Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Asian America: Half a dozen facts as Asians become the biggest group of new immigrants

Source: Pew Research Center

As the historic wave of migration from Mexico of the late 20th century slowed to a standstill, a new chapter in United States immigration history was slowly unfolding.

Early last year, census numbers from California showed that Asian Americans had eclipsed Latinos in population growth. And as California goes, so goes the nation. Now that immigration from Latin America has receded, immigration from Asia has surpassed it, according to a Pew Research Center report released today. More immigrants from Asia arrived in the United States in 2010 than from Latin America, with authorized and unauthorized migration considered.

None of this happened overnight, of course. Asian immigrant communities in the United States have very deep roots. More than a hundred years ago, Chinese Americans became the first immigrant group in the U.S. targeted by exclusionary immigration laws, at a time when migration from China was prevalent. In the last half-century, though, as more immigrants from Southeast Asia and India arrived, the Asian American population grew to a record 18.2 million in 2011, or 5.8 percent of the total population. That's more than five times what it was in 1965.

The Pew report incorporates more than population numbers, listing details that some may not know about the nation's most culturally diverse group of new immigrants ranging from the personal to the political. One interesting thing to start off with, and which lies behind some of these details: Recent Asian immigrants are about three times as likely as peers from other parts of the world to receive permanent resident status via an employer, versus family sponsorship.

Half a dozen interesting facts from the report:


  • Chinese Americans are the largest individual Asian group in the U.S., followed by Filipinos. Coming in third are Indians, who also happen to be the fastest-growing Asian American group. Indians hold the most visas for highly-skilled workers in the U.S. Not surprisingly perhaps, they also lead other Asian Americans in terms of holding college degrees.

  • Nearly three-quarters, or 74 percent, of Asian American adults are foreign born. Of these, about half say they speak English very well, while half say they do not.

  • Much like Latinos, a majority of Asian Americans prefer to identify not with a pan-ethnic label or even as "American," but by their or their family's country of origin.

  • In terms of interracial marriage, Asian Americans overall are more likely to marry into another racial/ethnic group than others. Between 2008 and 2010, close to one-third of Asian American newlyweds married out; six percent married someone with roots in a different Asian country.

  • Political affiliation varies depending on country of origin; Vietnamese Americans, for example, tend to vote Republican. But 50 percent of Asian Americans overall lean Democratic, while 28 percent lean Republican and 22 percent identify as independent.

  • Nearly half - 47 percent - of the Asian Americans in the United States live in the West, including Hawaii, where Asians make up the biggest racial group.


There are more complex nuances to the report, some of which I'll parse out in the coming days. The entire report can be downloaded here.
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