Is the term "Asian American" fading into history, like "Oriental" before it?
As Sacramento's growing Asian immigrant communities celebrated Sunday's Pacific Rim Street Fest, a growing number note that Asian American isn't a race and said they choose to identify by their ethnicity.
Robbie Mae Lopez and her family came downtown to enjoy more than 15 Asian cultures represented — but don't call her Asian American.
"I'm full-blooded Filipino American," said Mae Lopez, 27, of West Sacramento. "Asian American is kind of a loose term. I think being Filipino American is a full-blown identity crisis itself. We were were overrun by the Japanese, Spanish … ."
As the race question on the U.S. census form has expanded to 15 categories and write-in options — giving Americans the right to check as many boxes as they want — fewer are embracing the term Asian American.
It still holds currency for local civil rights activists Jerry Chong and Alice Wong.
"There are so many Asian ethnicities, the term Asian American still gives us a sense of unity, solidarity and identity," said Chong, legal counsel for CAPITAL (Council of Asian Pacific Islanders Together for Advocacy & Leadership), an umbrella group for several dozen organizations.
"To break ethnicity down into the various subgroups works against the collective voice the greater community needs," Wong said. "When you look at our history, culture and language, there are a lot of similarities."
They include emphasis on hard work, education and family values, Chong said.
Linda Ng, a Hong Kong immigrant who's treasurer of the national Organization of Chinese Americans, said she's proud to be an American. She added it's often hard for Asian Americans themselves to differentiate by ethnicity "in a sea of Asians."
Chong, 65, grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown when virtually all Asian immigrants were called Orientals — a term that fell out of favor because it was associated with European imperialism and conjured up cinematic racial stereotypes.
"I was around when they coined the word Asian American," Chong recalled.
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