Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Census: Pacific Islanders in New York City

I was checking out this blog about Pacific Islander American (PIA) issues, and I found this link to a PDF with 2000 census data on Pacific Islanders in the United States. It is quite interesting.

For our purposes, we can summarize that while about 75% of Pacific Islanders live in the American West (mostly in Hawaiʻi and California), and after the West the South is the next biggest region of PIA settlement (historically why, though?), the Northeast does have its fair share of Pacific Islander Americans, too!

New York State Data

While only 4,457 Pacific Islanders were counted as living in New York State in the 1990 census, due to subsequent changes in reporting about race, that number rose to 8,818 New Yorkers in 2000 who claimed "Pacific Islander" as their sole race, and 28,612 total New Yorkers who claimed "Pacific Islander" as at least one part of their racial heritage.

The map on page 6 of the census report is particularly fascinating. Only 3 counties in NYS have a Pacific Islander population above 0.3% of the total county population (but in no counties in NYS do PIA constitute more than 1% of the population). What are these counties? Bronx, Tompkins, Jefferson

Strange? Maybe. There must be historical reasons for why Pacific Islander migrants have congregated in these parts of NYS. As for the Bronx, there really could be numerically more Pacific Islanders in Brooklyn, or Queens, for example, but as a percentage of population, they'd be most likely to achieve high marks in the Bronx, or Staten Island, where total population numbers are lower. As for Tompkins County, does it have anything to do with Ithaca? the college student population? I don't know. And as for Jefferson County, is it Watertown? I just don't know, but with these latter two counties having total populations of around 100,000 people, this data suggests that 300-1,000 Pacific Islanders live in each of these counties. That's substantial.

What about New York City?

In 2000 New York City counted 5,430 persons with "Pacific Islander" as their sole race, and 19,203 New Yorkers who claimed part-"Pacific Islander" heritage. That is to say, around 2/3 of all Pacific Islander New Yorkers live in the city proper rather than upstate or on Long Island.

So...with the fifth largest Pacific Islander population in the nation, New York City must have Pacific Islander cultural institutions. Which we must explore at a later date.

...and I wonder, what will the 2010 census tell us? 


  1. I'm P.I. from the west coast and have a degree in "P.I. Studies." So, I'm familiar with this topic. I suspect that the numbers you are referring to from the US census are probably a bit misleading. It would be necessary to look into the specific ethnicities listed in order to really judge the Pacific Islander population the NE or NYC. Race is a complicated construct for any "group." The group of "Pacific Islanders" is complicated by the fact that it is broadly interpreted. The census (and many people's general understanding) definition of Pacific Islander is intended towards the Indigenous peoples of the Oceanic regions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. However, many people who self-select P.I. heritage are in fact Settlers or descendants of settlers to these oceanic regions (e.g. ethnically Japanese living in Hawai'i or ethnically Indian living in Fiji). The fact that family lines may be traced for several generations complicates the identity issue further. Also, many who self-identify as P.I. are not from the generally accepted areas considered to be "Oceania" or "Pacific Islands" (as in, not just islands that are in the Pacific). For example, there are thousands of Filipino-Americans who self-identify as Pacific Islander due to either a migration to an island of Oceania or because they themselves consider any island in the Pacific Ocean to be "Pacific Islander," despite any cultural or geographic definitions otherwise. So, I would guess that a good few thousand of those P.I.'s living in the NE region or NYC area are either Filipinos or people whose families settled in Hawai'i or Fiji but are not of Hawaiian or Fijian ethnicity.
    As a P.I. scholar, I have serious doubts that NYC has the 5th largest P.I. community in the country. Filipino perhaps ;)

    Hope that helps!

  2. Dear uhein9:

    Thanks for your interest in my blog. You have raised some excellent concerns about the U.S. census, and your concerns are very timely, of course, as 2010 U.S. census data will be revealed shortly, and as we know, it will be interpreted from every which angle ad nauseum.

    But first, I direct you back to the link at the top of my post. After reading your comments, I looked at the U.S. Census report that is linked to again. Here's the first mistake I made: when I said NYC had the fifth largest Pacific Islander community in the nation (compared to other municipalities), I had actually used the number of people who claimed ONLY Pacific Islander for that ranking. When you look at the total number of people claiming Pacific Islander as at least ONE race among many in NYC, actually we have the SECOND LARGEST Pacific Islander community in the nation (only after Honolulu).

    But these are just raw numbers. NYC has over 8 million people, so those 20,000 P.I. New Yorkers are actually a very small minority here. When you look at P.I. citizens as a percentage of total population, then other municipalities come to the forefront: Honolulu (15%), West Valley City, UT (3.5%), Hayward, CA (3.4%), Salt Lake City (2.3%), and so on. The top 10 municipalities are all in the U.S. West or Hawaiʻi.

