Culture and begging in America - is there a connection?
April 21, 2006 11:17 PM   Subscribe

More American urban sociology: I live in a city with a diverse mix of ethnicities and cultures. How come the only people I ever see begging for spare change are either white or black? Why do I never see asians or hispanics begging? Is this a real cultural phenomenon, or am I just making false conclusions based on a too-small sample size?

If this is a real cultural phenomenon, what is its cause? Is it a matter of cultural pride, or are people less likely to give their money to someone who they percieve as possibly an immigrant?
posted by kenoshakid to Society & Culture (13 answers total)
Think about the ratios and population size for the various ethnic groups. Cities with larger or more varied minority populations have beggars that reflect that mix. That said, there probably are (some) cultural mores at play as well.

Though, I don't know of any ethnicity that lacks beggars.
posted by shoepal at 11:41 PM on April 21, 2006

My admittedly half-assed guess is that Asian and Hispanic cultures offer their less-well-off members more options than hitting the streets with absolutely nothing. I see plenty of groceries and convenience stores with all-Asian staffs -- maybe there's always a place for you somewhere in the family business?

At the same time, I see plenty of Hispanic men and women selling flowers and bags of oranges on the side of the road -- maybe there's always a place for you somewhere, anywhere, among the circles of friends and families?

I'll make another half-assed guess -- the kinds of drug abuse that lead to rock-bottom homelessness just aren't found in Asian and Hispanic communities. Their drugs of choice -- alchohol, cigarettes and weed -- are quite a bit friendlier, shall we say, than meth, heroin and crack.
posted by frogan at 11:43 PM on April 21, 2006

or 3) Asians and Hispanics are more likely to have an extended family support structure - i.e. when one member is down and out the extended family pitches in. You can certainly find beggars in both Asia and Latin America but it takes that family structure to provide an infrastructure for those immigrants coming over - somwehere to land. That provides a self-selecting sample, in a sense.

So, I guess thats a cultural explanation. That said, I do see homeless hispanics begging for change here in san francisco, but they do seem to be the exception.
posted by vacapinta at 11:44 PM on April 21, 2006

Most people that beg in San Antonio are hispanic.
posted by bigmusic at 11:54 PM on April 21, 2006

The most ubiquitous panhandler in my neighbourhood, whom I see almost daily, is a 65-ish Asian (I think Chinese) woman. That said, she's hardly representative.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:17 AM on April 22, 2006

I've seen a good number of Hispanic and Asian beggars, so I think your sample size is too small.
posted by Falconetti at 12:20 AM on April 22, 2006

Most people that beg in San Antonio are hispanic.

That might be the exception that proves the rule, as they say. Over half the population of San Antonio is Hispanic (so its not comparable to kenoshakids city) and the Hispanics there tend to be not immigrants but Hispanics who have been here for generations, perhaps even since San Antonio was part of Mexico.
posted by vacapinta at 12:41 AM on April 22, 2006

In America, hispanics and asians are generally recent immigrants. And, depsite common misconceptions, study after study has shown that recent immigrants have the lowest rates of real unemployment (when illegal employment is factored in). As vacapinta suggests, it is self-selecting, because most people don't voluntarily migrate to a foreign land just to end up as beggars. They'll often do whatever it takes to build a new life -- which unfortunately sometimes means allowing themselves to be exploited.
posted by randomstriker at 1:27 AM on April 22, 2006

It's also not true here in New Mexico. Plenty of hispanics panhandle. And what Vacapinta said is certainly true of northern New Mexico, much more than it's true of San Antonio. But one might assume panhandlers here are recent immigrants.

I don't really trust your (or mine) anecdotal experience. But if there is some truth in what you suspect, then the extended family thing probably plays a big role. Moreso, I'd bet, with regard to the asians.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:52 AM on April 22, 2006

My topical impression of this in regards to family cohesiveness: Americans, as a post-industrial society, have an enormous amount of geographic mobilty that can separate them from a support structure, as well as a culture that encourages(demands?) independence, both economic as well as emotional. Asians and Latinos I have met generally(overwhelmingly) have a solid extended family that they remain connected to in very solid ways.

I also agree with the above comments about drugs and motivations. Some people entering this system towards the bottom tend to have greater motivation towards curbing habits that could restrict their success. and/or had enough money behind their relocation to begin with(ever see a Persian on the streets?).

