Asian American Communities in Omaha: Combating the Model Minority

Nicole Kinser, John Nguyen, Kat Vu, Alannah Powers
In this research project, the aim is to discuss the issues surrounding the modern Asian
American, especially here locally in Omaha. First, the study needed to look at the historical background and immigration patterns in order to give factual data and history on the group that was being studied. This historical information will lead into acknowledging the cultural diversity and rising issue of the model minority. From a social context, the issue of representation in this group needed to be looked at. Noting the lack of sources and groups grounded in the Omaha area, the project needed to look to other local midwestern cities and the state of Nebraska to provide example and similarities that are occurring in Omaha. This will give the research project
the ground it needs to discuss the changes that are needed in this city.
Within the city, the project led a search for Asian American communities within the city
of Omaha. The study looked at a few community groups and organizations within the city of Omaha. However, in order to diversify and expand data, other midwestern cities were studied as well. Organizations opened to the entire state of Nebraska were looked at as well. Presentations from Inaugural Women and Public Policy Week were used from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The group analyzed current statistical trends in light of historical context with twelve scholarly journal articles from a variety of sources.
After the collective research, it was no surprised to see that the Asian American
population here in Omaha is indeed a minority. However, it is a diverse minority that has arisen from immigration that is still occurring today. This diversity exists in Omaha as well too. Many of these diverse groups are not acknowledged in the city of Omaha. The Karen, Syrian, Nepalese, Mongolian, Afghanee, and the Yemen are all ethnicities that exist in the city of Omaha. Due to stereotyping of the entire Asian community into a culture that is more prominent only the eastern end of Asia. This has brought into existence the model minority, that many individuals claim to be a myth. Many people also forget that nations such as India, Syria, and Afghanistan belong just as much to Asia as China or Japan. Various organizations such as Karen Christian Revival Church, Karen Society of Nebraska, and Nebraska Chinese Association are all based here in Omaha. Though there is a lack of exact statistical information about education and income for Asians in the city of Omaha, a study was found on socioeconomic success of Asian
Americans employed in the United States labour market (Lueck, 2017).
Model Minority Myth
The model minority myth (the stereotype that all Eastern Asians are the essential “we
made it” minority that has been used to pit minorities against one another), has been a central social issue regarding the Asian American population. Immigration patterns have shed light on why stereotypes have arisen from racism that have occurred in the past. The primary groups that immigrated into the United States and Omaha were the Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese (Kilty, 2002). A Presidential Advisory Commision provides clear evidence of a great diversity among the Asian American population and suggests that this needs to be recognized. Many of the primary articles supported that the Asian groups of America have been changing and adapting to the American culture. Asian American communities and Organizations from the state of Nebraska range from the Nebraska Chinese Association to the Nebraska Nepalese Society.  Most of these groups cover the broad state of Nebraska, and for this project, were used as an example to encourage the community of Omaha to combat the model minority myth and
encourage representation of these diverse groups in this city.  Representation
Asian people all across America, especially on Omaha are often underrepresented.
Compared to other groups of minorities, as a whole asian’s have little to no political
representation in Omaha and are discriminated against. Chinese groups for example are seen as a  “secret society” because there aren’t large social events for Chinese speaking individuals here in Omaha. Asian people are seen as a small minority group and participate in politics at lower rates than Latinos or African Americans despite having higher socioeconomic statuses. Only 13 Asian American individuals (3%) make up the United States House of Representatives. When it comes to scholarly research, there is hardly any regarding Asian Americans representation in Congress. Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the US. They grew from 10.2
million in 2000 to 14.6 million in 2010. It is a common trend that Asian people in Congress sponsor and cosponsor coethnic legislation. There are representatives at the local and state government levels, past and present. Currently, only seven states have Asian American representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate. This number is expected to rise in the coming years as the Asian American population expands.
Asian americans within the city of Omaha have a slightly lower average household
income than the caucasian population. Asian Americans sit at $55.1k and the white population at $60.9k in annual income. The socioeconomic success of the Asian community is dependent upon English proficiency, social network, parental education, and gender. Asian men have a 49% higher probability of success than Asian women. Within the Asian community (nationwide), Chinese immigrants have 56% greater probability of success than immigrants from other Asian countries. Immigrating between the ages of 18 and 34 gives immigrants an approximately 102% higher chance of success than someone who immigrated after the age of 35 (Lueck, 2017). These difference in success within Asian Americans could be even higher knowing that the study that these numbers are from did not even include non-English speaking Asians.
