Geographic Distribution

As they have grown in number and diversity, so too have Asian-Pacific American communities spread out across the United States. If the story of the previous era (1941–1992) occurred mostly in the American West and Hawaii, the story of our modern era also takes place along the Eastern Seaboard, the Gulf Coast, and in the Midwest. In an increasingly globalized world, Asian immigrants have begun practicing “transnational immigration” as well, living or commuting between one’s home country and the United States.29

Queen of Peace Shrine and Gardens/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay3_8_PortArthurShrine_LC.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Located in a primarily Vietnamese neighborhood of Port Arthur, Texas, the Queen of Peace Shrine and Gardens features a statue of the Virgin Mary in a pagoda. No longer concentrated on the West Coast, Asian Pacific American communities today exist throughout the United States.
Although the West Coast remains the home of nearly half the adult APA population (47 percent), communities have sprung up all over the United States. As of the 2010 Census, 20 percent live in the Northeast, 21 percent in the South, and 11 percent in the Midwest.30 Despite the growing national population, in the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of Asian Americans living in the West has actually decreased while rising in the South, the region with the fastest growth rate in the country.31

Despite the general tendency to put down roots in the western states, the settlement patterns of the six largest Asian-American communities—Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese—seem to share few, if any, commonalities. Of the largest group, 49 percent of adult Chinese Americans live in the West, but a sizable population (27 percent) lives in the Northeast. The vast majority of adult Filipinos living in the United States have settled in the West (66 percent), while the South represents the next largest population at 16 percent. Nearly half the adult Vietnamese population lives in the West (49 percent), but a substantial 32 percent also lives in the South, especially along the Gulf Coast. Among adult Koreans, 45 percent live in the West, but nearly equal numbers live in the South and Northeast (23 and 21 percent, respectively.)32

At one end of the spectrum, adult Indian Americans are the most geographically dispersed Asian-American community in the United States: 31 percent live in the Northeast, 29 percent in the South, 24 percent in the West, and 17 percent in the Midwest. At the other end are adult Japanese Americans. An overwhelming majority (71 percent) live in the West, followed well behind by the South at 12 percent, the Northeast at 9 percent, and the Midwest at 8 percent.33

On a state-by-state level, California led the nation in 2010 with the largest Asian-American population (5,556,592). It was followed by New York (1,579,494), Texas (1,110,666), New Jersey (795,163), Hawaii (780,968), Illinois (668,694), Washington (604,251), Florida (573,083), Virginia (522,199), and Pennsylvania (402,587).34

Pacific Diaspora

A movement of people both within the Pacific and from the Pacific to the mainland (and occasionally back to the Pacific) has also begun changing the face of the American electorate. As the historian Paul Spickard has pointed out, “This is not an entirely new phenomenon. Islanders have been moving around the Pacific for as long as memory recalls, for many hundreds of years.” “Nor is migration to North America wholly new,” he observed, pointing out that Pacific Islanders worked in a host of 19th-century industries on the West Coast. What is different, however, is the “velocity and impact of such movements” in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.35

The 2010 Census revealed that 1.2 million people (or 0.4 percent of the entire U.S. population) identified as either Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, which it defined as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.”36 Although statistically small, their numbers increased “more than three times faster than the total U.S. population” between 2000 and 2010, making their growth rate second only to that of the Asian-American community, which the Census counts separately. It is important to note that many Pacific Islanders are American nationals and, therefore, legally able to move to the mainland United States. More than 70 percent of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders call the West home, and over half live in Hawaii and California. Another 16 percent live in the South (which also experienced a population surge during the 2000s), 7 percent in the Northeast, and 6 percent in the Midwest. Native Hawaiians represent the largest group, followed by Samoans, and Guamanians or Chamorro.37

Many young people from American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands enlist in the U.S. military, seeking better benefits and higher salaries. Others have settled in Hawaii and on the mainland—particularly California and Utah—to pursue an education, often with the sponsorship of religious organizations.38

For Delegate Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, who represented American Samoa in the House from 1989 to 2015, this diaspora often influenced his constituent outreach. “I’m probably the only member that has to go to San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, or Hawaii where we have communities … where I would attend their community activities,” he said in a 2011 oral history. In his experience, Samoans living on the mainland often preferred speaking to him instead of their own Representative. “They call me all over the country,” he said. “Of course, our men and women in the military, I take care of them. We also have a number from Western Samoa who live in the United States and I try to help them as well.”39

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29Lee, The Making of Asian America: 358–359.

30Pew Research Center, “The Rise of Asian Americans”: 33.

31The Asian Population: 2010, C2010BR-11, prepared by Elizabeth M. Hoeffel, Sonya Rastog; Myoung Ouk Kim, and Hasan Shahid, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington, DC, issued March 2012): 6.

32Pew Research Center, “The Rise of Asian Americans”: 33; Hoeffel et al., The Asian Population: 2010: 17–19.

33Pew Research Center, “The Rise of Asian Americans”: 33.

34The Asian Population: 2010: 7–8.

35Paul Spickard, “Introduction: Pacific Diaspora?,” in Pacific Diaspora: Island Peoples in the United States and Across the Pacific, ed. Paul Spickard, Joanne L. Rondilla, and Debbie Hippolite Wright (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002): 2, 16–17.

36The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Population: 2010, C201BR-12, prepared by Lindsay Hixson, Bradford B. Hepler, and Myoung Ouk Kim, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington, DC, issued May 2012): 1–2.

37The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Population: 4–5, 7, 15, 19. It was not until the 1990 U.S. Census that federal officials began enumerating Pacific Islanders separately from Asian Americans. See Karen Nero, “The End of Insularity,” in The Cambridge History of the Pacific Islanders, ed. Donald Denoon et al. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997): 448.

38James Ciment, “Samoan Americans,” in Asian American History and Culture: An Encyclopedia, vol. 2, ed. Huping Ling and Allan Austin (New York: Sharpe Reference, 2010): 530–531; James Brooke, “On Farthest U.S. Shores, Iraq Is A Way to A Dream,” 31 July 2005, New York Times: A18; Lee Davidson, “One of Every Four Tongans in U.S. Calls Utah Home,” 12 September 2011, Salt Lake Tribune, (accessed 22 June 2016). For slightly earlier migration trends, see Craig R. James, “From Village to City: Samoan Migration to California,” in Pacific Diaspora: Island Peoples in the United States and Across the Pacific, ed. Paul Spickard, Joanne L. Rondilla, and Debbie Hippolite Wright (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002): 121–122.

39Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, oral history interview by U.S. Capitol Historical Society, 11 April 2011, accessed 13 July 2015, Washington, DC, (site discontinued). See also Davidson, “One of Every Four Tongans in U.S. Calls Utah Home”; Jerry Spangler, “Mormon Democrats Link Up in Congress,” 31 January 2005, Deseret Morning News: n.p.