Local NewsBridging the Divide


Explaining the diversity of the Asian American Pacific Islander community

Posted at 6:06 AM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 11:37:04-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — You may have heard of the term AAPI on the news in recent months, but if you didn’t know it stands for Asian American Pacific Islander.

Nevada’s AAPI community is the fastest-growing group in the state and it’s very diverse ranging from ethnicities like Japanese to Asian Indian.

In many places all around the Las Vegas Valley, you can see the presence of the AAPI community. What many people may not know is how diverse the community is.

“It’s really important to keep in mind that Asians are not a monolith. We have very rich and different stories to share with the community,” Nicole Santero, director of communications for OCA Las Vegas, said.

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The U.S. Census Bureau classifies Asians as anyone having origins from the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. It’s a region that includes hundreds of different nationalities and ethnicities.

“The definition spans all kinds of categories. The diversity in ethnic groups. Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, so there’s that ethnic diversity,” Mark Padoongpatt, a UNLV Asian American Studies professor, said.

But how did a community with such divergent backgrounds come together as one?

“There was an underlying similar experience of being seen as foreign and unassailable to American culture and society and the treatment was similar regardless of their ethnic background,” Padoongpatt said.

He says Asian activists such as Yuji Ichioka in the late 1960’s coined the term “Asian American” as a political statement and to push back on perceptions of being seen as perpetually foreign.

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“It was kind of a pushback and challenge against the “Oriental” label and to come out and say we’re unified despite all of our cultural differences, but we’re a unified front because we share this collective experience,” Padoongpatt said.

Asian Americans are often lumped together with Pacific Islanders who include people with origins from Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, and other Pacific islands. This began in the 1990s as a way to create pan-Pacific solidarity but created debates over their political goals and whether they should be separate. Padoongpatt says the goals can be divergent.

“Asian Americans have been fighting exclusion and fighting for inclusion into American society. Visibility, a voice, a seat at the table. Whereas Pacific Islanders, not just Native Hawaiians, but folks from Guam, Micronesia, Samoa. They’re fighting for sovereignty,” he said.

He expects the community to evolve with their identity and begin to disaggregate into more individual groups with specific goals but still creating allyship among different ethnicities.

“We’re going to fight for Vietnamese refugees because they’re hardest hit right now, or we’re going to fight for Micronesians. I think we can do that along with seeing ourselves as people of color within the United States in a broader category as AAPI,” Padoongpatt said.