Over 3.4 million South Asians currently reside in the United States and numbers continue to grow each year. In fact, the South Asian American population has grown by over 78 percent within the past decade.
In Illinois, there are more than 242,000 South Asian Americans, including people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Nepali, and Bhutanese descent. Since 2000, South Asians have grown by over 55 percent in Illinois. This rate is notably higher than the growth rate of Asian Americans overall, of which South Asian Americans make up 36 percent. More importantly, of all ethnic groups, South Asians are the Midwest’s fastest growing.
A general lack of data about this demographic makes it challenging for organizations to assist and advocate for South Asian Americans despite their significant population. SAAPRI attempts to fill this critical information gap by conducting research on issues of importance to South Asian Americans. Click here for SAAPRI’s most recent demographic report.
Unmet Needs in the South Asian American Community
Community input suggests a variety of unmet needs among this population, including the lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate social services, as well as barriers such as racial and religious profiling. Additional research and community work is necessary to shed light on issues facing suburban and other emerging populations of South Asian Americans.
“South Asian” Identity
Even though there is a general concept of the “South Asian” identity, there are sometimes rifts along ethnic and religious lines, even among groups that share a history of collaboration and common ground in the United States. Such rifts threaten engagement among diverse community members who have much to gain from working in solidarity with each other and, more broadly, with other immigrants and minorities in a manner that strives for social justice for all. A unified South Asian American community and agenda are possible and desirable on various policy issues, but this requires intentional community building and leadership by non-partisan and inclusive organizations such as SAAPRI.
Community input suggests that South Asian Americans are anxious for all government officials – regardless of race – to more effectively address the community’s needs. For example, in the wake of recent hate crimes against South Asian American individuals and institutions, SAAPRI led a community effort to work with local and state legislators to pass anti-hate resolutions. These resolutions denounce hate crimes and hateful political rhetoric and take measures to promote tolerance and inclusion, essentially providing a legislative agenda for how our community wants to be protected in more substantive ways. The same can be said for other concerns, including immigration reform, integration, and unfair labor conditions, among others.
Access to Services
Limited English proficiency is a growing concern for South Asian Americans in Illinois, and it serves as a barrier to voting and civic engagement, as well as access to hospitals, schools, courts, and social services. Many of the later-arriving immigrants from India and Pakistan lack English language skills. About a quarter of South Asian American population in Illinois (over five years of age) speak English less than “very well” and about 85% of South Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home. This inevitably affects engagement and access on multiple civic and social levels.
“Voter turnout is high in many parts of India, and many Indian Americans are interested in voicing their opinion here in the United States.”
In a study of South Asian Americans’ views on ethics and corruption in Illinois politics, 88% of respondents felt that a reputation of corruption associated with South Asian Americans will personally affect them. Furthermore, 78% of the respondents saw corruption as a problem in the community.
“If I would like to enter political office…, I do not want my reputation to be
tainted because of a reputation of corruption associated with South Asian Americans.”
“I would want to ‘do something about [corruption],’ but I don’t know where to start or what I’d be capable of accomplishing…I think this is where the ‘power in numbers’ would apply where communities could organize to condemn these behaviors.”