There are now more than 100,000 South Asian youth in New York City. This milestone for the community was reached during the last decade and is confirmed by the 2010 Census. Today, more than 5% of the city's youth (defined as residents under the age of 20) are South Asian. Poverty is a major obstacle on their path to achievement. More than one-quarter of South Asian youth (26%) live in households with incomes lower than the federal poverty level (FPL). Over half of South Asian youth live in families where income is below 200% of the FPL. In New York City, where the cost of living is much higher than the national average, this means real hardship.
Besides poverty, South Asian youth face additional hurdles that are particular to their experience in New York City today. Many parents of South Asian youth confront language barriers, cultural obstacles and a lack of familiarity with the American school system. The schools themselves often lack cultural competence when it comes to appreciating the needs of South Asian youth and interacting constructively with their families. And both in school and in the broader community, the post-9/11 environment continues to exhibit suspicion, bias, and discrimination. The bullying of South Asian youth, Muslim youth, and youth who wear turbans and hijabs is a persistent issue. This discourages many youth, lowers their engagement with school and other programs, and can lead to detrimental internalized behaviors.
This report by South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!) presents the new demographics of South Asian youth in New York City, details the issues they face, and offers an agenda for action. Drawing on 17 years of experience providing youth-development services to the city's South Asian community, SAYA! Intends this report to inform policymakers, school officials, and all New Yorkers about the city's growing South Asian youth population, the unique pressures they face, and the ways to overcome these obstacles to opportunity. In our view, school leaders, city officials, community organizations, and South Asian families can take immediate steps that will improve youth college and career readiness and benefit the community as a whole. These steps include:
Improving parental engagement in schools by
Making schools a safe and welcoming space for South Asian youth by
- developing a new one-on-one parent advocacy program
- enhancing translation and interpretation support for parents
- scaling up community organization resources for parental education
Preventing South Asian youth from falling through the cracks by
- improving school staff cultural competence
- improving school staff diversity and language proficiency
- enhancing curriculum focused on South Asian youth
- creating a safe, bullying-free space for South Asian youth
- ensuring availability of preparation tools, particularly for new immigrant youth
- enhancing the college readiness of public school students
- enhancing local community-based organization support for South Asian youth
These steps make up a practical, feasible agenda to ensure that New York City's South Asian youth have the tools necessary to succeed in a knowledge- and skills-based economy and avoid falling into a cycle of intergenerational poverty.