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‘Asian American’ too simplistic a label – survey finds

31 May 20230 comments

Asian Americans see themselves as part of many diverse communities within the Asian diaspora in the US, new research has found.

And most people of Asian descent living in the US use ethnic labels that reflect their heritage and family roots, either alone or together with “American,” to describe themselves.

A new survey of Asian adults in the US, by the Washington-based think tank the Pew Research Center found, Chinese or Chinese American, Filipino or Filipino American, and Indian or Indian American were examples of these variations.

The survey found there are other ways in which Asians living in the US describe their identity.

“About half (51 per cent) of Asian adults say they use American on its own (10 per cent), together with their ethnicity (25 per cent) or together with “Asian” as Asian American (16 per cent) when describing their identity, highlighting their links to the US,” the survey report said.

And while pan-ethnic labels such as Asian and Asian American are commonly used to describe this diverse population broadly, the new survey showed that when describing themselves, just 28 per cent use the label Asian (12 per cent) on its own or the label Asian American (16 percent).

The survey also found that other labels are used by Asian Americans. Around 6 per cent say they most often prefer regional terms such as South Asian and Southeast Asian when describing themselves.

“Asian adults see more cultural differences than commonalities across their group as well. When asked to choose between two statements – that Asians in the US share a common culture, or that Asians in the U.S. have many different cultures – nearly all (90 per cent) say US Asians have many different cultures,” the report said.

“Just 9 per cent say Asians living in the U.S. share a common culture. This view is widely held across many demographic groups among Asian Americans,” according to the survey.

The view that Asian Americans have many different cultures is also one held by the general public, the survey found

“Among all US adults, 80 per cent say Asians in the US have many different cultures, while 18 per cent say they share a common culture,” the reports said.

“Though Asian Americans’ identities reflect their diverse cultures and origins, Asian adults also report certain shared experiences. A majority (60 per cent) say most people would describe them as “Asian” while walking past them on the street, indicating most Asian adults feel they are seen by others as a single group, despite the population’s diversity.

“One-in-five say they have hidden a part of their heritage (their ethnic food, cultural practices, ethnic clothing or religious practices) from others who are not Asian, in some cases out of fear of embarrassment or discrimination.

“Notably, Asian adults ages 18 to 29 are more likely to say they have done this than Asians 65 and older (39 per cent versus 5 per cent).”

Asian adults in the US also feel connected with other Asian Americans, the survey found.

“About six-in-ten say that what happens to Asians in the US affects their own lives, at least to some extent. And about two-thirds of Asian Americans say it is extremely or very important to have a national leader advocating for the concerns and needs of the Asian population in the US,” the report said.

The new survey also shows that large majorities of Asian adults share similar views on what it takes to be considered truly American. And they consider many of the same factors to be important in their views of the American dream.

Asian Americans are 7 per cent of the US population and their communities are diverse, with roots in more than 20 countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

“About 54 per cent of the national Asian population are immigrants. The six largest origin groups (Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese), together account for 79 per cent of all Asian Americans,” the report said.

“Overall, about 34 per cent of Asian Americans are the US-born children of immigrant parents, and another 14 per cent are of third or higher generation, the report said.

The survey also found:

Indian adults were the most likely of the six largest Asian origin groups to say they most often use their ethnicity, without the addition of “American,” to describe themselves. About four-in-ten Indian adults (41 per cent) say they do this.

Japanese adults are the least likely among the largest Asian origin groups to say they have friendships with other Asians. About one-in-three Japanese adults (34 per cent) say most or all their friends share their own ethnicity or are otherwise Asian.

One-in-four Korean adults (25 per cent) say they have hidden part of their heritage from people who are not Asian. About 20 per cent of Indian, 19 per cent of Chinese, 18 per cent of Vietnamese, 16 per cent of Filipino and 14 per cent of Japanese adults say they have done the same.

Across the largest ethnic groups, about half or more say that what happens to Asians in the US affects what happens in their own lives. About two-thirds of Korean (67 per cent) and Chinese (65 per cent) adults say this. By comparison, 61 per cent of Japanese, 54 per cent of Filipino, 55 per cent of Indian and 52 percent of Vietnamese adults say they are impacted by what happens to Asians nationally.

Most Asian adults among the largest ethnic origin groups say a national leader advancing the US Asian community’s concerns is important. Roughly three-in-four Filipino (74 per cent) and Chinese (73 per cent) adults say it is very or extremely important to for the US Asian community to have a national leader advancing its concerns. A majority of Vietnamese (69 per cent), Korean (66 per cent), Japanese (63 per cent) and Indian adults (62 per cent) says the same.

About half of Vietnamese registered voters (51 per cent) identify with or lean to the Republican Party. In contrast, about two-thirds of Indian (68 per cent), Filipino (68 per cent) and Korean (67 per cent) of registered voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. And 56 per cent of Chinese registered voters also associate with the Democratic Party.

Read the full report: Asian American Identities: Diverse Cultures and Shared Experiences (2023 Survey Report) | Pew Research Center