Today, the Pew Research Center is releasing the results of 66 focus group discussions with Asian American adults. While the Center has studied racial and ethnic identity for some time, this project represents the Center’s first comprehensive examination of Asian American identity using focus groups.
In this Q&A session, we chat with Neil G. Ruiz, Associate Director of Race and Ethnicity Research at the Center, about why and how the researchers conducted these focus groups. We also explore some broader questions about what it means to be Asian in America today. All answers have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
What was the purpose of this study?
At the Pew Research Center, we are committed to providing a more complete picture of all people living in the United States. One of the reasons for doing this study is that there has been a significant lack of data on Asian Americans in the survey research world. We also know that Asian Americans are a diverse and growing population. We conducted this project to capture the diverse voices and experiences of Asian Americans and understand what it means to be Asian in America.
Pew Research Center is known for its surveys. Why did you do focus groups with Asian Americans, instead of taking a survey?
This study aims to deepen and broaden our understanding of racial and ethnic identity by asking Asian Americans to describe their attitudes and experiences. in their own words, without predefined response options. It should be noted that this is not the first time the Center has hosted focus groups in the United States. We’ve done this with other populations as well – more recently, trans and non-binary Americans.
Another reason for using focus groups is that it is virtually impossible to use traditional survey methods to capture the attitudes of certain subgroups. in the Asian American population. Overall, Asian Americans make up only about 7% of the U.S. population, and within that 7% are much smaller subgroups, including Bhutanese, Hmong, and Laotians, who make up each 2% or less of all Asians living in the United States.
Additionally, many Asian Americans are immigrants from countries with widely diverse languages and cultures. This means that it would be expensive to create a written survey that could be done in so many different languages. For these and other reasons, it remains a challenge to survey Asian Americans with traditional survey methods.
How did the focus groups go?
We conducted our focus groups over almost three months – from August 4 to October 14, 2021. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all focus groups were conducted virtually.
Each focus group lasted 120 minutes and was facilitated by someone who identified as a member of the same racial or ethnic group as the participants and was fluent in the language spoken by our immigrant participants. For all focus groups with US-born participants, moderators conducted interviews in English. Moderators followed a guide we developed to spark conversations.
Who participated in the focus groups?
Each focus group included four participants, for a total of 264 respondents. Participants came from across the United States and represented each of the nation’s 18 largest Asian ethnicity groups, as measured by the Census Bureau. These included Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese – the six largest Asian groups in the United States, which together account for around 85% of all Asians living in the country. . They also included Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Burmese, Cambodian, Hmong, Indonesian, Laotian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese and Thai participants. These 12 smaller origin groups represent less than 15% of the country’s Asian population.
We further sorted our focus groups by nativity—that is, whether participants were born in another country or born in the United States. For immigrant participants, we grouped them based on how long they had been in the United States—more or less than a decade. We also grouped participants by their household income – above or below $62,000 per year, the median household income for the entire population in the United States. We did this in part because there is a wide variation in household income among Asian Americans.
What were some of the specific topics that came up in the focus groups?
Focus group discussions centered on the experience of life in the United States. For focus groups with foreign-born participants, we asked about their immigration or refugee experiences. For those whose participants were born in the United States, we explored questions such as how their experiences in school shaped their identity and how they navigated the concepts of “fitting in” or ” stand out”.
In all focus groups, we had in-depth discussions about how participants choose to identify with race or ethnicity, the types of experiences (if any) they have had with discrimination, their job search experiences, and generally the challenges associated with being Asian in the United States, such as learning English for immigrants. We also discussed how Asian Americans are portrayed in popular culture and politics.
Has discrimination resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic been raised in these discussions?
Yes, it happened. Some focus group participants mentioned being mistaken for Chinese and blamed for the pandemic, which reminded them of past experiences of being mistaken for someone of another ethnic or racial background.
But a number of participants in different focus groups also mentioned that this was not the first time they had been discriminated against in the United States. Covid19 pandemic.
Focus groups tend to be more qualitative than quantitative research. Were you able to collect data on this project?
While focus groups are primarily a form of qualitative research, they can be complemented by quantitative methods. For this project, our researchers reviewed the focus group transcripts and coded them using ATLAS.ti, a qualitative data research and analysis software. In total, we coded 7,920 minutes of discussion.
We used ATLAS.ti to summarize participants’ responses to the questions posed to them, using coding schemes to highlight key themes and points of interest in the conversations, as well as the dynamics of the discussion . For example, we coded themes and sub-themes to identify factors that shape identity among our respondents.
This exercise allowed us to use ATLAS.ti to sort and display all relevant quotes from the focus groups for the specific topics analyzed, as well as identify the demographic characteristics of those who said them. We have taken particular care to ensure that the views expressed in our report accurately reflect the range of opinions expressed by participants in our focus groups, emphasizing not only majority opinions, but also those minority.
How did you define “Asian” for the purposes of this study?
In this project, we use the terms “Asian”, “Asian American” and “Asians living in the United States” interchangeably. These terms all refer to American adults who identify as Asian, alone or in combination with other races or Hispanic identity. These definitions are based on the system used by the US Census Bureau.
Why did you only cover Asian Americans and not Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders?
The history of Asians in the United States is largely a story of immigration. The story of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, on the other hand, is a story of America coming to them.
Additionally, since Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders comprise even smaller groups than those found among Asian Americans, we wanted to make sure we could highlight their experiences on their own terms. , rather than risk hiding them in the larger group of “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
What is ethnicity and how is it different from race?
The Census Bureau defines race as a person’s self-identification with one or more social groups. On the official census form, an individual may report being White, Black or African American, Asian, Native American and Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, or another race.
Ethnicity, on the other hand, is used to measure whether an individual has a Hispanic origin, which is independent of racial categories. Ethnicity in the context of Asian American research refers to an individual’s ethnic origin, which can be viewed as the person’s heritage, nationality, lineage, or country of birth – or of the person’s parents or ancestors – prior to arrival in the United States.
Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder.
This project was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF, an advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the Henry Luce Foundation; The Wallace H. Coulter Foundation; The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation; The Long Family Foundation; Lu-Hébert Fund; Gee Family Foundation; Joseph Cochet; the Julian Abdey and Sabrina Moyle Charitable Fund; and Nanci Nishimura.
The music videos and associated video documentary were made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from The Sobrato Family Foundation and The Long Family Foundation.
We would also like to thank the Leaders Forum for their thought leadership and invaluable assistance in carrying out this study.
John Gramlich is an editor/senior editor at the Pew Research Center.