Pacific Islander Americans (also known as Oceanian Americans) are Americans who are of Pacific Islander ancestry (or are descendants of the indigenous peoples of Oceania or of Austronesian descent). For its purposes, the United States Census also counts Indigenous Australians as part of this group.
Pacific Islander Americans make up 0.5% of the U.S. population including those with partial Pacific Islander ancestry, enumerating about 1.4 million people. The largest ethnic subgroups of Pacific Islander Americans are Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Chamorros, Fijians, Palauans and Tongans.
First stage: Hawaiian migration (18th-19th centuries)
Migration from Oceania to the United States began in the last decade of the eighteenth century, but the first migrants to arrive in this country were natives of Hawaii. People from other Oceanian backgrounds (except Australians and Maoris) did not migrate to the United States until late nineteenth century. The first native Hawaiians to live in the present-day United States were fur traders. They were hired by British fur traders in Hawaii and taken to the northwestern United States, from where developed trade networks with Honolulu. However, they charged less than Americans for doing the same jobs and returned to Hawaii when their contracts ended. The first Native Hawaiians to live permanently in the United States settled in the Astoria Colony (in the present-day Oregon) in 1811, having been brought there by its founder, fur merchant John Jacob Astor. Astor created the Pacific Fur Company in the colony and used the native Hawaiians to build the city's infrastructure and houses and to develop the primary sector (agriculture, hunting and fishing). The labour employment of the Hawaiians was done to make them serve the company (although later, most of them worked for North West Company when this company absorbed the Pacific Fur Company in 1813).
After 1813, Native Hawaiians continued to migrate to the Pacific Northwest. They migrated to work in companies such as the Hudson Bay Company (which absorbed the North West Company in 1821) and the Columbia Fishing and Trading Company, as well as in Christian missions. Since 1819 some groups of Polynesian Protestant students immigrated to the United States to study theology. Since the 1830s, another groups of Native Hawaiians arrived on California's shores, where they were traders and formed great communities. So, they made up 10 percent of the population of Yerba Buena, now San Francisco, in 1847. During the California Gold Rush, many other native Hawaiians migrated to California to work as miners.
In 1889, the first Polynesian Mormon colony was founded in Utah and consisted of Hawaiian natives, Tahitians, Samoans and Maori people. Also in the late nineteenth century small groups of Pacific Islanders, usually sailors, moved to the western shores, mainly on San Francisco. Later, the U.S. occupied Hawaii in 1896, Guam in 1898 and American Samoa in 1900. This fact diversified Oceanian emigration in the United States.
Second stage (20th-21st centuries)
However, the first record of non-Hawaiian Pacific Islanders in the United States is from 1910, with the first Guamanians living in the United States. In the following decades small groups of people from islands such as Hawaii, Guam, Tonga or American Samoa emigrated to the United States. Many of them were Mormons (including most of Tongans and American Samoans), who emigrated to help build Mormon churches, or look for an education, either in Laie or Salt Lake City. However, the emigration of Pacific Islanders to the U.S. was small until the end of World War II, when many American Samoans, Guamanians (who got the American citizenship in 1929) and Tongans emigrated to the USA. Most of them were in the military or married with military people, except Tongans, who looked for a job in several religious and cultural centers. Since then the emigration increased and diversified every decade, with a majority emigrating to the Western urban areas and Hawaii.
This increase and diversification in the Oceanian emigration was especially true in the 1950s. In 1950, the population of Guam gained full American citizenship, and in 1952 the natives of American Samoa become U.S. nationals, although not American citizens, through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Shortly thereafter, the first major waves of migration from American Samoa and Guam emerged, while other groups of places such as French Polynesia, Palau or Fiji began to emigrate. Over 5,100 Pacific Islander emigrated to the United States in the 1950s, mostly from American Samoa, Guam, and Tonga. The first of them were Samoan military personnel, who had worked at the American bases of Pago Pago but moved to the Honolulu's American bases when American Samoa began to be administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as their relatives. Most of the new Pacific Islander immigrants were Mormons and many islanders from the region emigrated to the United States seeking economic opportunities.
In 1959, Hawaii became a U.S. state, which dramatically increased the indigenous population of Oceania in the US. In the 1960s many more Pacific Islanders emigrated to the US, especially due to increased migration from Guam (whose natives were fleeing the Korean War and the Typhoon Karen), Fiji (whose migration increased dramatically, as the Fijians who emigrated to the USA went from being a few dozen in the 50s to over 400 people), Tonga and Samoa archipelago (including independent Samoa). This migration increased especially since 1965, when the U.S. government facilitated the non-European migration to the USA. Many of them were recruited to pick fruit in California.
During the 1970s, over nine thousand Pacific Islanders migrated to the US, mostly from Samoa (both Western and American), Guam, Tonga and Fiji, but also from other islands such as Federated States of Micronesia or Palau. Many of these people emigrated to the U.S. to study at its universities. In addition, in the 1980s, particularly in 1986, migration from the Pacific Islands to the United States become more diversified when this country acquired the Northern Marianas Islands and signed an agreement with TTPI (FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands) called the Compact of Free Association. The Compact of Free Association allows the inhabitants from TTPI to travel and work in the United States without visas.[note 1] On the other hand, the Tyson Foods company, which employed a significant part of the population of the Marshall Islands, relocated many of its Marshellese employees in Springdale, Arkansas, where the company is based. However, most of Pacific Islanders continued to migrate to western urban areas and Hawaii. More of five thousand Pacific Islanders migrated to the United States in the 90's, settling mostly in western cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, or Salt Lake City. In the 2000 census almost all the origins of Oceania were mentioned, although only the ethnic groups mentioned in the article consisted of thousands of people. In the 2000s and 2010s several thousands more Pacific Islanders emigrated to the USA.
