Tag Archives: race/ethnicity: Asians/Pacific Islanders

The Stigma of Immigrant Languages

Cross-posted at Asian-Nation and Racialicious.

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Photo by Lulu Vision (Flickr/Creative Commons)

As an undergraduate majoring in linguistics, I was fascinated with the concept of endangered languages. Colonization, genocide, globalization, and nation-building projects have killed off untold numbers of languages. As linguist K. David Harrison (my undergrad advisor) tells NPR, speakers of stigmatized or otherwise less-favored languages are pressured to abandon their native tongue for the dominant language of the nation and the market (emphasis mine):

The decision to give up one language or to abandon a language is not usually a free decision. It’s often coerced by politics, by market forces, by the educational system in a country, by a larger, more dominant group telling them that their language is backwards and obsolete and worthless.

These same pressures are at work in immigrant-receiving countries like the United States, where young immigrants and children of immigrants are quickly abandoning their parents’ language in favor of English.

Immigrant languages in the United States generally do not survive beyond the second generation. In his study of European immigrants, Fishman (1965) found that the first generation uses the heritage language fluently and in all domains, while the second generation only speaks it with the first generation at home and in limited outside contexts. As English is now the language with which they are most comfortable, members of the second generation tend to speak English to their children, and their children have extremely limited abilities in their heritage language, if any. Later studies (López 1996 and Portes and Schauffler 1996 among them) have shown this three-generation trend in children of Latin American and Asian immigrants, as well.

The languages that most immigrants to the U.S. speak are hardly endangered. A second-generation Korean American might not speak Korean well, and will not be speaking that language to her children, but Korean is not going to disappear anytime soon — there are 66.3 million speakers (Ethnologue)! Compare that with the Chulym language of Siberia, which has less than 25.

Even if they’re not endangered per se, I would argue that they are in danger. While attitudes towards non-English languages in the U.S. seem to be improving, at least among wealthier and better educated people in some more diverse cities and suburbs, the stigma of speaking a non-English language still exists.

How many of you have:

  • been embarrassed to speak your heritage language in front of English speakers?
  • been reprimanded for speaking your heritage language in school?
  • been told to “go back to [country X]” when someone overhears you speak your heritage language?

I’ve heard innumerable stories about parents refusing to speak their native language to their children. Usually, the purported rationale is that they do not want the child to have language or learning difficulties, a claim that has been debunked over and over again by psychologists, linguists, and education scholars.

I’m sure that these parents truly believe that speaking only English to their children will give them an edge, though the reverse is true. What I wonder is how much this decision had to do with an unfounded belief about cognition and child development, and how much it had to do with avoiding the stigma of speaking a language that marks you as foreign, and as “backwards and obsolete and worthless”?

Calvin N. Ho is a graduate student in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles studying immigration, race/ethnicity/nationalism, and Asian diasporas.  You can follow him at The Plaid Bag Connection and on Twitter.

The Dancing Hawaiian Girl, At Your Service

Originally posted in 2008. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History MonthCross-posted at Racialicious.

The marketing for beach-related vacation destinations often capitalizes on the association of foreign beaches with (partly) naked bathing beauties. This intersection of race, gender, and sexuality that positions the “ethnic” woman as particularly sexually accessible have deep roots in our colonial past in which foreign lands “open” to conquest by the Western world were conflated with foreign women “open” to conquest by Western men.

The “Hula Girl” is a case in point.

Hawaii was colonized by the U.S. and, when the islands became a tourism destination, Polynesian women were transformed into Hawaiian babes ready and waiting to please tourists from the mainland.

One transformation was the hula. Widely understood to be an “authentic” Polynesian tradition, the hula was actually originally mostly a man’s dance. It was religious. It involved chanting and no music. There were no hip movements, just gestures. Basically, it was story-telling.

Today, the men take a back seat to women, who are scantily clad in grass skirts (not authentic, by the way), and perform exaggerated hip movements to music. So the hula is an invention, designed by colonizers and capitalists, to highlight the appeal of “foreign” women.

Despite the constructed nature of the hula girl, she’s been used to market Hawaii for over 100 years.  Here is an image of hula girls sent back to the mainland way back in 1890:

And from the 1940s (from IslandArtCards):

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1965, via Jassy-50:

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This picture was snapped by my friend Jason at a Trader Vic’s restaurant in 2008:

A Google Image search for “Hawaii postcard” in 2013 reveals that about half include the figure of a woman:

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The phenomenon is a common one: women are treated as objects of beauty and aesthetic pleasure — exotified, in the case of “foreign” or darker-skinned women — and used to embellish a place or experience.  While lots of things have changed for women since the beginning of this particular example in the late 1800s, their role as decoration resists retirement.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Assault Deaths Within the United States

Cross-posted at Kieran Healy’s blog.

