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Redefining Race

Redefining Race: Asian American Panethnicity and Shifting Ethnic Boundaries

Dina G. Okamoto
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Redefining Race
    Book Description:

    In 2012, the Pew Research Center issued a report that named Asian Americans as the “highest-income, best-educated, and fastest-growing racial group in the United States.” Despite this seemingly optimistic conclusion, over thirty Asian American advocacy groups challenged the findings. As many pointed out, the term “Asian American” itself is complicated. It currently denotes a wide range of ethnicities, national origins, and languages, and encompasses a number of significant economic and social disparities. In Redefining Race, sociologist Dina G. Okamoto traces the complex evolution of this racial designation to show how the use of “Asian American” as a panethnic label and identity has been a deliberate social achievement negotiated by members of this group themselves, rather than an organic and inevitable process. Drawing on original research and a series of interviews, Okamoto investigates how different Asian ethnic groups in the U.S. were able to create a collective identity in the wake of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Okamoto argues that a variety of broad social forces created the conditions for this developing panethnic identity. Racial segregation, for example, shaped how Asian immigrants of different national origins were distributed in similar occupations and industries. This segregation of Asians within local labor markets produced a shared experience of racial discrimination, which encouraged Asian ethnic groups to develop shared interests and identities. By constructing a panethnic label and identity, ethnic group members took part in creating their own collective histories, and in the process challenged and redefined current notions of race. The emergence of a panethnic racial identity also depended, somewhat paradoxically, on different groups organizing along distinct ethnic lines in order to gain recognition and rights from the larger society. According to Okamoto, these ethnic organizations provided the foundation necessary to build solidarity within different Asian-origin communities. Leaders and community members who created inclusive narratives and advocated policies that benefited groups beyond their own were then able to move these discrete ethnic organizations toward a panethnic model. For example, a number of ethnic-specific organizations in San Francisco expanded their services and programs to include other ethnic group members after their original constituencies dwindled. A Laotian organization included refugees from different parts of Asia, a Japanese organization began to advocate for South Asian populations, and a Chinese organization opened its doors to Filipinos and Vietnamese. As Okamoto argues, the process of building ties between ethnic communities while also recognizing ethnic diversity is the hallmark of panethnicity. Redefining Race is a groundbreaking analysis of the processes through which group boundaries are drawn and contested. In mapping the genesis of a panethnic Asian American identity, Okamoto illustrates the ways in which concepts of race continue to shape how ethnic and immigrant groups view themselves and organize for representation in the public arena.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-845-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. About the Author
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction: Ethnic Boundary Change and Panethnicity
    (pp. 1-25)

    In June 2012, the Pew Research Center issued a major report, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” on the demographics and attitudes of the Asian population in twenty-first-century America.¹ Based on a nationally representative survey, the report noted that Asian Americans are the “highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States” and that, as a group, Asians are more likely to marry across racial lines, live in racially mixed neighborhoods, and place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work, and career success. The report highlighted the economic success and social assimilation of Asian Americans and...

  7. Chapter 2 Beginnings: The Durability of Ethnic Boundaries in the Pre-1968 Era
    (pp. 26-52)

    Early immigrants from Asia arrived in the United States with identities linked to nation, region, dialect, hometown, and clan. Japanese immigrants arrived from prefectures such as Kumamoto, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi, and the Chinese who migrated to the United States were either Punti or Hakka, groups associated with differences in dialect, appearance, and region.¹ They organized by developing associations and engaging in collective efforts based on finer group distinctions, and eventually they widened their boundaries to form ethnic groups. Asian immigrants viewed each other as ethnically distinct, and as we will see, some Asian-origin groups made deliberate efforts to differentiate themselves...

  8. Chapter 3 The Emergence of Organizational Panethnicity
    (pp. 53-84)

    During the pre-1968 era, Asian ethnic groups did not view each other as sharing common interests and a unified goal, in part because of their newcomer status, which simply demanded learning how to survive in American society. Local residents, native-born workers, and state officials regarded the different Asian-origin groups as economic competitors, social misfits, and a threat to American culture.¹ As a result, Asian immigrants experienced exclusionary federal immigration policies and anti-immigrant violence. They were also segregated into ethnic enclaves, and extended few social and political rights.² Nevertheless, these common experiences of exclusion and segregation did not lead to a...

  9. Chapter 4 The Ethnic-Panethnic Dynamics of Collective Action
    (pp. 85-111)

    In studying panethnicity, we look at how groups draw boundaries largely in relation to others—defining who they are and who they are not—but we must also pay attention to the layered nature of group boundaries, especially in the case of new immigrant groups in the United States, where they can create identities and organize along multiple dimensions. Upon arrival, new immigrants hold national-origin identities, yet are often assigned to one of the racial groups upon which panethnic identities are formed. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese Americans can organize along not only ethnic or national-origin lines but also the...

  10. Chapter 5 Ethnic Organizations and the Flexibility of Group Boundaries
    (pp. 112-144)

    In the early 1970s, ethnicity was the traditional way in which immigrants organized themselves in defense of threats and to provide social and economic support for ethnic group members. By the 2000s, panethnicity was a key organizing principle and approach to building a broader community and bringing national attention to issues such as racial profiling, hate crimes, and discrimination against Asian Americans. The panethnic model had become an established organizational form recognized by funders, foundations, policymakers, government officials, and the larger public.¹ Ethnic organizations and leaders serving the Asian American population had to operate within this new environment and faced...

  11. Chapter 6 Panethnicity and Beyond
    (pp. 145-158)

    Given that the hallmark of panethnicity is its emphasis on solidarity through difference and that its success and longevity depend on the maintenance of ethnic identities, it is no wonder that the Asian American community and organizational leaders have spoken out against instances of racialization, such the 2012 Pew report.¹ Such media reports highlight the integration and assimilation of Asian Americans and thereby reinforce the model minority trope, erasing diversity within the category of Asian. It has been through concerted efforts and collective action based on a panethnic identity that Asian Americans have forged social change and begun to shift...

  12. Appendix A Variable Construction and Tables
    (pp. 159-168)
  13. Appendix B Data Collection
    (pp. 169-174)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 175-202)
  15. References
    (pp. 203-232)
  16. Index
    (pp. 233-245)