Guide to Covering Asian Pacific America

Note: AAJA is in the process of updating this guidance.


Caution. Not a synonym for white. Refers to the best high school and college athletes of the year. See CAUCASIAN; EXOTIC; FOREIGN-NESS; YELLOW SKIN.

A citizen, native-born or naturalized, of the United States. Some immigration advocates consider legal residents, who are taxpayers making the United States their permanent home, to be, in effect, Americans, as well. Not a synonym for white. See ASIA; ASIAN; ASIAN, U.S. Census definition of; ETHNIC GROUP; ETHNICITY, mention of; HAPA; ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS; PACIFIC ISLANDER; RACE, biological basis of; RACE, sociological construct of; RACISM, scientific.

A U.S. territory in Polynesia in the South Pacific. Samoa is a separate independent country that is also part of the Samoan Islands. The island chain was split up by the U.S. and Germany in 1899. American Samoa was administered by the U.S. military until 1956. Today, people born in American Samoa are U.S. nationals and cannot vote for president or run for office in the U.S. The Indigenous people and language are known as Samoan. See PACIFIC ISLANDER; OCEANIA.

The West Coast counterpart to Ellis Island in New York Harbor. A holding area in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island was established in 1910 to clear Chinese and other Asian immigrants. During World War II, Japanese Americans were confined on the island. See EXECUTIVE ORDER 9066; INTERNMENT.

Derived from the Sanskrit “arya,” or “noble.” In scholarly usage, a member of a people speaking one of a family of Indo-European languages, the presumed predecessor of much later languages spoken in Europe and the Indian subcontinent. In the late 19th century, the term became part of the anti-Semitic ideology that led to Nazism. In the modern usage of white supremacists, an Aryan is a non-Jewish white person, especially of Scandinavian heritage. See CAUCASIAN; IRAN (“Land of the Aryans”); RACISM, history of; RACISM, scientific; YELLOW SKIN, Asian-ness of.

Caution, vague. About 60 percent of the world’s population, approaching 4 billion people (2012 estimate). Traditionally, EAST ASIA consists of China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and occasionally, the Philippines. SOUTH ASIA traditionally consists of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. SOUTHEAST ASIA (which is occasionally combined with East Asia) includes Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In American usage, “Asian” is generally used to refer to the entire continent of Asia; often, however, Asian is used as shorthand for East Asians, or East and Southeast Asians. British usage generally treats the term “Asian” as referring to South Asia. See ASIA, central; ASIA historians of; ASIAN; ASIAN AMERICAN; ASIAN EXCLUSION ACTS; FOREIGN-NESS; MODEL MINORITY; ORIENTAL; YELLOW SKIN. See also listings for individual countries of Asia.

Caution, vague. It includes Mongolia, but what else the term includes has varied over time. Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), a German naturalist, helped popularize the term and included large parts of Russia, Iran and Afghanistan.  Others disputed his methodology. A more modern definition would include Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. See MONGOLIA.

ASIA, historians of:
There are many leading historians of Asia. These are a few. Most have centered their work on Japan, India and China. The Middle East, through Christianity and Islam, has also influenced Asia. On China: John King Fairbank (, Jonathan Fenby (, Jonathan Spence ( On Japan: Edwin O. Reischauer ( On India: John Keay ( On the Middle East: Bernard Lewis ( and Edward Said ( On Asian Americans: Ronald Takaki (

ASIA, perceptions of:
In the half-century since the end of colonialism in the 1960s, the Western view of Asia as economically underdeveloped has changed sharply. Nowhere is that change more vivid than in China, which has transformed from impoverished Cold War enemy to a major lender to the United States. In the past, such economic changes have led to racially charged tensions. See also JAPAN, FU MANCHU, SOUTH KOREA, YELLOW PERIL and individual entries for countries.

ASIA, use and abuse of images from:
Caution. The Taj Mahal; the Ganges River; the Great Wall of China; pagodas; the cheongsam (traditional Chinese dress); the conical hat worn in Vietnam and elsewhere; rice paddies; rickshaws; samurais; geishas; Kabuki characters; as well as classical art, such as Hokusai’s “Great Wave” are emblematic of Asia. When used in context, such images are as essential as any other detail of reporting. When they are altered, however, problems can arise. When, for example, white political figures are dressed in a conical hat or depicted in a rickshaw in, say, an editorial cartoon criticizing U.S. dependence on China, they can suggest racial stereotypes. See FU MANCHU; DRAGON LADY; YELLOW PERIL.

Caution. A term as broad as “European.” In some usage, chiefly British, “Asian” refers to Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and others. In the United States, such ethnic groups would be known as South Asians, while Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and others would be known as East Asians. See ORIENTAL for other uses, and caution about certain uses. See ASIAN AMERICAN; SOUTH ASIAN DIASPORA.

