For immigrants and second-generation Asian Americans, hiding one’s origins can sometimes be a means of survival, experts said. New data shows how widespread this phenomenon is in the United States
According to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center, one in five Asian Americans have hidden parts of their culture from non-Asians at some point in their lives. This was particularly prevalent among children of immigrants, English-only speakers, and Democrats, researchers found.
“Either they changed their behavior, or they didn’t talk about their heritage, or they changed their clothes just to fit in, especially those who were around people who are not Asian or in schools that were majority devoid of Asians,” said Neil Ruiz, the school’s principal. Pew’s new research initiatives and one of the report’s authors.
A man in his 20s whose parents were Pakistani immigrants told researchers he hid his origins from classmates throughout school, particularly after U.S. special forces killed the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, in 2011.
“After that happened, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely not saying I’m Pakistani,’ because people would come up to me and be like, ‘Oh my God, they killed your uncle.’ They found it in your country,’” he said.
Ruiz and his team found that people ages 18 to 29 were twice as likely as older Asians to have kept parts of themselves — like ethnic food, clothing or religion — from their non-Asian peers. According to the report, 39 percent of Asian Americans under the age of 30 have done so at some point in their lives.
As Asians age, they are less likely to hide their origins, data shows. Twenty-one percent of Asians ages 30 to 49 have done so, compared to 12 percent of Asians ages 50 to 64 and just 5 percent of those 65 and older.
Foreign-born people are also much less likely to hide their heritage.
“We only see 15% of Asian Americans having hidden their culture if they were born abroad,” Ruiz said. “These are people who know their language, they grew up in another country. »
Asian Americans who primarily speak English were more likely than bilingual Asians and Asians who primarily speak a foreign language to have hidden their culture. Democrats surveyed were also much more likely to have hidden their heritage, with 29% saying they had done so, compared to just 9% of Republicans.
Community experts say these points aren’t entirely surprising, especially since young Asian Americans are overwhelmingly Democratic. According to a previous Pew survey, 73% of U.S.-born Asians lean Democratic, while about a quarter lean Republican.
“It’s often people born in the United States who are more concerned about adhering to American culture that they see in tension with their ethnic culture,” said Pawan Dhingra, professor of American studies at Amherst College . “And given that these are the people most likely to be fluent in English and to be Democrats, these other statistics aren’t too surprising either.”
Ruiz said there were a few main reasons respondents cited for hiding their culture. For young, second-generation Americans, the answer was pretty obvious, he said.
“They’re trying to reconcile their parents’ culture and their integration into American society,” Ruiz said. “What their parents teach them about their heritage versus what they learn in school… It’s a question of integration. »
Some recent immigrants also said they kept their culture quiet when they arrived in the United States, for fear of judgment. Others had different reasons.
“Some multiracial Asian Americans and those with more distant immigrant roots (third generation or more) reported that they sometimes hid their heritage to pass as white,” the study said.
But despite the forces that might make young people want to hide those roots, the data is promising in some ways, and it might even signal progress, Dhingra said.
“The bottom line, in my opinion, is that only one in five people hide their culture,” he said. “We obviously don’t want anyone to feel the need to hide their background, but the statistics could be worse.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com