AAPI Diversity


with Janelle Wong of AAPI Data


May 05, 2018

The Asian American Pacific Islander community makes up six percent of the U.S. population, but is growing more than four times as rapidly as the total U.S. population. Asians are the largest group of immigrants to enter the U.S. as immigrants. A conversation with Janelle Wong, Senior Researcher at AAPI Data about the fastest-growing but one of the understudied racial groups in the United States.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Traynham: The White House initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders reports that the AAPI community is the fastest-growing racial group in the country, growing over four times as rapidly as the total U.S. population. Despite this tremendous growth, AAPI remains one of the most understudied racial groups in the country. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me is Janelle Wong. She´s senior researcher with AAPI Data. Janelle, welcome to the program.

Wong: Thanks for having me.

Traynham: So what I just said a few moments ago, actually, I just find so fascinating on so many different levels. We know that the community that you represent and that you research continues to give tremendous things, if you will, to our American story. But I´m not sure we know about your story. Tell us about that.

Wong: As a researcher at AAPI, we really work to lift up the Asian-American community really through more information and research. So this is a group that doesn´t receive necessarily a lot of attention. They´re still 6 percent of the U.S. population, but growing very fast. And so we are just helping public policymakers, lawmakers, and the general public to understand the Asian American Pacific Islander community much better.

Traynham: Why do you think, Janelle, that we´re playing catch-up? Why do you think there´s a bit of ignorance, for lack of a better term, with the community?

Wong: I think it´s really the media coverage of race in America. So this is a group that has been in the United States for a very long time, started coming in the early 1800s in a mass wave, but, at the same time, has remained kind of small due to immigration restrictions in the past. Now the community is growing, and a lot of people, when they think about immigration, don´t always think about Asian Americans, even though we know now through this research that Asian Americans are now the largest group that enters the U.S. every day -- every year as immigrants. So, for instance, we see that Asians, since around 2009, have been the largest group of immigrants to enter the U.S. every year while actually, groups like Mexicans and Central Americans are entering in smaller numbers than Asians.

Traynham: Janelle, obviously, you -- this is what you do in terms of looking at the data. Can you put some stories behind the data or humanize the data, for lack of a better term? Are there two big takeaways, two big things that you have found that our viewers should probably take away from?

Wong: Well, you know, right now, we´re looking at a very rigorous and controversial debate over immigration. And I think a lot of people don´t know that Asian Americans are a majority immigrant population while Latinos in the U.S. are a majority U.S.-born population. Only 40% of Latinos are born outside of the U.S. And when it comes to, for instance, hot-button issues like undocumented immigration, people don´t often think about the Asian American population. But we know that Asian Americans are not the largest, but they are the fastest-growing group of undocumented immigrants, particularly those from India, China, and Korea, the Philippines. And we know today that fully one out of every seven Asian immigrants is undocumented, and they make up one out of every six undocumented immigrants in America. So that´s one story. And I know of quite a few now undocumented Asian immigrants, especially students at my institution, the University of Maryland, who, on the one hand, feel invisible because they´re not part of the larger immigration debate, but also who sometimes feel like they are protected by their racial status because sometimes people don´t think about Asian Americans as undocumented. So we have some complicated dynamics going on.

Traynham: You mentioned immigration a few moments ago. We´ve got about 20 seconds left. That is a huge political hot-button issue, as you know. How is the political influence, if you will, in the AAPI community? Is that growing?

Wong: So this is another, I think, really important point about the Asian American community, is that it is one of the fastest growing segments -- the fastest-growing segment, demographic segment, of the electorate. And yet, we also know from our data that Asian Americans are not mobilized by political parties at the same rate as other groups. And so part of why I´m here is to, again, lift up the importance of this community.

Traynham: Words well said. Janelle Wong, senior researcher at AAPI, thank you very much for joining us.

Wong: Thank you.

Traynham: And, of course, thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. Have a great day, everybody. I´m Robert Traynham.

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