ASIAN, Accents and direct quotation of: see DIALECT.

ASIAN, U.S. Census definition of:
On their website, federal demographers define Asian as “those having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.” Pacific Islanders are “those having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.” They note that both Asians and Pacific Islanders are “not a homogeneous group; rather, it comprises many groups who differ in language, culture, and length of residence in the United States.” (Source, “The Asian and Pacific Islander Population in the United States: March 2002: Population Characteristics.”)

Form the noun without the hyphen, as in “French Canadian.” In compound phrases, where the term is used as an adjective, a hyphen may be used, as in “French-Canadian folklore.” So, too, with Japanese American and Pakistani American. A few Asian Americans see a pejorative connotation to “Asian-American” with a hyphen, in part because of Theodore Roosevelt’s denunciation early in the 20th century of “hyphenated Americans” who do not join the American mainstream. See FOREIGN-NESS; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

ASIAN AMERICAN, different emphasis of: See FOREIGN-NESS.

Laws in which Congress barred or sharply restricted the immigration of Asians to the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese laborers and prohibited Chinese from applying for citizenship; it was repealed in 1943. The 1924 Oriental Exclusion Act banned immigration from Asia. The 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act imposed an annual quota of 50 Filipino immigrants. Only after 1965, with immigration laws designed to encourage European immigration, did Asian immigration also expand. See also WALTER-MCCARRAN ACT.

Caution. Better to specify country or ethnicity, e.g., Vietnamese or Chinese or Filipino gangs, if relevant and the relevance can be explained to the news consumer. Some ethnic groups, notably Italian Americans with regard to the Mafia, say that gangs are criminals first and members of ethnic groups second, so ethnic identification is pejorative. As with any mention of ethnicity, the relevance of ethnicity should be explained (e.g., a recent upsurge of gang-related activity or ethnic turf wars).

More complex than European names. Direct clarify family and surname, as well as use of second reference, with the interview subject will help avoid error. See individual countries’ naming rules, e.g., Vietnamese names. When in doubt, ask the news subject, especially on rules for second reference (such as Mr. Mao, but not Mr. Zedong). Asian pronunciation and transliteration rules are also complex. For example, in Mandarin, Chen is pronounced “chuhn” (rhymes with “one”), Li is “lee” and Yang “yong” (rhymes with “song,” not “sang”). However, many second-generation or later Chinese Americans pronounce their names in an Americanized fashion. Consider including pronunciation explainers in the text, broadcast or graphic. See SOUTH ASIAN NAMES.

Caution. This broad term refers to both Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and has grown more popular in recent years along with Asian Pacific American, as in Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. If you are a reporter or editor and are using the term, consider whether your story is truly referring to Asian Americans or both Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. When possible, be more specific about what communities you are referring to.

Caution. Religion is an imprecise term. Faith in Asia can differ sharply from that of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Temples, for instance, are typically not used for “worship” but for meditation; meditation is not necessarily “prayer”; and to most, but not all, Buddhists, Buddha is not a god. Confucianism and Taoism, much practiced in East Asia, are ways of and guides to living. They are informal combinations of practical philosophies, values, and folk beliefs. See BUDDHISM, HINDUISM, ISLAM, SHINTOISM, SIKHISM and TAOISM.

Avoid. A vestige of European colonialism and imperialism (see entries for both). A 19th-century adjective used at the time in “scientific” European treatises assuming the superiority of the white race. See CAUCASIAN; RACISM, scientific; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Burmese opposition leader born June 19, 1945, in Rangoon, Burma, now known as Yangon, Myanmar, by the ruling junta. Aung San Suu Kyi (the entire name is typically used on second reference) is the daughter of Aung San, a hero of post-colonial Burma, and Khin Kyi, a Burmese diplomat. She is the winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991. She was elected to Parliament in 2012. Unlike Chinese and Japanese names, where centuries of interaction with the West have led to acceptable approximations, Burmese names have no settled counterparts in English. “Aung” is  pronounced “oun,” like “sound” without the “d” and the “s”; “San” is “sun”; “Suu” is an abrupt “sue” not an elongated “suuuue”; “Kyi” is “chee.” See BURMA; BURMESE NAMES; COLONIALISM; IMPERIALISM.

Formerly the eastern section of Pakistan (once known as East Pakistan). Bangladesh became independent after a civil war in 1971. About the size of Iowa. Capital: Dhaka. Population: 161 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: one-third. Languages: Bangla (Bengali) and English. Major religions: Islam (90 percent), Hinduism (about 10 percent). Ethnic groups: Bengali (98 percent), Jumma tribal (1 percent). Literacy: 48 percent. (Source: World Factbook.)

