AYCE Rewind: Asian America in the 2010s
Phew, we did it! We made it through the 2010s! As this crazy decade has officially passed, we are heading into another era with new hopes and dreams. With so many crazy things that have happened, it’s time to reflect on both the progress that we, as a community, have made so far in the first decade of the 21st century.
Perhaps the biggest change of the Asian-American population in the past decade would be its growth. According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. Asian population grew 72% between 2000 and 2015 (from 11.9 million to 20.4 million), the fastest-growing minority group. But some ethnicities grew faster than others. Chinese (4.9 million), Indians (4 million), and Filipinos (3.9 million) were the largest three, with Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese each having at least 1 million. The remaining groups accounted for 13% of the population.
Asian Americans have also become the wealthiest group in America. The median annual household income of households headed by Asian Americans is $73,060, compared with $53,600 among all U.S. households. Unfortunately, with this new rise of income, Asian Americans are also the group with the highest income inequality, a huge departure from the 1970s where Asian Americans were the most equal minority group. From 1970 to 2016, the gains in income for lower-income Asians trailed well behind the gains for their counterparts in other groups.
The 2010s was the breakout decade for Asian Americans. There was an unprecedented increase in Asian American representation. Barriers were broken and milestones were achieved. Perhaps, the most notable highlight was the premiere of the box office hit Crazy Rich Asians, Hollywood’s first movie with an all Asian cast in 25 years. Additionally, other movies centering around the Asian-American experience or an Asian-American protagonist became knockout hits with some examples including To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Big Sick, The Farewell, and Searching. Asian Americans have also knocked it out of the park when it came to television with hit shows like The Mindy Project, Dr. Ken, and Fresh off the Boat. Lily Singh became the first Asian American to host a late-night show while Hasan Minhaj’s hit show Patriot Act won a Peabody Award.
The first major film with an all-Asian cast in 20 years, Crazy Rich Asians was a huge breakout hit at the box office (Source: IMDb)
Moreover, many Asian Americans have managed to overcome societal obstacles and obtain the spotlight in the mainstream media. Comedians such as Margaret Cho, Kumail Nanjiani, Bowen Yang, Jimmy Yang, Ali Wong, Awfwafina, and Ronny Chieng have all enjoyed much success in the mainstream.
However, on the downside, the issue of yellowface has come into the spotlight once again. It is regrettable to see such offensive incidents to resurface even in the past couple of years. Despite this, the very fact that this issue is being discussed reflects the significant improvement of Asian American’s social standing and ability to have a voice on the national stage. Decades ago, a national conversation regarding the topic of yellowface would have been laughed at or dismissed. Today, Asian Americans being able to bring about serious criticism of their representation in the media is a testament to the progress we have made. Hopefully, in the next 10 years and beyond, we will see more trends of increasing diversity in the media.
Asian Americans have also broken through in the music industry, with indie stars MC Jin and Joji, and rappers Jay Park and Rich Brian breaking new ground. K-pop has also enjoyed massive success in America. Gangnam Style became a viral sensation while BTS dominated the Billboard Charts.
Alas, there is still discrimination against Asian Americans in this industry. The main problem is the hesitation of music executives in mainstream music. Many still view Asian American artists through the lens of persisting stereotypes being too ‘exotic’ or too ‘foreign’ for US audiences to connect with.
For now, Asian American artists have to take initiative and build audiences through unconventional means, releasing original music on Internet platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and Soundcloud. 88rising, the vanguard for Asian American music, has certainly helped many to achieve their breakout moments through effective marketing strategies by taking advantage of these alternative media forms.
Speaking of alternative media, Asian Americans have become the dominant users of the Internet, with fully 75% of English-speaking Asian-American adults reported to have used the Internet. Asian-Americans who responded in phone surveys conducted in English is among the nation’s heaviest users of the Internet on a day-to-day basis (Pew Research Center). This owes to the Internet being the best thing to happen to Asian American representation. Faced with obstacles in traditional media (i.e. racism and stereotypes), Asian Americans have turned to the Internet as their means to release and share their content and build fanbase networks. Without any of the traditional barriers, the Internet is a prime opportunity for Asian Americans in entertainment.
YouTube has been the chief tool for most of these Asian American creators. The platform has become very popular among these creators, evolving into an explosion of creativity and culture, producing stars such as Ryan Higa, Lily Singh, Rocketjump, Ricegum, Michelle Phan, Kevjumba, and Wongfu Productions.
Asian Americans were among the early pioneering creators on YouTube (Source: Character Media)
The 2010s have also seen the rise of Asian Americans’ political power. Even though the voter participation rate has historically been low among Asian Americans, overall, many are gradually becoming more active in politics.
Asian Americans have been voting in larger numbers in recent years
(SOURCE: AUTHOR'S ANALYSIS OF CURRENT POPULATION SURVEY VOTER SUPPLEMENTS OF 2012 AND 2014, AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT SUPPLEMENTS OF 2008 AND 2013)
The cause of this positive trend is greater outreach by the political establishment. Previously, politicians mostly ignored the Asian American voting bloc. The idea was partly from the idea of Asians being very quiet, complacent, and afraid to speak out. Fortunately, this concept has fallen out of favor.
Many politicians are pandering to the Asian American vote now. The Asian electorate has grown enormously, with enough influence to swing elections. It also helps that the Asian American population is the fastest-growing demographic, making them more attractive to politicians. Consider the 2018 midterms which saw the increase of turnout from the Asian community, resulting in once traditionally safe Republican areas, most notably Orange County in California, flipping to the Democrats. Or the 2019 Virginia local elections, the biggest display of Asian American influence, as Democrats took over the entire state government by aggressively courting the Asian vote. Such examples have demonstrated to the mainstream political establishment that as Asian Americans are increasing in number, so is their political power and thus, can no longer be ignored. Contacting them in their native languages, campaigns have now been reaching out to Asian constituents at a record high.
Asian Americans have also shifted leftwards as a voting bloc. Asian Americans have moved 40 points toward the Democrats in presidential elections. This was on display in 2012, when the polls showed that they supported Barack Obama with 73 percent of their votes. This is in stark contrast to a couple decades ago where, in 1992, the majority of Asian Americans had voted for George H.W. Bush.
Asian Americans are shifting towards the Democratic Party, a stark contrast to 30 years ago, where Asian Americans were a reliable voting bloc for the Republicans
(SOURCE: ROPER CENTER FOR PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH/CORNELL UNIVERSITY)
The Next Decade
Asians have made wide strides towards more equal representation for the past decade as part of a wider trend of greater diversification. Once dismissed as the quiet and obedient ‘model minority’, Asian Americans have now broken barriers in both entertainment and politics. Hopefully, this positive trend will continue throughout the next ten years and beyond.