Defining Asian American

How does NCAAT specifically define “Asian American?”

The term, “Asian American,” used as a social and political identity, was coined by activists Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee in 1968. Its creation served as a rejection of the derogatory term “Oriental,” which was used to describe Asian people. The coining of the phrase “Asian American” and the movements that led to its creation was the direct result of radical cross-racial and ethnic solidarity building in the 1960s. Before 1968, the creation of a pan-ethnic Asian identity did not exist in the United States. Thus, this newly created identity attempted to galvanize Asian people to come together, acknowledge our shared histories, and fight for collective liberation.

We acknowledge that the past and present definitions of “Asian American” are imperfect. This term has historically, and currently, centered East Asian people while excluding South, Southeast, Central, and West Asians. NCAAT currently does outreach and mobilizations with Southeast, South, and East Asian communities in North Carolina. However, we know that there are many who identify as Asian American and many who come from places across Asia that extend beyond what we have mentioned. If you or a community member identify as West Asian, Southwest Asian, Central Asian, or another group we have not yet outreached to, we would still love to hear from you and build with you.

In addition, NCAAT typically uses “Asian American” to refer to the communities that we serve over other terminology. When NCAAT does use the terms Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), Asian Pacific Islander (API), or Asian Pacific American (APA) to recognize our community, we are specifically including people whose origins are from the Pacific Islands. The terms AAPI, API, and APA oftentimes inaccurately lump Pacific Islander communities in with Asian American communities. The needs and histories of these communities are drastically different, and when these terms are used they often erase unique Pacific Islander experiences. For instance, Pacific Islander communities often face issues such as land displacement and dislocation within the United States, something that does not typically affect Asian Americans. We believe that there should be an intention, and subsequent action and resources, provided to Pacific Islander communities if these terms are used. With that being said, if you identify as Pacific Islander, please do not hesitate to reach out. We would still love to hear from and build with you.


*Note: The below is not intended to be a definitive list, and we recognize that there are geopolitical nuances to how countries, regions, and people identify themselves. For example, we understand that there are some folks listed below as West Asian who might self-identify instead with Middle East and North Africa (MENA) or Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA). We hope this will help uplift conversations around the diversity of people NCAAT may work with directly and the underrepresented issues in and around diverse communities.

Pacific Islanders refer to those whose heritages are the original peoples of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Polynesia includes Hawai‘i (Native Hawaiian), Samoa (Samoan), American Samoa (Samoan), Tokelau (Tokelauan), Tahiti (Tahitian), and Tonga (Tongan). Micronesia includes Guam (Guamanian or Chamorro), Mariana Islands (Mariana Islander), Saipan (Saipanese), Palau (Palauan), Yap (Yapese), Chuuk (Chuukese), Pohnpei (Pohnpeian), Kosrae (Kosraean), Marshall Islands (Marshallese), and Kiribati (I-Kiribat/Gilbertese/Kiribati). Melanesia includes Fiji (Fijian), Papua New Guinea (Papua New Guinean), Solomon Islands (Solomon Islander), and Vanuatu (Ni-Vanuatu).

East Asians refer to people whose heritage traces from China, Macau, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, Tibet, and Mongolia.

South Asians refer to people whose heritage traces from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Ethnic groups include Sindhi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, and many others.

Central Asians refer to people whose heritage traces from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic (Kirghizia), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Southeast Asians refer to people whose heritage traces from the following countries and ethnic groups: Burma, Brunei, Cambodia (Khmer, Cham, KhmerLoeu), Indonesia, Laos (Hmong, Lao, Lao Loum, Iu Mien, Khmu, Tai Dam, Tai Leu, and many other ethnic groups), Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Philippines, and Vietnam (Vietnamese, Khmer Kampuchea Krom, Montagnards).

West Asians refer to people whose heritage traces from the following countries and ethnic groups: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, West Bank, and Yemen.

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