Census Data & API Identities

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In the 2000 U.S. Census, the Federal Government defines “Asian American” to include persons having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” includes Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian or Chamorro, Fijian, Tongan, or Marshallese peoples and encompasses the people within the United States jurisdictions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The previous “Asian and Pacific Islander” (API) category was separated into “Asian Americans” and “Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders” (NHOPI).

Historically, Asians and Pacific Islanders were grouped together by government classifications and by us, as part of an intentional community-based strategy to build coalitions with one another. There are conflicting views on the appropriateness of any aggregate classification or reference - “Asian Pacific American”, “Asian American and Pacific Islander”, etc; and a lot of significance can get attached to them, e.g., the word “Other” in “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” (NHOPI), and it is at times dropped in favor of “Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander”. Whilst our communities use various names to describe themselves; these groupings are ultimately political and part of a dynamic, continuing process of self-determination and self-identification.

The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence uses the term “Asian and Pacific Islander” to include all people of Asian, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions.

Definitions inevitably become wrapped up in notions of identity.

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Identities overlap and occur simultaneously, not discretely or serially and because identities are experienced in many ways; one’s power does not rest on a single axis (or category) of identity. Within each category that defines identity, there are several sub-categories; both are enumerated below:

  1. Ethnicity: single race, bi- or multi-racial;
  2. Demographics: gender/sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, languages spoken, religion, marital status;
  3. Geographic location: rural, urban, suburban, military bases, poor neighborhoods;
  4. Family history: nuclear, extended, blended, or single parent family, adopted or biological child, only child, sibling order, living with foster parents in foster homes;
  5. Social location and history: type of labor performed, level of education, class position and mobility, immigration or refugee status, employment status;
  6. Political history: be it shaped by colonialism, imperialism, civil or international wars, racial segregation, dictatorships, capitalism, socialism; and
  7. Practices: food, music, holidays, styles of dress, celebrations.

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Asian Countries

There is no official definition of the boundary between Asia and Europe (nor between continents for that matter) so the boundaries are merely traditional – and some of the countries listed as Asian might not seem obvious. For example, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia lie south of the Caucasus Mountains which have traditionally divided the two continents. Turkey and Russia straddle both Europe and Asia (sometimes referred to as Eurasia); 80% of the latter is in Asia, but Russians are generally considered Europeans; in the former, east of Istanbul is customarily considered in Asia. These examples illustrate why a single factor cannot be used to describe ethnic identity or origin.

National Geographic lists the following countries in Asia: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia (parts in Europe and Asia), Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Turkey (parts in Europe and Asia), Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Quick Facts


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API Ethnicities and Regional Groupings

Ethnic identities can be referenced in the aggregate e.g., Southeast Asians or disaggregated e.g., Cambodians. Asians and Pacific Islanders are generally grouped by regions although some of these can be politically controversial. There is tremendous diversity, with Asia having more than 40 countries, and there are more ethnicities than countries, e.g., the Hmong are an ethnic group from Laos. Also, Asian diasporas are extremely large and ethnic identity oversimplifications do not apply. For example, people of Japanese origin in Brazil culturally identify as Brazilians, those of Chinese origin in Guatemala identify as Guatemalans; whereas hyphenated identities are more common in the U.S. as evidenced by terms like Asian American, or Korean American.

Notions of ethnic and national identity carry political, social and familial meanings too complex to analyze here.

  • Central Asians Afghani, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgians, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongolian, Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek.
  • East Asians Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, Taiwanese, Tibetan.
  • Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (in the U.S. Jurisdictions & Territories) Carolinian, Chamorro, Chuukese, Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Kosraean, Marshallesse, Native Hawaiian, Niuean, Palauan, Pohnpeian, Samoan, Tokelauan, Tongan, Yapese.
  • Southeast Asians Bruneian, Burmese, Cambodian, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Laotian, Malaysian, Mien, Papua New Guinean, Singaporean, Timorese, Thai, Vietnamese
  • South Asians Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Indian, Maldivians, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan.
  • West Asians This is a contested term, most people from the region do not self-identify as such. West Asia is typically referred to as the Middle East; and geographically includes the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey (straddles Europe and Asia) United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

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Census Data


According to the 2010 Census, the Asian American population in the United States grew 46% between 2000 and 2010, faster than any other racial group nationwide.

Numbering only 6.9 million in 1990, there are now over 17.3 million Asian Americans living in the United States, making up 6% of our nation's total population.


