In the fabric of American diversity, the threads woven by Asian Americans are becoming increasingly pronounced. As we delve into the current state and future projections of this community, it becomes clear that Asian Americans are not only growing in numbers but are also shaping the sociopolitical landscape in multiple ways.
According to projections, by 2060, Asian Americans are set to become the largest immigrant group in the United States, with their population estimated to exceed 46 million. This growth trajectory places them at over 10% of the total US population, a significant leap from their current 7% share. This demographic surge, seen as the fastest among racial and ethnic groups since 2000, is more than a statistical marvel; it signals a shift in the American societal and political fabric.
This change is most conspicuous in California, the most populous US state, where Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) form about 15.5% of the population. The 2020 US Census data highlights that the AAPI population in California grew by 25% over the past decade, outpacing other ethnic groups. This surge has implications that transcend mere numbers, impacting areas like political representation, policy formulation, and societal integration.
The political landscape, traditionally seeing Asian Americans as steadfast supporters of the Democratic Party, is witnessing a complex evolution. A 2022 survey by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, authored by Milan Vaishnav and Nitya Labh involving 1,000 California-based Asian Americans, reveals a nuanced political reality. While the community's support for the Democratic Party remains strong, there is a noticeable pivot towards the Republican Party in areas with significant Asian populations. This shift, especially evident during the 2020 presidential elections and the 2022 midterms, suggests a diversifying political spectrum within the Asian American community.
The survey further uncovers the policy priorities and preferences of Asian Americans in California. Issues such as technology, higher education, and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the rise in hate crimes against Asians, dominate their concerns. These topics not only define their immediate needs but also shape their political alignments and activism.
Identity considerations within the Asian American community add another layer to this evolving narrative. The Pew Research Center's 2023 survey of 7,006 Asian adults in the US reveals a rich diversity within this demographic, with roots in over 20 countries across East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. This diversity challenges the monolithic view of the Asian American identity, revealing a spectrum of experiences influenced by factors like birthplace, ethnic origins, and societal interactions.
The increase in civic and political engagement among Asian Americans is another crucial development. Voter turnout within this community has shown remarkable growth, with the 2020 presidential election witnessing nearly 60 percent turnout among Asian American voters. This heightened participation is reshaping electoral dynamics, especially in battleground states, and underscoring the importance of this demographic in national politics.
The community's perspective on foreign policy, particularly the US’s strategic focus on Asia, is another aspect shaping their political and civic engagement. The US foreign policy's pivot to Asia, including initiatives like the Indo-Pacific Strategy, Australia, United Kingdom, United States Security Partnership (AUKUS), and the Quad, has stirred interest and concern among Asian Americans, reflecting their global outlook and its influence on domestic political choices.
Indian Americans, now the largest Asian American group in the US, embody the changing face of this community. Their population, now over 4 million, has seen remarkable achievements, particularly in political representation. Indian Americans have permeated traditional power bastions in the US, such as Ivy League universities, Hollywood, the media, the judicial system, and notably, politics. Prominent politicians of Indian origin include Vice President Kamala Harris and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley. The political engagement and activity of the Indian diaspora have grown significantly, with numerous political action groups emerging to promote their interests, such as the United States India Political Action Committee and South Asian Americans Leading Together. This active participation has led to substantial political contributions across both parties, with estimates of $20 million to $30 million raised by members of the Indian American community for political candidates in the 2020 presidential election alone. Their involvement has not only increased voter turnout but also played a crucial role in policy changes, reflecting their growing clout in the US political landscape.
Their rise challenges traditional stereotypes and underscores the multifaceted nature of Asian identity in America. Despite their increasing prominence, Asian Americans face significant challenges, including a surge in hate crimes and a pervasive sense of insecurity and non-belonging in the country. The rise in hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans, particularly exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been a concerning trend. This has galvanized many within the community to become more politically active and vocal, advocating for policy changes and greater representation to combat these challenges and change the narrative around the Asian American identity and inclusion in the US.
In conclusion, the Asian American community in the United States is at a pivotal juncture. As they grow in numbers and assert their influence in various spheres of American life, their role in shaping the nation's future—politically, socially, and culturally—becomes increasingly significant. The community's diverse origins, evolving political inclinations, and rising civic engagement paint a dynamic and influential portrait, one that is integral to understanding and shaping the broader American narrative.
I extend my sincerest gratitude to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for their invaluable survey and insights, which have significantly enriched the depth and understanding of my article. The survey can be accessed here: Asian Americans in California: Results from a 2022 Survey - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Mrittika Guha Sarkar is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service. She is further an Associated Research Fellow at the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP), Sweden.