Town Square

Definition of Asian

Original post made by Curious, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007

It has occurred to me recently from reading some of these threads and from elsewhere, that we all define the term "Asian" as something different. For example, is someone from India an Asian? Also, when talking about Africa, do we mean the part of Africa that doesn't touch the Mediterranean, e.g. Morocco and Tunisia, or do we mean the continent as a whole? And what about the Middle East, are Israelis, Iraqis, Iranians, Saudis,etc. Asians or Africans? Also, Russians, are these people Europeans or Asians. This may sound nitpicking, but I am seriously curious about this. I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings when using these terms and so any help, particularly from people from these countries, would really be nice. Thank you.


Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2007 at 3:57 pm

While you are at it, find out why Irishman and Englishman are acceptable terms but Chinaman is not.

Posted by Geo
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2007 at 4:03 pm

People poor in geography do not consider Indians as Asians.

Actually the problem goes much deeper. Indians are really American-Indians. However real Indians are Asian-Indians.


Tell that to an Asian-Indian - "you are not an Asian", he will guaranteed look at you as a un-educated American, however he will be smart enough to keep the thought to himself. He knows he has found one American that he can compete with and crush.

Keep in mind, this symptom is very localized to United States.

Posted by Observer at the Y
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2007 at 4:32 pm

I was at the YMCA this weekend, I saw a poster that said "Diversity at the YMCA". The photos did not include any African Americans, any Indians, any middle easterners, only one caucasian person in all of about 20 photos. In fact, it included mostly pictures of a Chinese New Year celebration including almost entirely Asian families pictured (one photo showed a Japanese music group). It was not a poster illustrating diversity, it seemed it was a poster celebrating a single ethnic heritige - which I have no problem with, other than the unfortunate use of the word 'Diversity' at the top of the poster. This also seems to be a confusion of vocabulary - seems someone missed the point on the meaning of the term 'diversity'.

Perhaps people should take a good look at a PAUSD neighborhood school playground at recess to understand diversity - where kids of all ethnicities and races are playing together in harmony.

Programs that celebrate our differences as human beings are great and important, and very instrumental in bringin us all to a state of acceptance and inclusion - but its a fine line between celebrating yourself, and calling it diversity.

The next step is to start separating ourselves out based on those differences, and call that diversity as well.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2007 at 4:38 pm

Current terminology as I understand it.

"American Indian"--indigenuous (or at least got here before anyone else)North Americans. Preferred term "Native American"

People who migrated from or whose parents migrated from subcontinent of India--Indian-Americans, Asian for generic check-the-box purposes.
Within the immigrant community, you seem to get a lot of regional, religious and ethnic breakdowns--i.e. Bengali is very, very different than Sikh.

Indian v. the rest of Asia. Chinese, Japanese, Korean are "East Asian" when being distinguished from Indian-Asians. Vietnamese, Thais, Cambodians are Southeast Asians for further breakdown purposes.

Russians are Eurpoeans unless they're Siberian tribal typese.

As for the Middle East--the nomenclature is a pain (big surprise). Some are Arabs, but others, like the Iraqis are not. In terms of continents--"North African" can be used to describe Egyptians, Morroccans, Libyans . . .

Posted by Erik
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2007 at 6:05 pm


"Native American" is anybody who was born in America. The indigenous or aboriginal peoples should be called either of those terms. After all, they were, mostly, NOT Americans! The Americans fought against the indigenous peoples. Even today, their reservations are, in many ways, considered sovereign from America.

Ever since the term "Native American" was foisted on us, it has bothered me. I just wanted to get it off my chest. BTW, "American Indian" is even worse - they were neither Indian nor American when Columbus arrived.

Posted by Curious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2007 at 9:11 pm


Don't know the answer to your question, but you may be interested to know that similarly you can call someone from Scotland, Scottish, Scots, or a Scotsman (if you wanted to), but don't call him Scotch. Scotch is always a drink. Furthermore, whisky is Scotch, but whiskey is Irish. Funnily, I don't know what American whisk(e)y is.

Posted by Been around the world
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 19, 2007 at 11:26 pm

Englishman and Irishman do not have the same lengthy history of extreme derogatory usage as Chinaman has. It's negative for the same reason Jap or Chink or Mick are negative. It comes from how they have been used.

If you are really serious about wanting to know the answer to that question, it would not be hard for you to find books on the history of Chinese immigrants in California.