States with highest number of Asian Americans include California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, and Hawai'i.

Of 19 states home to more than 225,000 Asian Americans, six are in the South (Texas, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and North Carolina) and four are in the Midwest (Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio).

Asian American populations in Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, and North Dakota were the fastest growing nationwide between 2000 and 2010.

Over 57% of Hawai'i's total population is Asian American, making it the country's only majority Asian American state.


Chinese Americans continue to be the largest Asian American ethnic group, numbering nearly 3.8 million nationwide. They are followed in size by Filipino (3.4 million), Indian (3.1 million), Vietnamese (1.7 million), and Korean Americans (1.7 million).

The country's fastest growing Asian American ethnic groups were South Asian. Bangladeshi and Pakistani American populations doubled in size between 2000 and 2010.


Approximately 60% of Asian Americans are foreign-born, the highest proportion of any racial group nationwide. In contrast, only 38% of Latinos, 8% of African Americans, and 4% of non-Hispanic Whites were born outside the United States.

Nearly one in three of the 9.2 million Asian American foreign-born entered the United States fairly recently, between 2000 and 2009.

More than three out of four Sri Lankan Americans are foreign-born, the highest rate among Asian American ethnic groups. Roughly 7 in 10 Malaysian, Bangladeshi, Indian, and Taiwanese Americans were born abroad.

Refugees and Asylees are persons who came to the United States to escape persecution in their country of origin. Refugees are immigrants who applied for admission while living abroad, while asylees are immigrants who applied for admission at either a port of entry or within the United States.

  • From 2001 to 2010, those from Asian countries made up 26% of all refugee arrivals and 33% of all persons granted asylum.*
  • From 2001 to 2010, 52% of refugee arrivals from Asian countries were from Burma, and 68% of asylees born in Asia were from China.*
*Source: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics, 2010.

Some immigrants from Asia come as legal immigrants, refugees, or asylees, while others enter without documentation or fall out of status due to the difficulty of obtaining a visa. How an individual enters the United States greatly affects her or his economic and social well-being in this country.


Asian Americans speak dozens of languages and dialects, reflecting the community's rich immigrant character and diversity. Approximately 10 million Americans speak one of the 33 Asian languages categorized by the U.S. Census.

Nearly three out of four (71%) Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home.

More than 80% of Bangladeshi, Hmong, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Laotian, and Cambodian Americans speak a language other than English at home.

Roughly one-third (32%) of Asian Americans are limited-English proficient (LEP) and experience some difficulty communicating in English. Coupled with a lack of available English classes, language is a formidable barrier impacting access to a range of vital services, such as healthcare, social services, housing, courts, and education.

Among Asian American ethnic groups, over half of Vietnamese and nearly half of Bangladeshi Americans are LEP.

Over 40% of Cambodian, Hmong, Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, and Laotian Americans are LEP.

The data presented here is from A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans in the United States: 2011, a joint publication of the members of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. Retrieved from www.advancingjustice.org/pdf/Community_of_Contrast.pdf

In addition to the U.S. Census, national API organizations provide regional and local information on population growth, geographic distribution, poverty rates, housing, socio-economic differences between Asians, and linguistic isolation – data that is relevant to advocacy and program development.

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White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Census 2010: Quick Facts

Approximately 14.7 million people (about 5 percent of all respondents) identified their race as Asian alone. The Asian alone population grew faster than any other major race group between 2000 and 2010, increasing by 43 percent. The smallest major race group was Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone (0.5 million), which represented 0.2 percent of the total population.

2010 Census Demographic Profile by State

The Demographic Profile contains information on topics such as sex, age, race, Hispanic or Latino origin, household relationship, household type, group quarters population, housing occupancy, and home ownership.

UCLA AASC: 2015 Statistical Portrait of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Other Pacific Islanders


$72,472 Median household income for single-race Asians in 2013.
However, median household income differed greatly by Asian group. For Asian Indians, for example, the median income in 2013 was $100,547; for Bangladeshi, it was $51,331. (These figures represent the single-race population.)
$50,591 The median income of households headed by single-race Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (single-race population, 2013).


12.7% The poverty rate for single-race Asians in 2013. 20.1% The poverty rate for those who classified themselves as single-race Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander.


51.5% The percentage of single-race Asians 25 and older who had a bachelor's degree or higher level of education in 2013. This compared with 29.6 percent for all Americans 25 and older. 16.0% The percentage of single-race Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders 25 and older who had at least a bachelor's degree in 2013.