Why We are Needed

Sun-hwa Kim, an elderly Korean immigrant woman, arrived in New York 35 years ago and became a U.S citizen. However, her early hopes for how citizenship would change her life faded as she continued to live largely unaware of the society beyond her Korean immigrant community.

“I never even had the chance to learn the Star-Spangled Banner or the Pledge of Allegiance since I immigrated. It was always embarrassing for me to stand quietly at events when other Americans sang the national anthem or recited the Pledge of Allegiance.” Gradually, she started to avoid attending such type of events in the community.

Her experience is not uncommon. According to the Good Neighboring Campaign’s survey of Korean immigrants who lived in the United States for an average of 21 years, 72% said they never learned the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance. This is indicative of their larger lack of knowledge of the country they call their home. When new immigrants come to the United States, they are provided with little to no education about or guidance on their new country and its culture.

According to a report made by the National League of Cities, lack of integration can lead to a general feeling of “not belonging” and therefore, a lack of participation in the political process and community activities . Faced with cultural and linguistic barriers, in addition to being caught up in the daily efforts to make a living in a new country, these immigrants continue to live in isolation.

Moreover, the immigrants’ lack of integration has significant implications for the future generations. Research has shown that parents provide models of civic behavior, influencing the development of civic knowledge and participation in civic activities of their children .

Through interactions with immigrant parents, children construct knowledge and internalize civic values and beliefs. As a result, many children of immigrants, who live in communities largely disconnected from the larger society and without encouragement to become civically engaged, will face difficulties becoming an integral part of building America’s future.

In a focus group organized by the Good Neighboring Campaign, Marty Kogon, past chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, described the problematic effects of such isolation on immigrant communities; “…when a society is sequestered, it fails to understand and simultaneously is misunderstood by the outside world in which it lives. That misunderstanding leads to distrust and distrust leads to suspicion and suspicion leads to resentment and worse.”

This potential for conflict between immigrant groups and other groups in the host country is exacerbated during periods of national economic hardship. According to a national survey released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation in July of 2010, nearly seven in ten say immigrants are a burden on the tax payer, 62% think they add to crimes, and 59% believe they take jobs away from Americans.

Also, among the general population, increasing suspicions about the loyalty of Asian Americans exist with almost half believing that Asian Americans are more loyal to their countries of ancestry than to the U.S in 2009. Failing to address this problem will not only disrupt the social cohesion of communities, but it will also prevent the country from utilizing the great potential Asian immigrants have to help rebuild the country’s economy. The nation will become stronger by moving closer to the idea of E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one”.

The Good Neighboring Foundation has found that given the appropriate support, immigrants can successfully become active American citizens who are better integrated into their larger communities. Education has proven to be essential.

In a recent survey, 93% of Korean immigrant subscribers indicated that access to KAmerican Post (an online news source sponsored by the Good Neighboring Campaign developed to help Korean immigrants become better informed about various aspects of America), has allowed them to better understand American history, politics and culture. About 91% indicated that through KAmerican Post, they felt challenged to make efforts to learn more about the United States.

Even simple measures, such as distributing the “Patriot Pocket Card” (a business-card-sized tri-fold that has the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance written in the immigrants’ first language), has facilitated change in attitudes; 74% of Korean immigrants described that this one measure helped them participate in the singing of the national anthem and increased their sense of belonging to America. Approximately 83% said it increased their interest in learning more about America.

Promotion of civic engagement activities among Asian immigrants has been another important step needed for better integration. By helping Asian immigrant communities identify ways to participate in community service activities and meet elected officials, despite their language barrier, immigrant communities reported an increase in a sense of ownership of the larger community and increased investment in local elections and other community affairs.

Working within the Asian immigrant community for the past 11 years, the Good Neighboring Foundation has seen the willingness and desire of Asian immigrants to become active American citizens. We continue to expand and improve our activities by providing education, guidance, and other support needed by immigrants and their children. By guiding groups such as Asian immigrants to be more fully involved in the American system, America will realize the development of a diverse and participatory culture and a more ideal democracy.