Sunday, November 18, 2012

Response to New York Times article that described Pacific Islanders as an Asian subgroup

This month, the New York Times published an article on Asian Americans and affirmative action. The author appears to have done her research in several areas, but certainly made an error in describing Pacific Islanders as an Asian American subgroup.

Here's the line:
On the other hand, Filipinos, Cambodians, Pacific Islanders and other Asian-Americans continue to benefit from policies that take ethnicity into account.
We've answered this question before, but when one of the most respected newspapers in the country gets it wrong, it's worth repeating:

Pacific Islanders are not Asian. Pacific Islanders are Pacific Islanders.

Since 1997, federal policy on racial and ethnic classification has recognized that Pacific Islanders and Asians are two distinct and separate racial groups. (That policy is OMB Directive 15, and you can read it yourself here: LINK)

And not to get technical, but the Pacific Islands and Asia are two different places. As a Native Hawaiian, my ancestral lands are over a thousand miles closer to the West Coast of North America than they are to Asia.

In addition to being wrong, the notion that Pacific Islanders are just an Asian subgroup can have real consequences. One example: access to academic programs for underrepresented minorities.  I experienced this myself as a college student, when I was told that Pacific Islanders weren't an underrepresented minority because "Pacific Islanders are Asian, and Asians aren't underrepresented."

That isn't to discount the bond between Pacific Islanders and Asians, or the good work of numerous "AAPI" (Asian American and Pacific Islander) organizations that serve both the Asian American and the Pacific Islander American community. But having a bond and working in coalitions doesn't mean that Pacific Islanders surrender their own identity.

That's not news, but it is the truth.


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