During the month of May, festivities across the nation highlighted the contributions, richness and diversity of Asian and Pacific Islanders. Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month first started as a week-long celebration established in 1978 to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in May 1843, and the contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed in May 1869.
Nationwide, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have emerged as the nation’s fastest growing racial group, increasing by 51 percent between 2000 and 2012, growing from 10.7 million in 2000 to 16.1 million in 2012. The Washington region is no exception; Asian and Pacific Islanders numbered about 437,000 in 2012, up from 297,000 in 2000, and comprise 11 percent of the total population.
The groups with a larger presence in the Washington region are Indian, Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese. But these groups do not even begin to uncover the enormous diversity of people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent that are our friends and neighbors, with ties to more than 20 ethnic groups, languages, religions, customs and origins.
This vast diversity influences the economic security and opportunities of Asian and Pacific Islander women in our region and beyond. While Asian and Pacific Islander women on average are only second to White women when analyzing economic indicators, it is not because everyone is doing well. Looking at the population of Asian and Pacific women without any nuance, glosses over the economic and educational inequities of the many groups that are part of this population.
Asian Americans are often considered to be high-achieving, high-earning and highly educated, but data from the 2010-2012 American Community Survey reveals, for example, that in the Washington region, roughly four out of ten Pakistani women (38 percent) are living at or below 200 percent of the poverty threshold, compared to slightly more than one out of ten Indian women (13 percent). Median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers unearth stark disparities among women in this group as well; while Chinese women earn approximately $70,000 per year, Vietnamese women earn about $27,000 less.
A single-bloc analysis of the status of Asian and Pacific Islander women could leave the group out of important policy discussions. Immigration reform, for instance, is more likely to be associated as an issue of interest to the Latino community, and racial dialogues often times primarily focus on White and Black relations. The “model minority” stereotype, the idea that Asian Americans are landmarks of economic and academic success relative to other minorities, is an undermining factor that affects the most disadvantaged members of the Asian and Pacific community. This dangerous misconception can cause many who share significant challenges of achieving economic security to be overlooked.
To celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, let’s remember the vibrant diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and the importance of understanding the nuanced backgrounds of women and men, and girls and boys that make this such a vibrant community and allows us to better serve the diverse needs of every woman and girl in our region.
The source of data in this blog post is The Women’s Foundation analysis of the 2010-2012 and 2012 IPUMS American Community Survey, and 2000 Census.