Web Sites and Documents >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

The State's Asian Boom

August 9, 2005
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer

When Nina F. Elgo was growing up in Norwich in the 1970s, she and her sister were the only Asians she knew in her elementary school.

But by last year, when Elgo became the first Asian American to become a Connecticut Superior Court judge, the Norwich public schools were experiencing a boom in Asian students, with the percentage nearly doubling over a three-year period.

Population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau show that during the first three years of this decade, Asians surpassed blacks for the first time in terms of numeric population growth in Connecticut, with the total number of Asian residents in the state also topping 100,000 for the first time.

Latinos were the only minority group that gained more people than the roughly 16,000-person gain in the Asian population between 2000 and 2003, according to census estimates. In New London County, where two large casinos have become a magnet drawing Asians from New York City and elsewhere, the Asian population grew by more than 30 percent over those three years, census data show.

Asian immigrants from India and Pakistan have launched Greater Hartford's first suburban cricket team in Windsor. Affluent, once virtually all-white Hartford suburbs such as Rocky Hill, Farmington, Avon and Glastonbury are experiencing some of the state's largest gains in recent years in the percentage of Asian public school students, suggesting a more diverse future for many suburbs.

The continued development of Asian-dominated commercial corridors in such places as New Britain Avenue in the Elmwood section of West Hartford and Park Street in the Parkville section of Hartford may be drawing even more people to central Connecticut, experts say.

Yet, even as Elgo made history last year, the news media largely ignored the swearing-in of the state's first Asian judge. Unlike blacks and Latinos, Asians have yet to amass any serious political power in Connecticut - one reason why the state's judicial branch says no Asian before Elgo has served as a state judge in Connecticut. The General Assembly does not keep racial statistics on its members, but officials believe there are no Asian legislators.

And while Asians are often stereotyped as a "model minority," a group enjoying low poverty rates and higher incomes relative to other minority groups, those overall statistics mask serious problems among some sub-groups, experts say. The federal government collects race data on Asians and Pacific Islanders, but those categories encompass people from many Asian countries, who speak hundreds of different languages, follow different religions and have very different cultural traditions.

"It's very difficult to say anything definite about the Asian Pacific Islander community because they are so diverse," said Elgo, 43.

While Indians and Japanese in Connecticut have median household incomes well above the state median, other Asians, including Thais, Koreans and Bangladeshis, have household incomes well below the state median.

In Hartford, Vichhyka Shelto, the executive director of Asian Family Services, says she sees major problems with linguistic and cultural isolation, substance abuse and depression among people who came to Connecticut from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia after the Vietnam War. Post-traumatic stress disorder is still a problem for many older people, she said.

Born in the United States, the children of those 1970s-era refugees may have a very different view of American culture, causing family conflict over such things as dating.

"In this country, all their peers date at a certain age, and parents don't really know how to deal with that," Shelto said. Parents may feel publicly dishonored by their children's behavior. "It causes a lot of depression on both sides, a few cases of attempted suicide," she said.

Shelto, a social worker, launched Asian Family Services in 1996. In part because of the growing population, she said, the agency cannot satisfy the demand for family counseling, substance- and gambling-abuse counseling and other psychological services. It is facing a financial crisis and is trying to merge with another non profit agency. Many of the agency's clients are poor and the services that it provides, which often require translation services as well as therapy, cost more than the reimbursements paid by the state and federal government or private insurers.

The agency's financial situation is so tight that Shelto has sacrificed part of her salary to keep the agency running, said Bart Bracken, a member of Asian Family Services' board of directors. Bracken said one reason why a statewide agency like Asian Family Services has financial troubles is that Asians don't have the kind of influential, statewide political organization that Latinos and African Americans have built over the years.

Asians are "a non-monolithic, non-homogenous community," Bracken said. "We don't have the political clout, but we also have two very strong minority communities in the African American and Latino communities" to compete with.

Another reason few Asians hold elected office in Connecticut is that the state's Asian population is spread out geographically, with few or no predominantly Asian neighborhoods or political districts, said Joyce Chen, a member of New Haven's board of aldermen.

Part of the reason is cultural, said Chen, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the state legislature last year as a Green Party candidate and is now a Democrat.

"I think Asians in general tend to shy away from public office," said Chen, 26. "You look in the legal and medical sectors, and Asians are well-represented in those sectors. And I think culturally the older generation tends to encourage the younger generation to focus on becoming successful, and that usually translates into having a stable career. Politics is a highly unstable career."

At the Windsor Cricket Club, a cricket team founded in 2002 and made up mostly of immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, politics is on no one's mind.

Even though players come from countries that have their own rivalries, such as India and Pakistan, those things mean nothing on the cricket pitch, players say.

For the players, a number of whom have been in Connecticut for only a few months and who are not married, the cricket team is a source of fellowship and an antidote to loneliness in a new country, said Parvez Bandi of East Hartford, the team captain and club president.

Elgo was born in Connecticut after her father, who is Filipino, joined the U.S. Navy, was relocated to New London and ultimately became a citizen.

She attended Georgetown Law School and returned to Connecticut to work as a trial lawyer in the state attorney general's office.

Now assigned to Superior Court in Rockville, Elgo said she is aware she is a symbol of achievement for many Connecticut Asians. But she said her primary focus is to be a great judge, not a symbol.

"My goal is really to be the best judge I can be," she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?