Not Simply "Asian Americans": Periodical Literature Review on Asians and Pacific Islanders

Article excerpt

One of every four persons in the United States is a person of color (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991). In the total resident population of 248.7 million, the 1990 census revealed that 75.6 percent are white; 12.1 percent are black; 9.0 percent are Hispanic; 2.9 percent are Asian and Pacific Islander; and 0.4 percent are Native American, Eskimo, and Aleut. These numbers reflect an increase in racial and ethnic diversity in the 1980-90 decade, with the black population increasing by 13.2 percent; the Native American, Eskimo, or Aleut population by 38 percent; the Hispanic population by 53 percent, and the Asian and Pacific Island population by 108 percent. This increase for Asians and Pacific Islanders includes such diverse American groups as Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians (now Kampucheans), Asian Indians, native Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, Fijians, and Chamorros (Guamanians).

Although they are the fastest-growing people of color, Asians and Pacific Islanders have been plagued by myths and misconceptions. One is that they are a "model minority," without any need of government or social services. Some have claimed that Asians and Pacific Islanders no longer qualify as a disadvantaged or underrepresented group and have subsequently excluded them from the protections of affirmative action laws (Gould, 1988). For example, all agencies of the U.S. Public Health Service, a 300-organization consortium, participated in developing a national plan with 637 objectives to improve the health of the nation; yet, because of lack of data on Asians and Pacific Islanders, only eight objectives targeted their concerns (Asian American Health Forum, 1990).

Real problems of Asian and Pacific Island peoples have been ignored. Native Hawaiians, for example, have experienced severe health difficulties, including startlingly disproportionate rates of cancer, diseases of the heart, and diabetes mellitus, but have only recently been recognized in federal initiatives as a population in need of services (Mokuau, 1990b). The lack of responsiveness to the needs of Asians and Pacific Islanders may derive from a lack of commitment and interest, but more probably it originates in the insufficient amount of accurate descriptive and analytical information and knowledge about the diverse groups that make up this growing population.

Demographers forecast that by the turn of the century more than one-third of the entire population of the United States will be members of nonwhite minority groups (Harris, 1988-89). A significant portion of that population will include Asians and Pacific Islanders (Gould, 1988). Thus, it is imperative that social workers stay informed about people of color and their concerns. If responsiveness to the concerns of minority groups, and of Asian and Pacific Islanders in particular, is related to the availability of information and knowledge, then it is important to promote the development of that knowledge. Scholars must be encouraged to examine and discuss a range of issues such as institutional racism, historical paths of immigration, acculturation adjustment, and so on. It also is important to examine the information currently available to assess its content, to identify strengths and gaps in the knowledge base, and to chart directions for future research. This article assesses the status of social work knowledge on Asians and Pacific Islanders by reviewing the social work periodical literature and identifying areas for future research.

Methodology

The authors investigated articles that had total direct practice content on Asians and Pacific Islanders from 1980 to 1991 in four major social work journals: (1) Social Work, (2) Social Casework (later Families in Society), (3) Social Service Review, and (4) Journal of Social Work Education. These four journals are recognized as major social work publications with a generalist perspective; they circulate among 3,000 to over 140,000 readers (Mendelsohn, 1992), and they have been included in other reviews of social work periodical literature (Corcoran & Kirk, 1990; Jayaratne, 1979; Lum, 1986; Thyer & Bentley 1986). …

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