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Asian & Pacific Americans

ASIAN & PACIFIC AMERICAN is the recommended term for referring to individuals who were born in the United States, are naturalized U.S. citizens, or are permanent residents. This term is preferred to the federal category Asian & Pacific Islander. The term Asian may be used to refer to international students coming from Asian countries if the country of origin is not known.

Although Asian Americans share many common values, they spring from a vast mosaic of cultures quite distinct from one another. After the end of World War II, the breakup of former colonial empires gave birth to several independent nation-states. Henceforth, most Asian Americans tend to identify themselves with their nationalities. In the 1990 census, for instance, one can distinguish twelve major nationalities among Asians: the Chinese, the Filipinos, the Japanese, the Asian Indians, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Laotians, the Thais, the Cambodians (also called Kampucheans, a term that derives from the name of the former kingdom of Kampuchea), the Pakistanis, the Indonesians, and the Hmongs. The Hmongs, who came from the mountains of Laos, North Vietnam, and Thailand, prefer this term to Miao, by which they also are known. Miao means "cat" and in Hmong culture, cats are not welcome in anyone's home. The Hmong people were resettled in America in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. They are often associated with Indochinese refugees who inhabited the countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. These three states with quite distinctive cultures formed what was known as French Indochina.

Asian newcomers speak hundreds of languages and dialects. They may transmit their diverse cultures by means as ancient as the oral traditions of preliterate societies. For contrast, they may use Hangul, a modern method of writing developed by a royal commission in the fifteenth century, but only officially adopted by the Korean government at the end of World War II. When most Asian American ethnic groups communicate cross-culturally in America, the only real language-as one would expect-is English.

Along with possessing dimensions that define ethnicity and cultural identity, Asian Americans are affiliated with many international faiths, from Buddhism to Zoroastrian. And while they often identify themselves by their country of origin, many (e.g., the people of Vietnam with Chinese ancestry) choose to identify themselves by country of ancestry.

Also based on the 1990 census data, one notes three major groups among the Pacific Islanders: the Polynesians, who include the Hawaiians, the Samoans, the Tongans; the Micronesians, comprising the Guamanians; and the Melanesians, including the Fijans.

Since each individual has the right to self-identify, it is best to refer to him/her with whichever term he/she prefers. It is possible that some Asians are inclined to be called simply Americans. The majority, however, want to pay homage to their ancestry. The country of their forebearers will be used to qualify their Americanism. We often see or hear, among others, the terms Vietnamese Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans in the media.

Terms deemed offensive are coolie, Asiatic, and Oriental.


"Asian and Pacific Americans Behind the Myths." 1989. Change, The Magazine of Higher Learning.

Dictionary of Asian American History. 1986. New York: Greenwood Press.

Miller, Wayne Charles. 1976. Handbook of American Minorities. Ithaca, New York: New York University Press.

Momeni, Jamshid A. 1984. Demography of Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Takaki, Ronald, ed. 1987. From Different Shores . New York: Oxford University Press Inc.

We, the Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. 1988. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.

Wynar, Lubomyr Roman. 1975. Encyclopedic Directory of Ethnic Organizations in the United States. Littleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited.

Yun, Grace, ed. 1989. A Look Beyond the Model Minority Image: Critical Issues in Asian America. San Mateo, California: JACP Inc.

Statements of nondiscrimination and alternative media.(U.Ed. OVP 06-24(e)
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