Historian, civil rights activist and scholar Yuji Ichioka coined the term Asian American in the 1960s to unify the diverse Asian American groups, according to Wikipedia. It became a self-identifying label in the Asian American movement and replaced the term Oriental which many Asian Americans associated with the stereotypes others placed on them.
Yet today only about 1 in 5 Asian Americans identify as Asian Americans and some in the community have moved away from the generic Asian label.
Social commentators interviewed by the Voice Of America say the model minority image placed on Asian Americans has obscured the social inequities many of the various ethnic groups within the Asian community face.
The last major survey about Chinese Americans was conducted in 2009 by the Committee of 100 and found the general US population cannot distinguish between Chinese Americans and Asian Americans. It mirrored the results of a similar survey taken in 2001.
“The public’s lack of consciousness about who we are, where we come from, and how we are not all the same, is pretty much stuck where it’s been,” says Helen Zia, Chinese American author and activist. “It’s like a broken record.”
A more recent survey taken by the Pew Research Center in 2012 found only 19 percent in the Asian community identify as Asian American. 62 percent identify by their country of origin and 14 percent identify simply as American.
Among American born Asians, just 22 percent identify as Asian Americans, 43 percent by their country of origin and 28 percent as American.
Among foreign born Asians, 69 percent describe their identity by their country of origin, 18 percent as Asian American and 9 percent as American.
Yet the term Asian Americans is used by many community groups as a way of gaining power in numbers.
“They found themselves in a situation in which they were not going to get any resources from the city hall pie. But, by coming together, they have strength in numbers and more leverage with firefighters, police and schools to achieve the political needs of their communities.” said Charles Gallagher, a sociology professor at LaSalle University in Philadelphia.
You can read more about the advantages and disadvantages of identifying the various Asian communities under one umbrella in Voice Of America.