Asians to America with Skills

A Wave of Arrivals From the Far East Enriches the Country's Talent Pool

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One group that has faced an especially difficult shakeout period is the Hmong hill tribe of Laos, many of whose members were recruited by the CIA to fight Communist forces. An agrarian people with an animist faith and a language that had no written form until 30 years ago, many Hmong were simply overwhelmed by their new circumstances. In Philadelphia, where some 2,000 were unwisely placed in inner-city neighborhoods by resettlement officials, all but about 400 have scattered to other locations after falling frequent victim to street crime. In Minnesota's Ramsey County, where some 8,000 Hmong took residence in the late 1970s, nearly half are still on welfare. Says Xang Vang, a Hmong who operates a truck farm: "There are tremendous numbers of Hmong who sit in their living room watching TV. These people know how to fire guns in the jungle. Here there is nothing to do."

A similar sense of disaffection prevails among some other Indochinese. Though social workers calculate that only about 2% of the refugee population turns to drug or alcohol abuse, far less than some other minorities, Vietnamese and Cambodian communities report unusually high rates of depression and marital discord. Says Kim Cook, a Vietnamese-born social worker in Washington: "They find the society to be highly stress producing." The disintegration of families is a particularly devastating blow to those raised in cultures in which the continuity of the generations was the bedrock of life. Cambodian- born Tino Cheav, whose husband was killed in the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, weeps as she recounts how some of her six children began staying out late, then one dropped out of high school entirely. "I am sick and cannot rely on my children," she says. "I have no hope."

Many Asians complain that they are frequently the victims of racial prejudice. Lucie Cheng, head of the Asian Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, charges that administrators, intent on curbing the decline in white enrollment, are actually causing an unfair reduction in admissions of Asian students. It is a claim that officials stoutly deny. While Asians seeking to buy or rent homes suffer far less hostility than in the past, the tendency of many ethnic communities to settle in clusters still bothers some whites. During the rapid influx of Chinese into California's Monterey Park, for example, bumper stickers appeared reading WILL THE LAST AMERICAN TO LEAVE MONTEREY PARK PLEASE BRING THE FLAG.

Any sign of discrimination at the portals of colleges and universities would be particularly alarming to Asian immigrants, because they almost universally see their children's future in terms of higher education. In part, this blind faith in academic achievement stems from the normal yearning of all immigrants to bootstrap their families into the comforts of middle-class American life. But it also bespeaks a deeper ethic permeating many Asian societies. Says Yong-Il Yi, 55, a New York City real estate broker from Seoul: "In Asia, if you don't have a higher education, you are a second-class citizen."

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