Here’s a look at the diversity of Asians in America and why we can’t talk about them as one.
An estimated 22 million Asian Americans live in the United States, nearly 7% of the total population, according to US Census data. Those who identify as having Chinese, Indian, or Filipino ancestry make up the three largest Asian groups in the United States, but no one ethnicity constitutes the majority.
For decades, Asians have been lumped together with Pacific Islanders by government officials and advocates. Currently, there are an estimated 1.6 million Pacific Islanders living in the United States, many of whom identify as Native Hawaiians, Samoans, and Guamanians or Chamorros.
About a third of Asians in the United States live in California
Most Asians live around major 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 all Asians in the United States live in California, where there is a large Chinese population in Los Angeles County as well as Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Indian communities. Meanwhile, Asians in Texas are Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Pakistani.
The Asian diaspora across the country is as diverse as the reasons that lead people to migrate to the United States.
There are approximately 309,000 Hmong people in the United States. The largest share is in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where many settled as refugees in the 1970s.
In southern states like Louisiana and Mississippi, Vietnamese make up the largest share of the Asian population. They resettled in the area after the Vietnam War.
They have the largest income gap between racial and ethnic groups
Economically, Asian Americans are the most divided racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to a Pew Research study. High-income Asian Americans near the top of the income scale earn 10.7 times more than those at the opposite end of the income scale.
The highest-earning Asians among those with a university degree and over the age of 25 are Indians and Taiwanese, with a median household income of over $100,000 a year. Meanwhile, the median household income of Burmese and Nepalese is below $46,000 and $63,000 respectively.
Dinh said the income disparities are due to many factors, including how Asians came to the United States and the challenges that already existed in the communities where they settled.
“People like my parents who left as people from Vietnam, left with nothing more than the shirts on their backs so that today I could be free against someone who might be from another country who immigrated with a master’s degree for his own country,” Dinh said.
They are key players in the immigration debate
While some Asian Americans have been in the United States for generations, others have come over the years under different circumstances, including refugees and asylum seekers.
Asians make up a significant portion of immigrants to the United States, but they are often overlooked in the immigration reform debate. Of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 1.5 million come from Asia, according to the Migration Policy Institute. This represents approximately 13% of the total undocumented population in the United States.
They hold about 3% of the seats in Congress
Asian Americans are mostly underrepresented in elected office in the United States, despite some gains in recent years.
“There are many more members of Congress than when I was a child. We have the first AAPI Vice President in the history of our country in Kamala Harris, but our voice is still not enough and, in many respects, Asian Americans are still invisible in our public life,” Tong told CNN.
AAPI’s elected officials, Tong said, are committed to service even though they often face stereotypes and are among the few people of color in the room.
“People still struggle to see and conceive of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as good elected officials,” he said.