Skewed Perceptions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

RJ Nichol
May 20, 2021

New survey highlights the lack of knowledge about Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders

For this year’s Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re dedicating a weekly blog series to examining Asian Americans’ important contributions to higher education and society. The first post put the spotlight on Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders’ access to higher education; the second post examined the key role Asian American students play in U.S. colleges and universities.

This week’s discussion examines how the Asian American population is often overlooked and misunderstood.

A recent study conducted by Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH) “gives a new meaning to Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month.” According to pollsters, 42% of the nearly 2,800 U.S. residents surveyed by the organization were unable to name one famous Asian American. The Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, is of Asian heritage. She was named by only 2% of respondents. The top two replies after “don’t know” were actors/martial artists Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.

At the same time, however, about half said Asian Americans are either “overrepresented” or “fairly represented” in senior roles within U.S. business, political and media organizations. But as noted by Fortune, “David Ige of Hawaii is the only Asian American or Pacific Islander governor out of 50 states (not including U.S. territories). Only two senators out of 100, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, are of Asian descent. Yet Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up about 7% of the U.S. population.”

According to U.S. Census data, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing racial group in the United States. The Census also reported that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders:

  • Own about 10% of U.S. businesses.
  • Are most likely to work in management, business, science or the arts (54%).
  • Had the largest increase of any racial group in voter turnout during the 2020 election compared with the 2016 election.

Earlier this year, Liaison launched a month-long blog series in February to celebrate Black History Month and another in March to recognize Women’s History Month. Although the series were brief, the lessons and insights they offered remain timeless. The month of May will soon be in the rearview mirror, too, but the need to recognize and value the significant contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders to our country, and to higher ed specifically, needs to remain an important priority.

RJ Nichol

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