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social sciences

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Asian/Pacific Islander Americans  
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The category "Asian/Pacific Islander" has only slightly more specific cultural content than "people of color," "non-white," or "the Other." Chinese or Indian or Filipino each encompass immense, linguistically and culturally variegated populations with long histories. However, the white American majority in North America uses blunt categories and, through indiscriminate lumping of "them," promotes some solidarity, sometimes overcoming deeply rooted antipathies for those from peoples historically antagonistic to each other, such as Koreans and Japanese.

Even some who take on the identity of unspecified "Asian" may regret being cut off from their particular ethnic backgrounds. For instance, Song Cho observes that "To internalize 'Asian' as my identity is to see myself as an outsider would see me, where the rich cultural and historical specificity of my Korean culture is homogenized and erased, while permitting the oppressor to dwell in his cultural ignorance."

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Immigration Patterns

Chinese males were recruited to work on the western end of the transcontinental railroad after the American Civil War. During the late nineteenth century, enclaves formed of mostly male Chinese and Filipinos and of more balanced sex ratios of Japanese, none of whom could become U. S. citizens.

Immigration was cut off by a series of Oriental Exclusion laws that were repealed only following the U. S. alliance with China against Japan during World War II (during which Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were forced into concentration camps away from the coast).

Immigration increased substantially with the 1965 overhaul of immigration laws. The 2000 United States Census found that most U. S. residents who classified themselves as Asian or Pacific Islander were foreign-born (61 percent) or the children of one or two foreign-born parents (27 percent). Thus, there are APIs with ancestries in North America of more than a century, along with numerous post-1965 immigrants and American-born children of those immigrants and post-1975 refugees from Southeast Asia.

Difference and Diversity

There is a considerable range in the amount of education of the immigrants and a lesser but still substantial difference between that of American-born descendants of different groups of Asia/Pacific Islander emigrants. Tolerance for homosexuality also varies among APIs from group to group.

While there are Chinese ethnic enclaves in various Chinatowns such as Flushing, New York and Monterey Park, California; a substantial Filipino population in Daly City, California (just south of San Francisco); and some "little Saigons" large enough to make networks of gay Vietnamese, gay Filipinos or gay Chinese possible, the relatively small numbers and geographical dispersion of others (for example, Sinhalese, Taiwanese, Guamian) makes the consolidation of an intra-ethnic glbtq organization and/or identity unlikely.

Glbtq people from such smaller immigrant pools and those with more than one Asian/Pacific Islander derivation would seem to be more likely than glbtq Chinese and Filipinos to socialize with and identify as Gay Asian/Pacific Islanders (GAPI). Not knowing what the denominators (the total numbers of gay persons for each ethnicity) are, however, comparison of rates of self-identification is impossible.

Eric Wat's history of early GAPI organizing in Los Angeles suggests that those who sought exclusively "Asian" groups and racially endogamous relationships (that is, relationships with other members of their group) were mostly born in the United States or mostly educated in English, whereas those born and raised in Asia or on Pacific Islands were more likely to seek biracial organizations and racially exogamous relationships, primarily with white gay males.

American-born GAPIs have longer experience of being lumped together as "Asians," and many do not speak the languages of their ancestors. That is, they share speaking English with American-born persons of other ethnic backgrounds.

GAPIs raised in North America have also been more concerned about appearing conventionally masculine than some immigrants, who embarrass the American-born with flamboyant effeminacy that seems to the American-born to reinforce the popular stereotype of "Asian" unmasculinity and servility.

GAPI Pan-ethnicity in America

There is very little written about GAPI pan-ethnicity in America, and practically no social science research. Hom and Ma and Richard Fung assert that GAPI men mostly pair with Anglos, GAPI women mostly pair with other women of color.

Attestation of comfort in "coming home" to partners who "really understand where I'm coming from," along with some of the same skepticism about whether there is any acceptance at home--among whatever "my people" is--parallel lesbian and gay African-Americans and Latinos.

Differences, including racial ones, are often eroticized--even fetishized--while smooth domestic relationships are facilitated by shared cultural assumptions and language. Relatedly, while some GAPIs market "exotic" differences (which range from delicate flowers to hyper-macho warriors), others (especially those who grew up in North America) are horrified to be considered "exotic."

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