Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

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A Community of Contrasts: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in California, 2014

This report features groundbreaking data on California’s diverse Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) population. Produced in partnership with Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), A Community of Contrasts: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in California, 2014 provides a host of social and economic data on a community that is growing rapidly but unfortunately often remains at the margins of policy conversations. This report makes data more accessible to policymakers, government officials, foundations, businesses and others who seek to better understand and work with the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities.

Finding data on NHPI separate from Asian American data remains a challenge. NHPI data are often published under the broader “API” or “AAPI” umbrella, which can mask disparities and render the needs of this community invisible. In addition, data on NHPI are often not collected or are under reported by government agencies and other organizations. This report features disaggregated data on 12 NHPI ethnic groups and more in-depth social and economic characteristic data on 5 NHPI ethnic groups. All of the data in the report provides NHPI data separate from Asian American data.

The following includes a few of the main findings featured in the report. To download the report, click here.

California is home to the largest and one of the most diverse populations of NHPI in the continental United States.

Though relatively small in number, the NHPI population was one of the fastest growing racial groups in California over the decade, growing 29% between 2000 and 2010. According to the 2010 Census, there were over 286,000 NHPI statewide. U.S. Census Bureau projections from 2013 now put the population over 340,000. NHPI live in almost every county in the state, with the largest numbers living in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Alameda, and Orange Counties. However, some of the fastest growing NHPI populations statewide live in the Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino.


California is home to more Guamanian or Chamorro, Fijian, Samoan, and Tongan Americans than any other state in the country. More Native Hawaiians live in California than any state on the continent. Native Hawaiians are the largest NHPI ethnic group in California and comprise about 26% of the NHPI population. The next largest ethnic groups are Samoan and Guamanian or Chamorro Americans. The chart below shows the growth rate of the top 5 largest NHPI ethnic group over the decade. As you can see from the chart below, all five of these ethnic groups grew at faster rates than the state average. Though the largest groups are growing at very fast rates, smaller groups such as Fijian and Tongan Americans are the fastest growing.


NHPI face disparities across a host of social and economic characteristics.

NHPI adults are less likely to hold a college degree with a rate of Bachelor’s degree attainment lower than Blacks or African Americans (19% and 22%, respectively). Samoan, Fijian, and Tongan American adults have the lowest educational attainment among NHPI groups, with rates similar to Latinos. Data on youth show that although many youth aspire to earn college degrees, NHPI have one of the lowest high school graduation rates and one of the highest dropout rates among racial groups. For those that graduate high school, low rates are enrolling in college. University of California (UC) freshmen admission rates show that NHPI face enrollment rates similar to other underrepresented communities of color. The chart below shows lower-than-average UC freshmen admission rates by race and ethnic group. This chart shows that NHPI were admitted at a lower rate than all other racial groups except for Blacks or African Americans. Of the nearly 36,000 freshmen who enrolled in the UC’s 9 undergraduate campuses in the fall of 2013, only 104 freshmen were NHPI. Disaggregated data show that Tongan Americans had the lowest rate of UC admission among NHPI groups, a rate similar to Blacks or African Americans.


Economic data in our report also show that large proportions of underrepresented groups such as Tongan and Samoan Americans are disproportionately low-income, so the cost of college as well as affording quality college-prep programs are often major barriers to accessing higher education.

This is just an example of the data featured in our report. Other data in our report also highlight the many health disparities faced by NHPI and show that many still lack access to quality, culturally appropriate health care. Though much of the community is born in the U.S. in places like California or Hawai‘i, data in our report show that one in five NHPI are foreign-born. Many NHPI face the same immigration challenges as other immigrant groups. At the same time, many Pacific Islander immigrants and migrants face unique challenges that stem from the colonization and militarization of the Pacific Islands.

The report was launched in Sacramento at the California State Capitol with over 30 NHPI leaders from across California in January, 2015. Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC) also organized follow-up meetings with legislators to further discuss the report’s data findings and policy recommendations.

This report is a product of countless hours of hard work and collaboration with many in the NHPI community. Special thanks to State Assemblymember Ed Chau from Monterey Park, as well as the panel of amazing community leaders - Kehaulani Vaughn from Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, Nani Wilson from Asian American Recovery Services, and Fifita, an undocumented student from ASPIRE-LA for sharing their stories and their work at the launch of our report.

Related Materials

Download the full report here

Other reports in the Community of Contrasts series

Press Release

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities

Press Coverage

The State of the Union and the Invisibility of Pacific Islanders (NBC News)



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