Posted by Been around the world
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 19, 2007 at 11:31 pm

To the original question:

People from China, Korea, Japan, India, and even Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East used to be called "Orientals", and those regions were deemed the "Orient".

Modern usage of "Asian" is narrower. From
"Usage Note: Asia is the largest of the continents with more than half the world's population. Though strictly speaking all of its inhabitants are Asians, in practice this term is applied almost exclusively to the peoples of East, Southeast, and South Asia as opposed to those of Southwest Asia—such as Arabs, Turks, Iranians, and Kurds—who are more usually designated Middle or Near Easterners. Indonesians and Filipinos are properly termed Asian, since their island groups are considered part of the Asian continent, but not the Melanesians, Micronesians, and Polynesians of the central and southern Pacific, who are now often referred to collectively as Pacific Islanders. See Usage Note at Oriental."

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:58 am


Someone born in the United States is a native American, not Native American. "Indigenuous" is a latinate mouthful and "aboriginal" has become associated with the indigenuous folk of Australia.

The terminology's not perfect, but it's preferable to the sheer confusion and inaccuracy of American Indian.

And, of course, there are our fellow continent dwellers who wonder occasionally why we're "Americans" and they're not. Or, just for more kicks--

Canadians and Americans together are "North Americans"--at least according to the Canadians. Americans tend to forget about our northern neighbor.

Mexicans, however, aren't "North Americans" despite being from North Americans. They're Latin Americans. Though, of course, many of them are Native Americans. Though they're never ever called that and can't register as . . . well, you get the picture.

Posted by Indian
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 20, 2007 at 6:54 am

I thought an Indian was Indian-American ( on the lines of African-American) and not American-Indian !

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2007 at 9:42 am

I am afraid I see this as a topic that divides people. Ethnicity is also very difficult to define at times. My great-grandfather came from northern Italy, which had been settled in Roman times by tribes from the north, so there are (I am told) a fair number of tall blonde Italians in that region. Does that make my ancestry Italian as in "Roman" or Scandinavian? With all the travel, wars and conquests, migrations, etc., how can one truly determine the ethnicity of any European? Asia is just the same, if not worse.

Then there is the question of the ethnicity of the children of inter-racial marriage. If an Afro-American and Caucasian have children, what is the ethnicity of those children. Under Apartheid in South Africa, any person found to have 1 part in 128 black blood was deemed to be black, even if they were blonde-haired and blue-eyed. That determination was used to discriminate based on race. Anyone have another formula they would like to propose?

I would like to propose that we are all Americans, but that proposal has two failings:
One failing is that some of us are visitors here from other countries (very welcome here,) and those would be excluded as non-Americans, an exclusion that would be unkind, I think.

The other failing is that by blocking out a portion of the population as “Americans”, we are again dividing people into groups, when such divisions often lead to competition, distrust, and even hatred between members of different groups. From the beginning of recorded history and probably even before, there have been crimes of all sorts committed against “them” because they are not one of “us”.

We are all people, humans, sentient beings, blended and sharing so much. In the global political and economic world we live in today, it is not a good idea to sow divisions, but rather to remind ourselves that we are all part of this huge society, all inter-related, and all inter-dependant. We need to pull together, not apart.

Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:00 pm

In my salad days I fought to remove any racial identification from government records. We had no more won our goal than someone decided that seperation was the way to political power.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:10 pm

Yes, it IS a way to power, Hitler demonstrated that method too.

Perhaps it is an ideological quest, kinda Quixotic, but it is not wrong, and we are not wrong to pursue it.

I am not saying that people should not remember and honor their heritage, but it should be shared, not used as a tool to divide people.

Posted by Draw the Line
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 20, 2007 at 3:30 pm

If you want a truly hilarious rift on this very topic, try to listen to the Comedian Russell Peters one day. He is Canadian, of Indian descent, and does a hilarious, 15 minute long rift on all the different "Asians", and then goes on to skewers every one of us, including whites and blacks, with stereotypes, which are hilarious because they are each a little bit true. If you have a sense of humor about yourself, and because he is an equal-opportunity-joker you don't feel "pulled out", you will completely crack up.

It is a little like the rift that Mendoza goes on about all the ethnic balkanization we do,where he, in turn, skewers every ethnicity also, but not as "nasty".

They both love the USA and our value on integration and acceptance, by the way, so it is also easy to listen to the gentle "barbs" because they don't come from disliking us.

It is also highly refreshing to hear the attacks on the PC stuff concerning race.

Posted by Indian
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2007 at 9:09 am

Dat iis not de Korrect thing to Saey.