Are Filipinos Asian or Pacific Islanders?

8 Asians was recently asked the question: Why do some Asian-Americans say that Filipinos are actually Pacific Islanders, and not really Asian?

Our fearless leader Ernie threw the question out to the teaming masses and the answer we came up with… well, lets just say it was a mighty group effort.

Ben started us off by very wisely pointing out that the Philippines was, in fact, a set of islands in the Pacific Ocean.

I contributed a few nerdy facts about recent genetic analysis that indicates greater genetic migration/diversity amongst Southeast Asians (SEA) and Pacific Islanders vs. East Asians (EA). The same genetic analysis also seems to indicate greater Y chromosome similarities between SEAs and Africans than EAs and Africans.

Efren, Asian-American studies aficionado, set us all straight by educating us on the 1965 Immigration Act and its classification of Filipinos as Asian rather than Pacific Islanders.

According to how the 1965 Immigration Act was set up in the US, which is how these distinctions were made in the first place, Filipinos are considered Asian instead of Pacific Islander based on histories of migration, isolation, etc. The Philippines, because of its close proximity to the Asian continent, was designated as being part of Asia. Also, because of the extensive history of interactions between the Philippines and the Asian continent, including China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, India, etc., the Philippines have a lot more similarities between those cultures than the cultures of the Pacific Islands.

Because of the relative lack of outside contact and relative isolation culturally, the Pacific Islands (Guam, American Samoa, Hawai’i, and the other island nations and territories in the South Pacific), Pacific Islanders are considered to be separate, and has been argued successfully, at least for native Hawaiians, that their experiences of living in the United States, is more akin to American Indians/Native Americans, rather than Asians, due to histories of subjugation, forced take-over, cultural and population genocide.

And there you have it folks. The 8 Asian stream-of-conscious answer to the question “Are Filipinos Asian?”. And it only took us about 15 email exchanges to get to this point.

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About Bo

A 30something, 1.5 generation Korean-American/New Yorker who spends her day as an HR exec. specializing in corporate diversity & inclusion. I get to think about ways to make "The Man" less male, white, and straight. It's the best job in the world! When I'm not trying to change corporate America, I teach yoga and dabble in holistic health counseling. I have an MBA from New York University Stern School of Business and my undergraduate from the University of Michigan. Lesser known facts about me: I enjoy b&w film photography, training for endurance races, and making homemade jam. Other mindless observations can be found at
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