Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

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A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in San Diego County, 2015

This report, produced in partnership with Union of Pan Asian Communities (UPAC), dispels harmful “model minority” stereotypes by providing critical data on Asian Americans and Pacific Islander that expose their needs and the barriers many in these communities face.

San Diego County is home to one of the largest Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) populations in the country.

There are nearly 410,000 Asian Americans and 31,000 NHPI countywide. Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group: the Asian American population grew 38% from 2000 to 2010. Over the same period, the NHPI population grew 25%, just below the rate of Latinos (32%). This dramatic growth is happening as growth in San Diego County’s total population has slowed for over two decades to just 10% and the county’s White population continues to decrease, falling 3% over the decade. The largest growth for both Asian American and NHPI populations was in San Marcos – the Asian American population grew 191% and the NHPI population grew 174%.


The report includes data on 30 Asian American and NHPI ethnic groups in San Diego County.  The Filipino American population is the county’s largest Asian American ethnic group, making up 45% of the county's total Asian American population. It is also the third-largest Filipino American population in the United States. San Diego’s Guamanian or Chamorro population is the largest nationwide and Laotian American population is the second-largest. From 2000 to 2010, San Diego County’s fastest growing populations were smaller South Asian populations, including Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, and Sri Lankan Americans. The county’s large Filipino population continued to grow, increasing 26% over the decade.

The success of some Asian Americans and NHPI in the education arena overshadows significant challenges faced by others.

Despite the perception that all Asian Americans and NHPI have high educational attainment, this is not the case, which we can see at all levels of education in San Diego County. In San Diego County K–12 public schools, English language learner (ELL) students who speak an Asian or Pacific Island language lack access to bilingual aides and bilingual teachers providing instruction in an Asian or Pacific Island language. Asian Americans and NHPI also face challenges in getting into college. NHPI have among the lowest rates of admission to UC San Diego, and freshman applicants from 14 Asian American or NHPI ethnic groups were less likely than Whites to be admitted to UC San Diego. Among adults, some Asian Americans and NHPI have among the lowest educational attainment. Both Asian American and NHPI adults are less likely than White and Black or African American adults to have a high school degree. Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese American adults are among those least likely to have a high school degree. Additionally, Samoan and Laotian American adults are less likely than all racial groups countywide to have a college degree.

Asian Americans and NHPI are disproportionately impacted by disease, but many lack access to care and health insurance.

One of the most important measures of a community’s well-being is its age-adjusted death rate, or the number of deaths per 100,000 people. NHPI have the highest death rate among all racial groups in San Diego County. In 2012, the NHPI age-adjusted death rate was 858 per 100,000 people. Among Asian Americans, cancer is the leading cause of death, and a higher proportion of Asian American deaths are due to cancer, compared to other racial groups. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among NHPI. The fastest-growing cause of death among NHPI is cancer, and the fastest-growing cause of death among Asian Americans is Alzheimer’s disease. Given these disparities, access to health care is critical, yet it is a challenge Asian Americans and NHPI continue to face. In San Diego County 50,000 Asian Americans and 4,300 NHPI are uninsured.

While Asian American– and NHPI-owned businesses are making real contributions to the county’s economy, growing numbers of Asian Americans and NHPI struggle to make ends meet.

Asian Americans in San Diego County own over 29,000 businesses, a 49% increase between 2002 and 2007. NHPI own nearly 900 businesses countywide. Asian American–owned businesses employ over 50,000 people countywide and dispense 1.4 billion dollars in payroll. However, despite the success of many Asian American– and NHPI-owned businesses, there are growing numbers of unemployed. From 2007 to 2013, the number of unemployed Asian

Americans and unemployed NHPI doubled (95% and 103%, respectively). These are rates higher than the county average. This has contributed to the growing numbers who are poor. During the same period, the number of Asian Americans and NHPI living below the poverty line increased 56% and 23%, respectively.


The report was launched at the San Diego Foundation with close to 100 community members, policy makers, foundations, and businesses in attendance. The panel featured Joe Austin, Principal, Hoover High School, San Diego Unified School District; Kim-Thoa Hoang, Director of Economic Development, UPAC; and Dr. William Tseng, M.D., M.P.H., Kaiser Permanente.

A Community of Contrasts:  Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in San Diego County was made possible by the generous support of the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, SoCalGas (a Sempra Energy utility), Cyrus Chung Ying Tang Foundation, and Wells Fargo.


Related Materials

Download the full report here

Other reports in the Community of Contrasts series

Press Release

Press Coverage:

The San Diego Union-Tribune


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