An Asian American is a person of Asian ancestry or origin who was born in or is an immigrant to the United States.
The term "Asian American" is credited to the historian Yuji Ichioka who, in the late 1960s, used it to describe members of a new pan-ethnic radical political identity who shared common histories, experiences, and goals. In the United States, this term has widely supplanted the term "oriental" which was popularly used before the 1990s to describe East Asian peoples regardless of nationality, upbringing, or origin. Some have argued "oriental" is politically loaded and referenced a colonial "other" (see orientalism).
Although immigrants from the "Middle East" (term for both Southwest Asia and Central Asia) are geographically Asian, they have generally neither been sufficiently visibly distinct as a group in America nor have they historically arrived in such large numbers to warrant attention as a major American racial or ethnic group until very recently (see September 11, 2001 attacks). As a result, they are not considered by most Americans to be typical Asians or Asian Americans, but identified by other means, such as "Arab Americans". For these same reasons, northern Asians such as Siberians and peoples from formerly Soviet Central Asian states are usually not spoken of as "Asian Americans" either.
Metropolitan Areas with the Highest Proportion of Asian Americans (2000 Census)
|Metropolitan Area ||Total Pop'n ||Pct Asian |
|Honolulu, HI MSA ||876,156 ||46.0 |
|San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, CA CMSA ||7,039,362 ||18.4 |
|Los Angeles/Riverside/ Orange County, CA CMSA ||16,373,645 ||10.4 |
|Sacramento/Yolo, CA CMSA ||1,796,857 ||9.0 |
|San Diego, CA MSA ||2,813,833 ||8.9 |
|Seattle/Tacoma/Bremerton, WA CMSA ||3,554,760 ||7.9 |
|New York/N. New Jersey/Long Is., NY/NJ/CT/PA CMSA ||21,199,865 ||6.8 |
|Washington/Baltimore, DC/MD/VA/WV CMSA ||7,608,070 ||5.3 |
|Houston/Galveston/Brazoria, TX CMSA ||4,669,571 ||4.9 |
|Las Vegas, NV/AZ MSA ||1,563,282 ||4.7 |
Depending on whether multi-racial populations are included, the 2000 census recorded between 10 million and 12 million Asians, slightly more than 3% of the U.S. population. The largest ethnic subgroups are Chinese (2.3 million), Filipinos (1.9M), Asian Indians (1.7M), Vietnamese (1.1M), and Koreans (1.1M). The Asian American population is heavily urbanized, with nearly three-quarters of Asian Americans living in metropolitan areas with population greater than 2.5 million. Asian Americans are concentrated in the largest U.S. cities, with 40% of all Asian Americans living in the metropolitan areas around Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. Half of all Asian Americans (5.4M) live on the West Coast or Hawaii, mostly in California (4.2M).
Immigration trends of recent decades have dramatically altered the statistical composition and popular understanding of who is an Asian American. The dramatic transformation of Asian America, and of America itself, is largely credited to the removal of over 75 years of discriminatory immigration laws that banned Chinese, then subsequent Asian ethnic groups, from becoming immigrants or citizens of the United States.
Asian Americans have largely been perceived as members of the East Asian ethnic groups, specifically Chinese and Japanese, the two largest ethnic groups before 1965, as well as Koreans, Filipinos of different classes and educational achievements, and Southeast Asians. Asian America includes people from South Asia -- Pakistan, Sri Lanka. The term includes Thai, Burmese, Lao, Cambodians, Hmong, Tibetans, Samoans, Tongans, Guamanians (Chamorros). Ethnically native Hawaiians are also sometimes included.
This rapid change in Asian American demographics occurred after enactment of the 1965 immigration reforms. This act replaced exclusionary immigration rules of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its successors, such as the Reed-Johnson Act or 1924 immigration act, which effectively excluded "undesirable" immigrants, including Asians. The 1965 rules set across-the-board immigration quotas for each country, opening the borders to immigration from Asia for the first time in nearly half a century.
Two other influences, however, have been equally worthy of attention. First, in the wake of World War II, immigration preferences favored family reunification. This may have helped attract highly skilled workers to meet American workforce deficiencies. Secondly, the end of the Korean War and Vietnam War or so-called "Secret Wars" in Southeast Asia brought a new wave of Asian American immigration as people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia arrived. Some of the new immigrants, as in the case of the Korean War, were war brides, who were soon joined by their families. Others, like the Southeast Asians, were either highly skilled and educated or part of subsequent waves of refugees seeking asylum.
Japanese Americans and South Asians are emblematic of the recent trends. Japanese Americans are widely recognized as an Asian American sub-group. In 1970, there were nearly 600,000 Japanese Americans, making it the largest sub-group. Today, Japanese Americans are the sixth-largest group, with relatively low rates of births and immigration. In 2000, there were between 800,000 and 1.2 million Japanese Americans (depending on whether multi-ethnic responses are included). In 1990 there were slightly fewer South Asian in the US than Japanese Americans. By 2000, Indian Americans nearly doubled in population to become the third largest group. Some factors contributing to the growth of South Asians are higher family sizes, higher use of family-reunification visas, and higher numbers of technically skilled workers entering on H-1 and H-1b visas. High rates of immigration from across Asia will make Asian America increasingly representative of the continent itself.
As of the later half of the twentieth century, Asian Americans have generally been educationally and financially successful. According to 2000 U.S. Census data, the average Asian American household earns a higher income than other U.S. ethnic groups and achieves higher levels of educational attainment. The proportion of Asian Americans at many selective educational institutions far exceeds the 3% national population rate. For example, several University of California campuses and New York City's Stuyvesant High School count over 50% of their student population as Asian American.
However, exceptions to this success story are often found, usually among first-generation immigrants, who sometimes lack documentation or cannot speak English. These people are sometimes forced to work jobs at below the minimum wage, often menial sweatshop or restaurant labor, because they fear mainstream employers will not hire them or will report them to the government.
Lists of Asian Americans
- Asian-Nation (http://www.asian-nation.org/) - Asian American History, Demographics, & Issues
- The Asians in America Project (http://www.asiansinamerica.org/) - A national clearinghouse for news and information on Asian America
- Model Minority (http://modelminority.com/) - A Guide to Asian American Empowerment
Frank H. Wu Yellow: Race in American Beyond Black and White New York: Basic Books, 2002. ISBN 0-465-00639-6