    Now, to your concerns. You are absolutely right that many citizens might fill out the census form in a way that defies common/mainstream understanding of what "races" are. I agree that the "race" options on the census are VERY slippery, as they should be. But this does create problems. For example, in 2000, for the first time, you could list "American" as your race. Not "Native American," but just "American." And who checked that box? Southern whites overwhelmingly seem to have checked their race as "American." That is strange and alarming and extremely interesting, but if anything, it shows how malleable these racial categories really are.

    But if you look at the link I've posted, here are the racial categories given as options on the 2000 census:
    American Indian/Alaska Native
    Asian Indian
    Native Hawaiian
    Other Asian
    Other Pacific Islander
    Some Other Race

    I don't see why many Filipino-Americans would check "Other Pacific Islander" along with, or rather than, "Filipino," unless they truly were part-Pacific Islander, too. But you may know more about this than I presently understand. As for East Asians in Hawaiʻi or South Asians in Fiji, yeah, that could be tricky. I wouldn't be surprised if some Indian-Fijians who identified more as "Fijians" than as "Indians" put down Fijian. In Hawaiʻi, for example, I know that the numbers of Japanese, Chinese, and whites, too, that are also part-Hawaiian, is very large. In fact, the census data is clear that most Hawaiians today claim two or more races rather than just "Hawaiian." The same problem with Fiji could happen here, but I'm also sure that most of the 400,000 Americans who claim part-Hawaiian ancestry really ARE part-Hawaiian. It depends how far back people look in their genealogies, and whether or not they are proud to claim one part or another of their past as relevant to their present.

    I think your concerns are valid, but in the end I have more faith in the U.S. census's data than you have expressed. Part of the reason so many people are claiming P.I. ancestry now is because for the first time these racial options are actually listed on the census! In 1960 only people living in Hawaiʻi could claim Pacific Islander identity. A lot has changed since then, and we are starting to see what the P.I. diaspora really looks like. Come here to NYC and you will meet lots of Hawaiians - that is, even if different people here have different reasons for calling themselves such.

    Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Happy New Year!

  3. Hi again,

    Happy New Year to you, too! First off, I agree with you wholeheartedly that anyone with P.I. heritage, no matter what "percentage," is P.I. Of course I realize that there are many Native Hawaiians that have a rich cultural mosaic to their bloodline and are no less Hawaiian than those who do not. That is very obvious. That is one of the most beautiful aspects to Hawai'i, no? I believe that Native Hawaiians and other P.I.'s who have mixed ancestry should (and do) claim their place in P.I. census data.

    I also realize that the census form makes a distinct location for those of Filipino heritage. However, despite this, I still believe there are a large number of Filipino-Americans who claim a heritage beyond their own, for a number of reasons (e.g. movement towards inclusion in the "P.I. group"; family ties to the state of Hawai'i or other islands, etc.). That being said, I do not stand here to judge their inclusion or not. People will alway "I-dentify" how they will. However, I am simply trying to relate to you a phenomenon that you may not be completely aware of yet. Ask any P.I. you have met if they think this happens. It does. And a lot more often than you think....

    To be serious, the way that the data is collected and understood has a direct effect on social services to the P.I. peoples in the U.S. If the information is misconstrued, exagerrated, etc. it can have a detrimental effect on the government services and such to those of indigenous P.I. heritage living (and quite often struggling) in this country. That's the real reason why it's important to point this out. The P.I. population is amongst the smallest of the small minority groups in the great country and we often have been lumped together with the Asian-Americans (don't ask me why!!). So, it's very easy for us to get lost in the shuffle. It is so very important that the indigenous Pacific Islander Americans are recognized and counted properly so that their unique cultural heritage is recognized and their needs may be met as best possible. Just one example: there are thousands of P.I.-Americans in this country seeking medical care from nuclear attacks to their islands by the U.S. millitary that must have their numbers counted accurately for very serious reasons (Bravo in the Marshall Islands).

    Hope you understand. Thanks for letting me commet.

    P.S. I love the photo the photo at the top.

  4. Dear uheiniwa:

    Hi. I am so glad that you came back to this post to comment again, as I was hoping to hear your response to my own response. You raise some excellent points and you have helped me understand more of the nuance to your argument. I agree that it is regrettable that Pacific Islander Americans are so often lumped in with Asian-Americans, because, as you point out, social issues confronting P.I. Americans can be quite unique and need to be addressed in a similarly unique and specialized way.

    But, that said, I still can't see any way around the potential pitfalls of the "I-dentification" in our federal census. It is great that people are free to identify however they wish, because of course it would be horrible if census workers were asked to identity those people in their about an opportunity for racism and discrimination. So do you have any ideas for how to stop people who aren't P.I. from identifying as such on the census? Is that even possible?

    And I'm glad you like the composite photo at top. It is one part Na Pali coast, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi, and one part Manhattan city-street, where I currently live!

  5. Just saw this blog. For Jefferson County, Pacific Islanders would likely be living in Fort Drum.

  6. Hi mezzofondo:

    Yes, I think you are right! I narrowed in on Fort Drum, finally, while analyzing the 2010 census data. You can see here:

    Are you from that region? Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.