When US President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 removing decades-long restrictions on admission and citizenship for immigrants from Asia, Asian-Americans made up only 0.5% of the total population. Forty-five years later, the 2010 Census reveals a dramatically different American racial landscape. Today, 14.7 million identify as “Asian-alone,” comprising 4.8% of the population. More dramatically, the Census names Asians as the fastest-growing racial group of the past decade, increasing an astounding 43.3%.
While these numbers are significant in showing the role of Asians in the demographic changes of the US in the past generation, they do not provide the whole picture. A more accurate count includes the 2.7 million people who consider themselves to be multi-racial Asian, or 29% of those reporting to belong to two-or more racial groups. This brings the total of number people of Asian-descent to 17.3 million, or 5.5% of the US population.
America’s Asian population is also spreading from its traditional density in the West and Pacific to states across the country. Hawaii’s unique location at the crossroads of the Pacific remains evident in the data showing that well over half of its population, 57.4%, is of Asian descent. Meanwhile California is still home to the largest number of Asian-Americans, some 5.5million in 2010, but it is followed by New York, Texas, New Jersey, showing the spread of the population from coast to coast.
The growth of Asian Americans is leading to demonstrable demographic shifts in American cities and communities. The Washington Post reported that the influx of Hispanics and Asians prevented over half of the top 100 largest cities in the US from shrinking. Urban areas as disparate as Anaheim, California; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Jersey City, New Jersey have their growing Asian populations to thank for maintaining positive growth. In New York City, the Asian population increased by nearly 250,000, a gain of 32% and the largest of any ethnic group, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As in the past, much of this growth is driven by immigration as a majority of new arrivals settle in cities seeking employment opportunities. According to the immigration statistics maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, in 2010 over 420,000 immigrants from Asia became permanent residents, while over 250,000 received full US citizenship. In both instances this was more than any other region in the world.
The demographic shifts have not been limited to urban communities. For the first time in its history, minorities make up the majority of the population in affluent Montgomery County, MD, outside of Washington, DC. Brookings demographer William Fry told the Washington post that the influx of Blacks, Asians and Hispanics is “reinvigorating” the region’s suburbs, making the DC area more globalized in the process. In California and other regions along the West coast, Asian “Ethnoburbs”— suburban municipalities dominated by a non-white ethnic group— show former immigrant populations moving out of the “Chinatowns” and “Little Tokyos” of the past and into large, prosperous, Asian-majority suburban communities.
The 2010 Census depicts a more diverse and dynamic American than fifty years ago. The Asian-American community has grown and spread throughout the country significantly in the past few decades; contributing to the trend of minority-propelled growth into the 21st century.