Here’s a look at how diverse Asians are in America and why we can’t talk about them as one group.
United States Census data indicates that an estimated 22 million Asian Americans live in the United States, approximately 7% of the total population. Those who self-identify as being of Chinese, Indian, or Filipino descent make up the three largest Asian groups in the United States, but neither ethnicity constitutes a majority.
For decades, Asians were grouped with Pacific Islanders by government officials and preachers. There are currently an estimated 1.6 million Pacific Islanders living in the United States, including many who identify as Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamani, or Chamorro.
About a third of Asians in the United States live in California
Most Asians live around large cities in four states—California, New York, Texas, and Hawaii—but for the most part, these cities are not home to a single ethnic group.
About a third of Asians in the United States live in California, with a large Chinese population in Los Angeles County along with Filipino, Korean, Japanese, and Indian communities. Meanwhile, Asians in Texas are Indians, Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, and Pakistanis.
The Asian diaspora across the country is as diverse as the reasons why people immigrate to the United States.
There are approximately 309,000 Hmong people in the United States. The largest share was in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where many settled as refugees in the 1970s.
In southern states such as Louisiana and Mississippi, Vietnamese make up the largest proportion of the Asian population. They settled in the area after the Vietnam War.
They have the largest division of income between racial and ethnic groups
A study by Pew Research found that Asian Americans are the most divided racial or ethnic group in the United States in economic terms. High-income Asian Americans near the top of the income ladder earn 10.7 times as much as those on the other end of the income spectrum.
The highest-income Asians among those with a college degree over the age of 25 are Indians and Taiwanese, with a median household income of more than $100,000 per year. Meanwhile, the median income of a Burmese and Nepalese family is less than $46,000 and $63,000, respectively.
Dinh said income disparities are driven by many factors, including how Asians got to the United States and the challenges that already exist in the communities in which they have settled.
“People like my parents who left as people from Vietnam left nothing more than T-shirts on their backs so that today I am free versus someone who might be from another country who immigrated with a master’s degree to their countries,” Dinh said.
They are key players in the immigration debate
While some Asian Americans have resided in the United States for generations, others have come over the years under different circumstances, including refugees and asylum seekers.
Asians make up a large proportion of immigrants in the United States, but they are often overlooked in the debate over immigration reform. Of the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, 1.5 million are from Asia, according to the Migration Policy Institute. This represents about 13% of the total undocumented population in the United States.
They occupy about 3% of the seats in Congress
Asian Americans are often underrepresented in elected office across the United States, although some gains have been made in recent years.
“There are many more members of Congress than I did when I was a kid. We have the first vice president of AAPI in our country’s history in Kamala Harris, but our voice still isn’t enough, and in many ways, Asian Americans are still invisible in our audience,” Tong told CNN.
Tong says AIPA’s elected officials are committed to serving even if they often face stereotypes and are among the few people of color in the room.
“People still find it difficult to see and perceive Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as good elected officials,” he said.