How do AA+PIs feel about living in the United States?
This was one of the questions The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) wanted to answer in its STAATUS Index (Social Tracking of Asian Americans in the U.S.). As the name implies, the report, which was released May 2, examines AA+PIs’ status in this country. As previously reported, the study examines our community’s relationships with other racial groups and how non-AA+PIs perceive us.
This week, in the third and final installment of JoySauce’s series diving into the STAATUS Index, we’re looking at our community’s feelings of belonging, and future directions for where we go from here.
Representation: A powerful tool for belonging
When asked if they feel like they belong in the United States, only 22 percent of Asian Americans say they do. Disappointingly, this is down from 29 percent from last year. Feelings of acceptance are down across the board: Only 24 percent of Black Americans (down from 33 percent last year) and 25 percent of Hispanic Americans (down from 42 percent last year) feel this way, compared to the 57 percent of white people (down from 61 percent) who feel like they belong.
This feeling among BIPOC folks shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s hard to feel welcomed in a place where it takes entire movements and policy changes just to get the history of our communities taught in schools. And in some cases, we can’t even fully celebrate these milestones (which shouldn’t even be milestones, since our histories are American history) because other communities’ stories are being intentionally erased from school curriculums. In addition, books by and about BIPOC communities are constantly being challenged and banned.
The survey also reflects this: The main reason BIPOC respondents feel like they don’t belong in this country is because they’ve experienced discrimination due to their race or ethnicity. Asian Americans are more likely to feel like they don’t belong due to discrimination (58 percent), compared to Black Americans (49 percent) and Hispanic Americans (50 percent).
Norman Chen, TAAF’s CEO, adds that a lack of representation in mainstream media and not seeing role models who look like us can also contribute to that feeling of not belonging—which is why there needs to be more authentic stories about AA+PIs told. Seeing ourselves as the main characters and as everyday Americans in stories can be powerful and go a long way with helping people feel like we belong here.
The need for safe spaces
About half of BIPOC folks also feel unsafe in this country.
Fifty-two percent of Asian American survey respondents say they don’t feel safe in this country due to their race or ethnicity, while 53 percent of Black Americans and 47 percent of Hispanic Americans responded this way. In comparison, only 28 percent of white people feel unsafe due to their race.
The STAATUS Index also asked people where they felt unsafe. The spaces where Asian Americans feel the least safe are public transportation (29 percent), followed by their own neighborhood and school (19 percent each), and then the workplace (17 percent).
These statistics were surprising for Chen. Because presumably, where we live, where our kids go to school, and where we work, are usually spaces we choose for ourselves. So to learn that Asian Americans don’t feel safe in these areas is concerning, he says.
Ok, so now what?
Where exactly do we go from here?
Chen says all of these responses highlight the need for cross-racial solidarity and for different communities to spend more time with each other, which could go a long way to help people feel like they belong more. An example of this work, he says, is the Jeremy Lin Foundation, which serves AA+PI and cross-racial youth, and focuses on narrative change, community empowerment and cross-racial solidarity.
This being said, Chen also acknowledges the anti-Black sentiment that has been prevalent among AA+PIs and says we as a community need to put in the effort to reach out to others. He says there’s a lack of knowledge on both sides and more interaction between the two groups would work toward closing that gap.
Survey respondents agree. Most Americans—of all races—say more opportunities to interact with AA+PIs is the best way to build relationships with our community. And 13 percent of people who are open to more interactions don’t currently have a relationship with Asian Americans.
In addition, respondents said more education could also help with this. Most Americans say including Asian American experiences in American history curriculum is important, with 32 percent saying it should be mandatory and 30 percent acknowledging that it’s important but should be optional.
AA+PIs’ long history in the United States
While the STAATUS Index shows we still have a ways to go for members of our community to truly feel like we belong in this country, Chen says we’re headed in the right direction. We’re seeing more authentic representation in the media, pushes for AA+PI history to be taught in schools, and an openness from other communities for cross-racial solidarity.
Remember, AA+PIs have been in the United States for centuries. Our community has made contributions to this country that have affected laws and policies, inspired marginalized communities to use their voices, and had long-lasting, cultural impacts.
We belong here just as much as anyone else.
Published on May 30, 2023
Words by Samantha Pak
Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.