Most of my experience is in the Bay Area, especially in the region around Stanford University(where I have always been friendly and communicative with the 'chronically unhoused' (local pc term)). The situation isn't entirely disimilar to that of SF: though it does have two Veterans Admins sitting very close to each other, I have found that it is surprisingly similar to the true cities nearby. 'Whites' and 'blacks': White people are usually veterans or the mentally ill(with little family), black people are often transplants and don't seem to have any viable family networks(and seem to be less mentally ill as a whole). When I am in the bigger cities of the BA I rarely see Asians or Hispanics in great numbers on the streets either. ***This is all a great oversimplification! I'm sure lengthy books can be( and have been) written about this.

I've never seen demographics by region/metro of this sort of question. Does anyone have a good link or three that could shed some light? or do I need to actually google-fu?
posted by a_green_man at 3:54 AM on April 22, 2006

Wikipedia article on collectivist vs. individualist cultures.

Asian and Latin American cultures are usually classified as collectivist. Anglo and other northern European-derived cultures are normally classified as individualist.

In practice, this means that extended families or, in the case of Confucian societies, the whole community are likely to support its members against outside pressures (for example, the pressure of living in a culture where the norms are different from the 'home' culture). The downside is that there is a greater expectation on individuals to conform to social norms and less tolerance of eccentric 'characters'.

There are, of course, beggars in Latin America and Asia where stronger socioeconomic factors come into play. and this classification is a general rule of thumb; it doesn't apply to every single member of a culture (e.g. :- Taoism).

For some explanation on the large disparities in Latin American and South Asian societies in particular, read up about power distance. This is basically a measure of how much respect for authority a society has, and how much inequality will tolerate. Collectivist societies are usually high in power distance, while individualist societies are generally low in power distance. An exception is France - an individualist culture which is quite high in 'power distance'.
posted by plep at 4:32 AM on April 22, 2006

I know a lot of recent immigrants, and they come prepared to live a certain lifestyle that makes begging less necessary. Generally, the pattern is that they "land" in a one bedroom apartment with about six single guys, a couple of mattresses, and maybe some second hand living room furniture, then they take any work they can find. For example, I know someone who was an English teacher "back home," who worked delivering pizza and at a gas station for several years after arriving here, a math teacher who worked at white castle, a network engineer who worked as a dishwasher, and so on. They ate a lot of ramen noodles too. They live like that until they can save enough to either go back home or to start their own business or until they get a good job and can get married or bring their families to join them or whatnot. I knew a couple of guys who lived here for about six years and lived like that the whole time, and saved a fortune, working at a deli and a gas station respectively, which they're now using to build palatial homes for themselves and their families back home. Anyhow, I don't think most Americans who lost their jobs would think of moving to this type of lifestyle. No one likes to beg either, but they might find it preferable to living like this.
posted by leapingsheep at 5:58 AM on April 22, 2006

Of course there's a connection, but you've been trained by the Political Correctness Gestapo to favor normative, so-called 'moral' speculation over empirical data.

I think there are several reasons for the specific demographics you've observed:

(a) Some cultures impart values and skills that translate well into a competitive marketplace; others less so.

(It's possible to object and ask how come China and India (for example) have such high rates of poverty and unemployment. The answer, I think, is that the overwhelming majority of people are never given the requisite capital, education and opportunity to participate in the economy.)

(b) People who come from extremely poor countries are often willing to work jobs that born-and-raised citizens do not, because they are not hindered by a false sense of entitlement.

(c) Many immigrants support not just themselves, but also their family abroad, with their salary. They are therefore more comitted to their jobs.

(d) It takes a lot of resolve, courage, planning, and (often) cunning to get out of a country like China (for example) and secure entrance into the US or Canada. Therefore you are not seeing a representative cross-section of the Chinese population; there is a principle of selection at work.

(e) Immigration authorities are selective of whom they let into the country. Those without family in the host country often need to have a high level of education, work experience, and financial independence. Families who invite their relatives to immigrate are often required to demonstrate financial ability and commitment to support their incoming relatives. Obviously, this only applies in the case of legal immigrants.

(f) Immigrant communities tend to bond and help each other out, at least in my experience.

I live in Vancouver, Canada, which is 34.71% Asian (as of 2001). I also volunteer in the poorest neighborhood in the city, which happens to border (and slightly overlap) Chinatown. Of the mass of the homeless and the drug-addicted, very few are visibly East Asian.
posted by ori at 12:48 PM on April 22, 2006

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