The chart in “America is a Violent Country” has been getting a lot of circulation. Time to follow up with some more data. As several commentators at CT noted, the death rate from assault in the U.S. is not uniform within the country. Unfortunately, state-level and county-level mortality data are not easily available for the time period covered by the previous post — though they do exist, going back to the 1940s. What I have to hand is a decade’s worth of US mortality data courtesy of CDC WONDERcovering 1999 to 2009. I extracted the assault deaths according to the same criteria the OECD uses (for the time period in question, ICD-10 codes X85-Y09 and Y87.1). The estimates are adjusted to the 2000 U.S. population, which isn’t identical to the standard OECD adjustment. But the basic comparability should be OK, for our purposes.

First, it’s well-known that there are strong regional differences in the assault death rate in the U.S. by state and region. Here’s what the patterns look like by state from 1999 to 2009 (click for a larger PNG or PDF):

This figure excludes the District of Columbia, which has a much higher death rate but is also a city. Also missing are a few states with small populations and low absolute numbers of assault deaths — Wyoming, North Dakota, Vermont — such that the CDC can’t generate reliable age-adjusted estimates for them. If you want a “small-multiple” view with each state shown separately from high to low, here you go.

The legend for the figure above arranges the states from high to low, reading top to bottom and left to right. Although it’s clear that geographical region isn’t everything, those tendencies are immediately apparent. Let’s look at them using the official census regions (click for a larger PNG or PDF):

As is well known, the South is more violent than the rest of the country, by some distance. Given the earlier post, the natural thing to do is to put these regional trends into the cross-national comparison and see — for the decade we have, anyway — how these large U.S. regions would fare if they were OECD countries. Again, bear in mind that the age-adjustment is not quite comparable (click for a larger PNG or PDF):

Despite their large differences, all of the U.S. regions have higher average rates of death from assault than any of the 24 OECD countries we looked at previously. The placid Northeast comes relatively close to the upper end of the most violent countries in our OECD group.

Finally, there’s the question of racial and ethic incidence of these deaths within the United States. Here are the decade’s trends broken out by the race of the victim, rather than by state or region (click for a larger PNG or PDF):

The story here is depressing. Blacks die from assault at more than three times the U.S. average, and between ten and twenty times OECD rates. In the 2000s the average rate of death from assault in the U.S. was about 5.7 per 100,000 but for whites it was 3.6 and for blacks it was over 20. Even 3.6 per 100,000 is still well above the OECD-24 average, which – if we exclude the U.S. – was about 1.1 deaths per 100,000 during the 2000s, with a maximum value of 2.9. An average value of 20 is just astronomical. And this is after a long period of decline in the death rate from assault.

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Kieran Healy is a professor of sociology in the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.  His research is primary concerned with the moral order of a market society. You can follow him on twitter and at his blog.

Women, Opportunity, and the Military

Pew Research Center reports that, as of 2010, women make up about 15% of enlisted soldiers and commissioned officers:

Not all types of women are entering the military at the same rate.  Nearly a third of women in the military are Black, about twice their proportion in the general population.  In contrast, about half are white, about 2/3rds their proportion among civilian women.

A larger proportion of women, compared to men, said that they joined the military because it was difficult to find a good civilian job:

They were just as likely as men, however, to report other more common reasons for joining:

Interestingly, women reported high levels of strain re-entering the civilian population and the majority believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not worth fighting:

Nevertheless, a large majority felt that entering the military was good for their personal growth and career opportunities:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

U.S. Birth Rate Drops to Lowest on Record

In 2011 the U.S. birth rate dropped to the lowest ever recorded, according to preliminary data released by the National Center for Health Statistics and reported by Pew Social Trends:

The decline was led by foreign-born women, who’s birthrate dropped 14% between 2007 and 2010, compared to a 6% drop for U.S.-born women.

Considering the last two decades, birthrates for all racial/ethnic groups and both U.S.- and foreign-born women have been dropping, but the percent change is much larger among the foreign-born and all non-white groups.  The drop in the birthrate of foreign-born women is double that of U.S.-born and the drop in the birthrate of white women is often a fraction that of women of color.

