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200 millionth American ready for new milestone
ATLANTA -- When the 300 millionth American is born or immigrates this week, Bobby Woo will welcome a new milestone that surpasses an unofficial distinction he has held for nearly 39 years.
When Woo was born in 1967, Life magazine heralded him as the 200 millionth American.
Growing up, he didn't understand the special distinction until his parents told him it was because he represented "the average American."
While the Atlanta attorney, born of a Chinese immigrant, considers it an honor, he now laughs at the whole concept of average for this diverse nation.
"There's no typical American," he said Tuesday, with a view of his native city sprawling behind the tall windows of his 36th floor law office. "You've got to see us for all our diversity."
The Census Bureau projects that America's population will hit 300 million at 7:46 a.m. EDT Tuesday. The projection is based on estimates for births, deaths and net immigration that add up to one new American every 11 seconds.
Although nobody will know for sure, demographers are betting the milestone baby -- or immigrant -- will be Hispanic: "A Hispanic boy born in Los Angeles County to a Mexican mother," predicts William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. Latinos accounted for almost half the population increase last year, more than any other ethnic or racial group.
But then, in 1967 a white baby born in the suburbs should have been typical, Frey said. Instead, while the Census doesn't pinpoint it, the unofficial milestone went to Woo, who was indeed raised in the Atlanta suburb of Tucker, but whose mother immigrated from southern China when she was 15 and whose entire family is ethnically Asian.
When a Life magazine reporter and photographer visited Woo in kindergarten to keep up with the milestone child, the then-5-year-old was embarrassed and nervous. The pressure didn't diminish when his parents told him all the attention was because he was the average American.
"But then they realized how it would be impossible to be," he said.
Woo -- whose wife's parents also came from China -- doesn't read much into the speculation about the ethnicity of the 300 millionth person. He said he's proud that so many immigrants are woven into the fabric of the United States that any one of them might be the milestone thread.
"I could be nothing but for immigrants," Woo said. "I'm very proud to be American and also very proud to be Asian-American."
He hopes that whoever becomes his successor in fame will treat it as an honor.
As for himself, he's looking forward to the media spotlight's move elsewhere, so he can "get a lot more work done."