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Asian-American is a made in America racial classification, and even in the census the seams show. A person from Saigon, from Mumbai, from Beijing and from Japan differ considerably in appearance and culture, but lumped together for administrative convenience in the customary American system of classifying people by race.

As a significant proportion of the Asian-American community in the United States is an immigrant community, distinctions are often made between 1st generation immigrants (people who came to the United States but were born abroad), 1.5 generation immigrants (people who immigrat to the U.S. as children old enough to have development linguistic and cultural attachments to the "Old Country"), and 2nd generation Asian-Americans, who are born in the United States and typically very assimilated, unless they grow up in an immigrant ghetto (which is relatively unusual for Asian-American immmigrants). In some communities, such as the Japanese-American community, it is customary to make generational distinctions beyond the second generation.

Asian-Americans are sometimes called the "model minority", primarily because of the relative economic success and relatively rapid assimilation of immigrants from East Asia and South Asia (i.e. India and Pakistan and Bangladesh), although immigrants from Southeast Asia are often less prosperous. In part, this is a function of the difficulties involved with crossing the Pacific without a visa. In part, this is a function of immigration rules which have favored only professionals in immigration proceedings.

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