It’s easy to forget that effective, reversible birth control was invented only about 50 years ago.  Birth control for married couples was illegal until 1965; legalization for single people would follow a few years later.  In the meantime, the second wave of feminism would give women the opportunity to enter well-paying, highly-regarded jobs, essentially giving women something rewarding to do other than/in addition to raise children.  The massive drop in the birthrate during the ’60s likely reflects these changes.

In addition to a drop in the number of children women are having, this data reflects a steady rise in the number of women deciding not to have children at all.  The decision to eschew parenting altogether is disproportionately high among highly educated women, suggesting that the there-are-now-other-things-in-life-to-do phenomenon might be at play.

Many European countries are facing less than replacement levels of fertility and scrambling to figure out what to do about it (the health of most economies in the developed world is predicated on population growth), the U.S. is likely not far behind.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Colonial Circus: The Case of “Giraffe-Necked Women”

***TRIGGER WARNING for racism and enslavement***

Last month I posted about the human zoo captives popular during the 1800s and early 1900s in Europe and America.  Today I discovered an archive documenting the capture and display of members of a Burmese ethnic minority, the Kayan (also called Padaung), who have historically practiced neck-lengthening.

The archive, at Sideshow World, includes posters from the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, as well as promotional photographs of the captives.  This material typically referred to the women as “giraffe-necked.”

Promotional posters:

Promotional photograph:
Kayan women with circus performers:


This political cartoon reveals the degree to which the “giraffe-necked woman” had become a well-known icon in the U.S.:

These women and the many others from various parts of the colonized world were typically kidnapped from their communities and put on display.  Many died young, exposed to diseases their bodies were not prepared to fight.  In some cases their remains — sometimes preserved as “freakish” samples — are still being repatriated.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

U.S. Racial/Ethnic Demographics: 1960, Today, and 2050

Barack Obama won just over 50% of the popular vote last week, but he earned 80% of non-white votes.  According to USA Today exit poll data, he secured 93% of the Black vote, 73% of the Asian vote, 71% of the Hispanic vote, and 58% of the non-white Other vote.

This data suggests are real and palpable difference between how (some) Whites and (most) non-Whites see the world, a difference that will become increasingly influential.

Earlier this month the Pew Research Center released an updated prediction for the racial/ethnic composition of the U.S. in 2050.  They expect that, by 2050, Whites will be a minority, adding up to only 47% of the population.  By that time, they expect Hispanics to account for 29% of the population, and Blacks and Asians to account for 13% and 9% respectively.

Paul Taylor and D’Vera Cohn, at Pew, observe that the demographics of the voting population will change a bit slower since the majority of the demographic change is from births and deaths, not immigration.  In 2011, for example, whites were 66% of those ages 18 and older, but only 56% of 18-year-olds.  In other words, it takes 18 years to grow a voter.

Whatever the pace of change, the era of winning U.S. elections by pandering to the worldview of a single group is ending.  Future politicians will likely have to put effort into attracting a wide range of voters, as Obama did on Tuesday.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Who’s Reporting the News? An Analysis by Race and Ethnicity

Larry Harnisch, of L.A.’s The Daily Mirror, let us know that 4th Estate analyzed the racial and ethnic breakdown of reporters covering the presidential election for 38 major print media outlets. The analysis included front-page articles published between January 1st and October 12th of this year.

Here’s the key for all of the following images:

For every major topic, the overwhelming majority of front-page articles were written by non-Hispanic Whites, while racial/ethnic minorities were underrepresented compared to the overall U.S. population:

Major newspapers varied in the diversity of those writing their feature articles. The Dallas Morning News was the most diverse, with a particularly large percentage (18.8) of front-page stories written by African American reporters. The San Francisco Chronicle had the least diversity; 100% of its feature political stories were written by White non-Hispanics:

Overall, 93% of the feature articles analyzed in the database were written by White non-Hispanics, 4% by Asian Americans, about 2% by African Americans, and less than 1% by Hispanics. Compare that with each group’s proportion of the overall U.S. population:

These numbers clearly matter in terms of career opportunities and exposure for minorities within the industry. But they also should concern us readers. What does the lack of diversity mean in terms of the issues covered, the political contacts and average-Joe-voters spoken to, the topics seen as important enough to cover?

Also see our earlier post on the gender of those quoted in news stories about the election.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.