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The Asian American Experience

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The Asian American Experience
In the most extensive survey of its kind, Pew Research Center explores the views of the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the nation.

Numbering more than 23 million, the United States’ Asian population has ancestral roots across the vast, ethnically and culturally rich Asian continent, with that diversity reflected in how Asian Americans describe their own identity, according to a comprehensive Pew Research Center survey released in May.

The report found that 52% of Asian adults living in the U.S. describe themselves most often using ethnic labels that reflect their heritage and family roots, either alone or together with “American”—such as “Chinese” or “Chinese American” or “Filipino” or “Filipino American.”

And although pan-ethnic labels such as “Asian” and “Asian American” are commonly used to describe this diverse population broadly, the survey shows that when describing themselves, just 12% prefer to use the label “Asian” on its own and 16% most often use the label “Asian American.”

While a relatively small share of the population, Asian Americans were the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the nation from 2000 to 2019. The Center’s report, “Diverse Cultures and Shared Experiences Shape Asian American Identities,” marked an effort to explore the diversity of Asian American experiences and is based on the largest nationally representative survey of its kind focused on this population.

When people talk about Asian Americans, they usually look at the group as a monolith and compare them with other racial and ethnic groups. It was important to do a deep dive to look at the diverse stories among Asian Americans based on things like their origin group, nativity, age, education level, income level, and when they immigrated to the United States,” says Neil G. Ruiz, head of the Center’s new research initiatives and associate director of race and ethnicity research. “We sought to be able to report data for as many subgroups of Asian American adults as possible.”

When asked to choose between two statements—that Asians in the U.S. share a common culture, or that Asians in the U.S. have many different cultures—nearly all (90%) say U.S. Asians have many different cultures. Just 9% say Asians living in the U.S. share a common culture. This view is widely held among Asian Americans across many demographic groups.

Despite their diverse cultural backgrounds, Asian adults also report certain shared experiences. A majority (60%) say most people would describe them as “Asian” while walking past them on the street, indicating that most Asian adults feel that others see them as a single group, despite the population’s diversity. One in 5 say they have hidden a part of their heritage (such as 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. Asian adults ages 18 to 29 are more likely to say they have done this than Asians 65 and older (39% vs. 5%).

Asian adults in the U.S. also feel connected with other Asian Americans, according to the report. About 6 in 10 (59%) say that what happens to Asians in the U.S. affects their own lives, at least to some extent. And about two-thirds (68%) of Asian Americans say it is extremely or very important to have a national leader advocating for the concerns of the Asian community in the U.S.

The survey also explored Asian Americans’ views about traits that make one “truly American.” Overall, Asian Americans and the general U.S. population share similar views of what it means to be American. Nearly all Asian adults and U.S. adults say that accepting people of diverse racial and religious backgrounds (94% and 91%), believing in individual freedoms (92% and 94%), and respecting U.S. political institutions and laws (89% and 87%) are important to being truly American.

Similarly, Asian Americans and the U.S. general population share nearly identical views about the American Dream. Both say having freedom of choice in how to live one’s life (96% and 97% respectively), having a good family life (96% and 94%), retiring comfortably (96% and 94%), and owning a home (both 86%) are important to their view of the American Dream. Smaller shares of Asian and U.S. adults (30% and 27%) say owning a business is important to their view of the American Dream.

The survey was conducted by mail and online from July 5, 2022, to Jan. 27, 2023, among a representative sample of 7,006 Asian adults living in the United States.

“To produce accurate and reliable estimates for subgroups of Asian American adults, we need to have a representative sample and a sufficient number of respondents in a given subgroup,” says Ashley Amaya, senior survey methodologist at the Center.

In the end, the survey allowed experts to report findings for Asian adults overall as well as the six largest origin groups—Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese—which account for 79% of all Asian Americans. The survey was offered in Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), English, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

The survey was also informed by 66 focus groups convened in 2021 that were conducted in 18 languages and studied some less populous origin groups.

For his part, Ruiz says he found especially interesting some of the differences among origin groups.

He noted that Indian adults are more likely than the other origin groups to say they most often use their ethnic identity—Indian—without the addition of American when describing themselves. And they are also likely to be recent immigrants who came for high-skilled work in the U.S. over the past few decades.

Other findings of interest: Japanese adults are least likely among the six largest ethnic groups to say all or most of their friends are Asians. And Vietnamese registered voters are the most likely of the five largest groups to identify Republican or lean that way (with the sample of Japanese registered voters being too small to report political party affiliation).

“This gives you an idea of the level of detail we were able to report and why we worked so hard to get accurate and representative subgroups of Asian Americans, rather than reporting only on Asian Americans as a whole,” Ruiz says. “On a more personal note—from listening to our focus group participants, from managing this survey, and from my own experiences as a Filipino American who was born and raised in Southern California—I can say that these survey results speak not only to the diverse experiences among Asian Americans, but also to what is shared.”

Daniel LeDuc is the editor of Trust.

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