Paper 2 – Asian American Panethnicity

Paper 2 – Asian American Panethnicity

 MIT – Asian American Study

Panethnicity, what is it? It is a term coined quite recently to define or group people based on nationality and heritage into one large/broader name. It is another way to define a person based on race. In the case of the United States, Asian-American is a broad term used for any Asian descendant. Much like ‘white’ is described for those of Anglo-Saxton, European, or North African origin. (Wikipedia) But these terms can be confusing and vague due to how people interpret it. A Norwegian person does not fit the above definition but would still be listed or categorized as ‘white’ based on their skin tone. Much like an African who moved to America would not necessarily be labeled ‘African-American’ if their skin tone appears white, regardless if they are African. Panethnicity requires both the outsider’s perception and the vague definition already in place.

Among Asian Americans specifically, Panethnicity solidarity seems to be prevalent. The labeling or naming of ethnic groups based on heritage and origin has been from outside influences and their perception of groups of people. The term Asian American can be broad enough to include those from Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, or Filipino origin. But the majority of Americans who define Asian Americans as coming from the broad term of ‘Asia’ seem to forget that Russian, Arabian, Swedish, Indian, and Turks also reside in the same area and could be called Asian-American. Yet looking at these individual cultures, there are similarities but there are distinct differences, genetic makeup, and history. The term Asian-American is extremely broad and in many cases misunderstood. It depends on the individual outsider naming the person, on how they define what constitutes whether a person is Asian-American or not. In many cases, it’s discriminatory in nature.

Although Panethnicity can be insulting or incorrect, many people who identify as Asian-American do so for a sense of community and common ground with others that also identify within this group. It is a way to differentiate oneself from others and be proud of their individual heritage, while retaining their status as American. The term unites large ethnic groups, but still maintains their individual diversity within smaller sub-groups. You may be American, but you can also be Asian-American. You may be Asian-American, but you can also be Japanese. You may be Japanese, but your family originated in Tokyo. You do not lose individuality and detail, or the broader term of American just because of the new sub-groups you can fall into.

There are issues regarding race and stereotyping that I will not go into here. There are those that feel the term race is inaccurate and is completely a social issue and then there are those that say that race is just one way that we as humans categorize ourselves and each other. That there is biological reasoning for visually categorizing each other, left over from finding potential mates and finding genetic matches. Either may be true, or it could be a combination of both, grafted into what we now know, over generations. Regardless of why or when it started, we still do it. It’s one of the very first things we notice about other people. We visually categorize what they look like, what race they are, their gender, and possible family lineage all within seconds of meeting people. It’s innate to us now and putting names to common backgrounds, histories, and places of origins has immerged in the naming of races and now Panethnicity. (Min)

For Asian-Americans, there is little common ground among their cultures, languages, and religious backgrounds. They mainly share that their originated in Asian countries. But the differences are remarkable in differently each culture evolved. There are no common symbols, religions, or even similar appearances among the many sub-groups of Asian-Americans. For the most part, there are difficulties between the differences, due to wars and conflicts over time. Chinese and Japanese may not necessarily approve of being categorized together, considering the war and POW camps that happened less than three generations ago. They are still grouped together, with only the outsider’s view bonding them.

But this has not stopped those classified as Asian-American to join together in political and economic battles. Throughout the civil rights movement, many Asian-American groups protested in the West coast and Northeast university campuses.  Taking advantage of their numbers. (Espiritu)

In conclusion, Panethnicity of Asian-American can both improve and impoverish those identified within it. And even though many that qualify did not name themselves with these broad terms, they have gone to great lengths to take advantage of their numbers and political pull by joining with others identified similarly. I don’t think that the grouping of races will go away, at least not any time soon. But it’s impressive how much this particular group has turned it into their favor since the 1960’s.



Min, Tae Eun. ‘Panethnicity Among Asian Americans and Latinos: Panethnicity As Both A Dependent Variable And Independent Variable.’ University of Iowa. 2010. Thesis. Print.

Espiritu, Yen Le. ‘Asian American Panethnicity: Challenges and Possibilities.

University of California. 2000. Print.

Wikipedia. ‘Panethnicity.’ Web. Sept 27, 2013.


Wikipedia. ‘Asian American’. Web. Jul 31, 2013.

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