Culturally speaking, Asian American groups are incredibly diverse. A large portion of
individuals limit Asian Americans to just the Chinese or Vietnamese. Many individuals in 2010 census claimed to be from countries other than India, China, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, or Vietnam. Here in Omaha, many different Asian communities have come together throughout history, and in our present day communities. The Hmong people immigrated from southeast Asia in the early 1970’s after the Vietnam war to escape persecution for helping America. Chinese labors were brought in by Union Pacific to aid in the construction of the railroads. Chinatowns in Omaha have been built up, though now they are almost nonexistent.
A legacy of early the Chinese was found in the King Fong cafe, located in downtown
Omaha. The restaurant was owned by the Huey Family. Its owner, Chin An Gin, created
authentic Chinese foods, as well as adopting the American versions of Chinese dishes. The restaurant was a two story time capsule back to China nearly a 100 years ago. The owner traveled to China to buy the expensive and elaborate decor that created an authentic setting in the restaurant. The research conducted has proven one thing, and debunked what is actually a common misconception about Asian Americans. Asian Americans are a diverse group, and in reality, not all are from a single Asian country.
(King Fong Cafe interior decorations Omaha, NE)
There has also been a history of numerous other Asian groups right here in Omaha.
Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Hmong traveled from southeast Asia and settled here in Omaha. Omaha has a rich cultural melting point of numerous different Asian-American individuals.
Immigration was a topic that needed to be acknowledged in this research project to lay
down the foundation for what Asian American groups came into the United States and in turn, the city of Omaha. Larger groups that came into Nebraska was the Chinese and the Japanese. Most of this population came into the States around the time of the 1800’s during the time of the gold rush. The most current census count of Omaha from 2010 reflects these trends in statistical numbers showing a relatively large proportion of these two ethnic groups. Legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and National Origins Quota Law of 1924 limited almost all Asian immigration for almost 100 years (Kilty, 2002). It wasn’t until about 1952 that immigration from Asian countries increased and were allowed to become naturalized citizens.  Over the last few decades the Asian American population has dramatically increased because of modern immigration. In fact, this immigration history foreshadows an expected explosion in the Asian American population. Omaha is expected to experience this increased population as well. Due to the greater lack of limiting legislation, this population will most likely be increasing from immigration patterns. The Karen is another group that came to Omaha from Burma from refugee camps in Thailand. A small group of 26 immigrants in 2005 came together
in Omaha to build Karen Christian Revival Church. Now the congregation has grown to have over 750 members.  Not only had the Karen community grown in Omaha, but Omaha to this day is still receiving immigrants of various Asian ethnic backgrounds. The most current census of 2010 of the population shows that 2.6 percent of the population is Asian. The population estimate for 2016 was an increase up to 3.3 percent. Looking at the population separated within and surrounding Omaha and Lincoln, we can see that the more rural the area, the smaller that Asian population gets (Household, 2015). This would reveal that these Asian groups are staying fairly segregated and tend to localize themselves with the urban communities of Omaha and Lincoln (U.S. Census, 2018).
     Historical Background
Immigration of Asians started back in the late 1700s, starting with Filipino immigrants
being the first Asian group to come to America. Immigration to Omaha began in the mid 1800’s, indirectly, due to the Gold Rush. Later on, the Union Pacific Railroad would hire Chinese laborers to help complete the transcontinental railroad. The United States population of Asians fluctuated, and has continued to fluctuate. Many Chinese immigrants went on to work in agriculture, mining, opening restaurants, or
helping with the construction of the railroad, which upon completion, dispersed many of them into the midwest. Chinese labor played a huge part in the completion of the road. Immigration was temporarily banned in the U.S. due to the Chinese exclusion act of 1882.
Another discrimination/cruelty against the Asian community happened on the day of
Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). A Japanese immigrant, Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano was
detained by the FBI in Omaha. Due to him being of Japanese descent and because “his family in Japan had connections with the Japanese government […] he was rated “Class A – the most potentially dangerous of Japanese Americans. He was the only Japanese of the 5,000 living in Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming to receive this rating and to be interned.” (Wohlers, 2015).  He was not the only one detained, on February 19, 1942 President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order to throw Japanese Americans into internment camps. March was the official month that over 150,000 Japanese Americans were sent to the camps. The FBI detained him for 4 years and after wrongfully being imprisoned for so long he was not allowed to continue his teachings of agriculture and preachings to Japanese Americans, many of whom looked up to him pre-WWII.
Recognition of this group and the diversity within it could combat the model minority
that has been ingrained into the United States culture by silencing their voices. Knowing the expected increase in this population, Omaha should include the voices of Asian American communities when creating political and social changes. The city of Omaha’s aim should be reverse the model minority stigma and create a bridge with the Asian communities. Not only Asian communities such as the Chinese and Japanese, but also the many diverse groups currently living here in the city of Omaha such as the Karen, Khmer/Cambodian, Filipino, etc. By including these communities, Omaha can see a change for the better instead of pitting one against another with separation of where each group lives due to income and institutionalized racism.

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