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Esther J. Cepeda: Spare the talk of an ‘Asian invasion’

Immigrants hold miniature U.S. flags as they listen to a video broadcast from President Barack Obama during a naturalization ceremony Dec. 18, 2013, in New York. In a major shift in immigration patterns over the next 50 years, Asians will have surged past Hispanics to become the largest group of immigrants heading to the United States, according to estimates in a new immigration study released Sept. 28.
Immigrants hold miniature U.S. flags as they listen to a video broadcast from President Barack Obama during a naturalization ceremony Dec. 18, 2013, in New York. In a major shift in immigration patterns over the next 50 years, Asians will have surged past Hispanics to become the largest group of immigrants heading to the United States, according to estimates in a new immigration study released Sept. 28. The Associated Press/File Photo

Have you heard the news? Asians will displace Hispanics as the largest foreign-born group in the U.S. by 2055. I, for one, am thrilled – the pressure will be off.

As someone who happily lived in a time back when the “Hispanic community” was not a commodity described almost strictly in terms of its number of immigrants or consumer purchasing power, I will be delighted to see the Latino moment in the sun pass into history.

I can’t wait to say goodbye to the-fate-of-the-nation-rests-on-you hyperbole from policymakers. And good riddance to the we’re-going-to-take-over-America demographic glee by Latino activists reacting to years of oppressive media coverage that almost exclusively depicts Hispanics as low-income, foreign and poorly educated.

Demographers have been talking about rising Asian immigration for several years. But the Pew Research Center’s new report, which coincides with the 50-year anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, got a lot of play last week resulting in breathless headlines reminiscent of those about Hispanics.

Asians are, according to different media outlets, “set to surpass Latinos” or are “on pace to overtake Hispanics,” as if there were some sort of competition underway. Other publications were sunnier, saying Asian immigrants would “propel” or “prop up” the country’s population. Some took a darker tenor, noting that Asians are driving a “surge in U.S. immigrant population.”

Boston College history professor Arissa Oh picked up on the tone of some of the coverage, commenting on Twitter: “Can’t help but feel like these stories have subtext of ‘watch out, the Asians are taking over!’”

Yep. There'll be more of that, and soon we'll see the marketing angle, too. In fact, the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth has already started projecting the numbers: “The Asian market, comprised of 18.3 million Americans, will be $825 billion in 2015 and grow to $1.1 trillion in 2020.”

(And these figures probably don’t account for offensive corporate attempts to capitalize on Chinese New Year, Japan’s Ocean Day, the Philippines’ National Hero Day and any other cultural touchstone that might trend on Twitter or turn a buck.)

In this I do not envy the Asian-American population. Once they become even more of a media sensation they'll have to endure any number of silly, poorly worded, stereotype-laden articles that will present facts about them as though they are all brand-new visitors from a far-away land.

Writing on the Latino Rebels blog, novelist Jonathan Marcantoni recently wrote about how tiresomely this plays itself out for Hispanics.

“Latino issues, as they are presented in the media and in our communities, have more or less calcified and threaten to become parody,” he said. “No matter which country you come from in Latin America, your issues are eventually whittled away until they can fit into the putrid-smelling box that is immigration. … No matter what we do, we cannot escape the subject of us being foreigners. Here, and yet not here. The modern Latino movement is predominantly driven not just by our outsider status but by our obnoxiously overwhelming desire to no longer be outsiders.”

And we’re really not.

As Mary C. Waters, co-author of a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on the assimilation of immigrants, said at a National Immigration Forum event: “Overall, immigrants are integrating as fast or faster than immigrants did coming from Europe a century ago.”

One bright spot for Asians is that though stereotypes of them as “model minorities” are simplistic and not wholly accurate, they'll act as a sort of shield from the worst of the immigrant haters who like to complain about our nation taking in only poor and undereducated people.

Speaking at the same forum as Waters, Mee Moua, the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, told the audience: “We have a diverse group of immigrants coming from Asian countries that are at different points of readiness to contribute to this country. They’re more highly educated, they come with ready skill sets and they’re coming prepared and ready to contribute to the progress of this country. And isn’t that the whole point of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965?”

It certainly is. And if only logic and rigorous fact-checking surrounded this nation’s immigration debate, our new Asian arrivals could be spared the backlash of what will inevitably degrade into hysterical rhetoric about an “Asian invasion.”

Esther J. Cepeda is a Washington Post Writers Group columnist. Email: estherjcepeda@washpost.com; Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

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