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Undergraduate Research Project Management System

Hmong Residential Patterns in the United States, 1990-2000: Segregation or Assimilation?

Status Complete
Seeking Researchers No
Start Date 09/01/2007
End Date 06/30/2009
Funding Source Chancellor\'s Research Fund
Funding Amount 8,000
Community Partner
Related Course
Last Updated 10/24/2008 01:34PM
Keywords segregation, urban, immigration, ethnic, assimilation


  Chad Farrell

Student Researchers
  Kelly Lanzarone


A core component of urban sociological research is the study of racial segregation, the residential separation or isolation of racial groups in an urban setting. Because social resources (e.g., jobs, housing), services (e.g., schools), and problems (e.g., pollution, poverty, crime) are all spatially distributed, residential segregation has important implications for racial inequality along multiple dimensions. Over the years urban scholars have generated a rich literature on the causes and consequences of racial segregation (Duncan and Duncan 1957; Massey and Denton 1993; Taeuber and Taeuber 1965; Farley and Frey 1994).

This makes it all the more puzzling that we have been so slow to address the residential circumstances of Indochinese refugees arriving in the United States after 1975. Indeed, most studies of racial segregation still aggregate Asians into a single category, implicitly assuming the group is a monolith. This practice effectively "washes out" recent arrivals (and their U.S.-born offspring) from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos who are distinct from other more established Asian groups in terms of their immigration experiences, cultural characteristics, and economic resources. As a consequence, Asians are portrayed in the urban sociological literature as relatively unsegregated and spatially advantaged compared to other racial and ethnic minorities. This is not necessarily the case for specific Asian subgroups, however. The Hmong, one of the most disadvantaged immigrant groups ever to enter the United States, are a case in point.

Recruited by the CIA to fight a secret guerrilla war in the rural highlands of Laos, the Hmong suffered harsh reprisals after the United States abandoned Vietnam in the 1970s. Tens of thousands were displaced from their homes and many of these refugees crossed the Mekong River to Thailand only to spend years in camps before eventually being allowed passage to the United States. Their transition has been difficult, as many arrived with no money and little knowledge of the English language or American culture. The regional patterns of Hmong resettlement are well-documented (Miyares 1998; Pfeifer 2001), but there is little scholarly inquiry into Hmong residential segregation at the neighborhood level beyond a few localized ethnographic portraits (Koltyk 1998; Miyares 1997; Hein 2006). Thus, we know very little about the socioeconomic characteristics of Hmong neighborhoods, making it difficult to assess which obstacles and opportunities they face due to their place of residence.

How segregated are the Hmong compared to other groups in the United States? Have they become more or less segregated over time? What are the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which the Hmong reside? Using data from the U.S. Census summary files for 1990 and 2000, I will answer these questions by analyzing the changing residential circumstances of the Hmong in a sample of U.S. counties and boroughs (including Anchorage). This research will be the first empirical, generalizable assessment of Hmong residential segregation in the United States. It will increase scholarly understanding of Hmong resettlement specifically and, in more general terms, it will add to our knowledge about refugee incorporation and adaptation in the United States.

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