Report shines light on group's growth

LAWRENCEVILLE - Asian Americans in Gwinnett County and elsewhere need help, too.

That's the message from "A Community of Contrasts," a national report that looks at fast-growing Asian-American communities across the country and in metro Atlanta.

In Gwinnett County, where the Asian population jumped 355 percent between 1990 and 2000, Asian Americans make up 10 percent of the overall population, according to 2004 Census estimates.

Although many Asian Americans are well-educated, speak English and have carved out spots for themselves in the United States, many more are in need of social services, according to the report from several Asian-American organizations.

The gap between those that have found success and those that struggle is large compared to other races and ethnicities said Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center.

"There is now a significant Asian-American and Pacific Islander community in metro Atlanta," said Narasaki, whose office is in Washington, D.C.

"We want to point out that while some Asian Americans are doing quite well and contribute greatly to Atlanta's economy, there is also a significant number of Asians and Pacific Islanders who are struggling, primarily because of language barriers."

Based on Census data, the report says 42 percent of metro Atlanta's Asian population has limited English proficiency.

More than a quarter of Asian-American children struggle with English, and 70 percent of the community's senior citizens have trouble understanding or speaking it, according to the report.

Furthermore, one in four Asian-American households are "linguistically isolated," meaning no family member speaks English very well, according to the report.

Poverty is also an issue, Narasaki said.

Asian Americans in metro Atlanta have a 10 percent poverty rate, which is slightly higher than the 9 percent poverty rate for the region's entire population, according to the report.

Asian Americans living in Gwinnett County fare better than those in other counties. They have an 8 percent poverty rate, according to the report. However, Gwinnett's overall poverty rate is 6 percent.

Marianne Chung, health director at the Pan Asian Center for Community Services in Doraville, said she hopes the report raises awareness about metro Atlanta's Asian-American population so that when government agencies draw up plans for delivering social services, they do not overlook the burgeoning community.

The Asian population itself is diverse, representing 42 sub-ethnic groups that speak more than 100 languages, Chung said.

That diversity, ranging from Koreans and Chinese to Cambodians and Indian Americans, makes delivering social services difficult, Chung said.

Chung said the Pan Asian Center, which provides health and human services, is seeing a growing request for help from Asian immigrants in Gwinnett County.

The No. 1 reason Asian Americans in metro Atlanta struggle is because of a lack of English skills, said Stephen Lee, a Gwinnett resident who works at the Center for Pan Asian Community Services.

"Language barriers are the main reason," said Lee, a Suwanee resident. "That causes troubles for those wanting to assimilate and adapt to new environments."

Some churches provide English classes to immigrants, said Lee, who educates Koreans and Vietnamese about the home-buying process in the United States.

"The language barrier is probably the most difficult and takes the longest to overcome," Lee said.

Narasaki said many times Asian Americans are overlooked.

"I think in Atlanta, when one thinks of race issues, one thinks of black and white, and when one thinks of immigrant issues, one thinks of Latinos," she said.

"The reality is Atlanta is much more complicated than that."