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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

"Being Asian in America": A Short Documentary

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

"The challenge is not about who they are. It's about explaining to people who they are." (Photos by Getty Images)


Asian American participants described navigating their own identity in a nation where the label “Asian” brings expectations about their origins, behavior and physical self in the largest focus group study ever conducted by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization established in 2004 in the United States.

There were 66 focus groups with a total of 264 participants. The focus groups were organized into 18 Asian ethnic origin groups, conducted in 18 languages and moderated by members of their own ethnic group.

There were common findings across all focus groups.

The groups noted the disconnect between how they see themselves and how others view them, according to What It Means to be Asian in America (August 2), Pew Research Center.

“Sometimes this led to maltreatment of them or their families, especially at heightened moments in American history such as during Japanese incarceration during World War II, the aftermath of 9/11 and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Participants also highlighted how the pan-ethnic “Asian” label used in the U.S. represented only one part of how they think of themselves. For example, recently arrived Asian immigrant participants told us they are drawn more to their ethnic identity than to the more general, U.S.-created pan-ethnic Asian American identity. Meanwhile, U.S.-born Asian participants shared how they identified, at times, as Asian but also, at other times, by their ethnic origin and as Americans.

“Another shared finding is the multiple ways in which participants take and express pride in their cultural and ethnic backgrounds while also feeling at home in America, celebrating and blending their unique cultural traditions and practices with those other Americans.”

The participants in this companion documentary (32:39 minutes) were not part of the focus group study in the autumn of 2021, but they also were asked to tell their own stories.

“A little over half of Asian Americans (54%) were born outside the United States, including about seven-in-ten Asian American adults (68%),” according to In Their Own Words: Asian Immigrants’ Experiences Navigating Language Barriers in the United States (December 19), Pew Research Center. “While many Asian immigrants arrived in the United States in recent years, a majority arrived in the U.S. over 10 years ago."

Asian Americans recorded the fastest population growth rate among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States between 2000 and 2019. The Asian population in the U.S. grew 81 percent during that span, from about 10.5 million to 18.9 million, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau population estimates in Asian Americans Are the Fastest-growing Racial or Ethnic Group in the U.S. (April 9, 2021). The U.S. Census reported a total population of 331,449,281 in April 2020.

“The story of Asian immigration to the U.S. is over a century old, and today’s Asian immigrants arrived in the country at different times and through different pathways. They also trace their roots, culture and language to more than 20 countries in Asia, including the Indian subcontinent.”

Pew Research Center originated in a research project created in 1990 called the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press. The project conducted regular polls on politics and major policy issues. In 2004, The Pew Charitable Trusts established the Pew Research Center as a subsidiary to house its information initiatives.

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