In the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census, the term "Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander" refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand and the Marshalls or other Pacific Islands. Most of the Pacific Islander Americans are of Native Hawaiian, Samoan and Chamorro origin.
The fact that Hawaii is a U.S. state (meaning that almost the entire native Hawaiian population lives in the U.S.), as well as the migration, high birth rate and miscegenation of the Pacific Islanders have favoured the permanence and increase of this population in the U.S. (especially in the number of people who are of partial Pacific Islander descent). In the 2000 census, over 800,000 people claimed to be of Pacific Islander descent and in the 2010 census 1,225,195 Americans claimed "'Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander'" as their race alone or in combination. Most of them live in urban areas of Hawaii and California, but they also have sizeable populations in Washington, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Florida, Arizona and New York. On the other hand, Pacific Islander Americans are majority (or are the main ethnic group) in American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, from where many of them are natives.
Pacific Islander Americans in the 2000–2010 U.S. Census (From over 1,000 people)
|Ancestry!||Flag||2000||2000 % of Pacific Islander American population||2010||2010 % of Pacific Islander American population|
|"Micronesian" (not specified)||9,940||1.1%||29,112||2.4%|
|Polynesians with New Zealand citizenship (Māori, Tokelauans, Niueans, Cook Islanders)||2,422 (Māori: 1,994; Tokelauans: 574)||0.3%||925 (Tokelauans only)||0.1%|
|Chamorro||93,237 (Guamanian or Chamorro: 92,611; Saipanese: 475; Mariana Islander: 141)||10.7%||148,220 (Guamanian or Chamorro: 147,798; Saipanese: 1,031; Mariana Islander: 391)||12.2%|
|"Polynesian" (not specified)||8,796||1.0%||9,153||0.7%|
Americans alone or in combination
(2010 U.S. Census)
|Pacific Islander Americans
alone or in combination
(2020 U.S. Census)
|District of Columbia||1,514||1,494||0.2%|
|Northern Mariana Islands||24,891 |
|Puerto Rico||370 ||4,169||0.1%|
|Virgin Islands (U.S.)||212|
According to the 2010 census, the largest Chamorro populations were located in California, Washington and Texas, but their combined number from these three states totaled less than half the number living throughout the U.S. It also revealed that the Chamorro people are the most geographically dispersed Oceanic ethnicity in the country.
Because of the Marshall Islands entering the Compact of Free Association in 1986, Marshallese have been allowed to migrate and work in the United States. There are many reasons why Marshallese came to the United States. Some Marshallese came for educational opportunities, particularly for their children. Others sought work or better health care than what is available in the islands. Massive layoffs by the Marshallese government in 2000 led to a second big wave of immigration.
Arkansas has the largest Marshallese population with over 6,000 residents. Many live in Springdale, and the Marshallese comprise over 5% of the city's population. Other significant Marshallese populations include Spokane and Costa Mesa.
Large subcategories of Polynesian Americans include Native Hawaiians and Samoan Americans. In addition there are smaller communities of Tongan Americans (see Culture and diaspora of Tonga), French Polynesian Americans, and Māori Americans.
A Samoan American is an American who is of ethnic Samoan descent from either the independent nation Samoa or the American territory of American Samoa. Samoan American is a subcategory of Polynesian American. About 55,000 people live on American Samoa, while the U.S. census in 2000 and 2008 has found 4 times the number of Samoan Americans live in the mainland USA.
California has the most Samoans; concentrations live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County. San Francisco has approximately 2,000 people of Samoan ancestry, and other Bay Area cities such as East Palo Alto and Daly City have Samoan communities. In Los Angeles County, Long Beach and Carson have abundant Samoan communities, as well as in Oceanside in San Diego County. Other West Coast metropolitan areas such as Seattle have strong Samoan communities, mainly in King County and in Tacoma. Anchorage, Alaska, and Honolulu, Hawaii, both have thousands of Samoan Americans residing in each city.
Persons born in American Samoa are United States nationals, but not United States citizens (this is the only circumstance under which an individual would be one and not the other). For this reason, Samoans can move to Hawaii or the mainland United States and obtain citizenship comparatively easily. Like Hawaiian Americans, the Samoans arrived in the mainland in the 20th century as agricultural laborers and factory workers.
A Tongan American is an American who is of ethnic Tongan descent. Utah has the largest Tongan American population, followed by Hawaii. Many of the first Tongan Americans came to the United States in connection to the LDS Church.
Based on 2003 recruiting data, Pacific Islander Americans were 249% over-represented in the military.
American Samoans are distinguished among the wider Pacific Islander group for enthusiasm for enlistment. In 2007, a Chicago Tribune reporter covering the island's military service noted, "American Samoa is one of the few places in the nation where military recruiters not only meet their enlistment quotas but soundly exceed them." As of March 23, 2009, there have been 10 American Samoans who have died in Iraq, and 2 who have died in Afghanistan.
- The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) was an United Nations territory administrated by United States since 1944 until 1986/94 (depending on the country), although it didn't belong to the US.
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