shanghai.
It is not surprising, then, that rapid population change has created social friction in some communities. A few years ago there were stories of attacks on fisherman from Southeast Asia in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, such incidents haven't ended, as noted at a recent conference at Manhattan College in New York.
A number of speakers pointed out that Asian-Americans are increasingly targets of physical abuse, in part because of economic frustrations regarding business competition from Japan and South Korea. Some Asian-American shopkeepers have found themselves harassed - because they often go into communities where established local merchants have difficulty making ends meet. And some Asian-American young people have become the prey of youth gangs.
One of the strengths of the United States is its rich diversity of peoples. The Asian-Americans, whether first-generation families or families whose roots in the US go back many years, are making a grand contribution to their homeland. Crimes of bias, whether against Asian-Americans or others, must not be tolerated.