A mountainous South Asian kingdom along the eastern ridges of the Himalayas. Best known for the term “gross national happiness” as a rejoinder to purely economic concerns. Part of British Empire until 1949 partition of Indian subcontinent. Half the size of Indiana. Capital: Thimphu. Population: 770,000 (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: more than one-quarter. Languages: Sharchhopka (28 percent), Dzongkha (official, 24 percent), Lhotshamkha (22 percent), others (26 percent) (2005 Census). Religions: Buddhism (75 percent), Hinduism (25 percent). Ethnic groups: Bhote (50 percent), Nepalese (35 percent), other tribal (15 percent). (Source: World Factbook.)

The Hindi name for the decoration worn on the forehead by many women in South Asia. Mistakenly called a “dot” by many non-South Asians. “Bindi dot” is redundant. Though various explanations of its religious significance have been speculated, the bindi remains for most communities a decoration. Contrary to popular belief, the bindi does not necessarily indicate marital status. See HINDI.

India’s largest city and commercial center, now transliterated as Mumbai. Bombay is the “B” in Bollywood, the nickname for the Indian film industry. See MUMBAI.

In a Western sense, Buddhism is not a religion but rather a philosophy. For most Westerners, religion implies a deity or deities and a community of worship. Buddhism, for the most part, lacks a deity. What, then, is Buddhism? It begins with Siddhartha Gautama, a prince believed to have been born in what is now Nepal. He is thought to have taught in the sixth century BCE. Buddha is a title meaning the “Enlightened One.” He did not claim to be divine. (Some sects, however, may worship him as a divinity.) He is venerated by all Buddhists. Buddhism has no Western-style clergy or central government. There is no Vatican or Canterbury. While Buddhism has monks and nuns, they share only a life of contemplation and meditation with their Christian counterparts. The Buddha attained enlightenment, or “satori” (pronounced saw-TORE-ee). His followers’ main method to attain satori is meditation, and their goal is Nirvana (pronounced NEAR-vaw-nuh), a final beatitude and release from desire and attachment to self. When Buddhists meditate, it is not the same as prayer. Like Western religions, Buddhism has many schools of thought arising from the Buddha’s teachings. There are two major variants, Mahayana and Theravada, also known as the “Greater” and “Lesser” Vehicles, and each Asian culture has distinct variations of these. The two most commonly known in the West: Tibetan Buddhism, which emphasizes reincarnation, and Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the achievement of satori through meditation and contemplation. If religion is relevant to the story, it would be helpful to explain Buddhism’s context by having the interview subject explain his or her school of Buddhist thought. See ASIA; ASIAN RELIGIONS; BUDDHISM, Zen; MARTIAL ARTS; TAOISM

The best-known school of Buddhism in the West. Practiced everywhere in Asia, but especially prominent in Japan. The word “zen” comes from the Sanskrit dhyana, meaning “meditation.” Thought to have originated in 10th century China, it was popularized in the West in the first half of the 20th century by Suzuki (1870–1966), a Japanese Buddhist scholar.  Like all Buddhism, Zen teaches an austere detachment.

Also known as Myanmar (pronounced MEE-YAHN-mar). Some use “Burma” to distinguish from the country under authoritarian rule. Independent in 1948 from Britain. Between Bangladesh and Thailand. About the size of Texas. Border conflicts with Thailand. Capital: Naypyidaw (caution, see below). Population: 55 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: more than one-quarter. Faith: Buddhism (89 percent), Christianity (4 percent), Islam (4 percent). Ethnic groups: Burman (68 percent), Shan (9 percent), Karen (7 percent). Literacy: 90 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) In 2006, the authoritarian regime moved the capital from Yangon (formerly Rangoon), which remains the country’s commercial capital. In 2012, relations with the United States, which in practice does not recognize the change in capital, are still in flux. See also AUNG SAN SUU KYI; BURMESE NAMES; COLONIALISM; IMPERIALISM.

Naming rules are complex. Names typically consist of two one-syllable names, but often with another word as an honorific, such as Daw for older women, Maa for younger women; and Naw, Saw, Maung and U (pronounced “oo” as in two) for men.

Once known as Kampuchea, Cambodia has been independent from France since 1953. Between Thailand and Vietnam. Abut the size of Oklahoma. Border and other international disputes with Thailand and Vietnam. In 1975, the Communist Khmer Rouge conquered the country, leading to the death of an estimated 1.5 million. Capital: Phnom Penh. Population: 15 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: one-third. Languages: Khmer (official), French, English. Faith: Buddhism (96 percent), others (4 percent). Ethnic groups: Khmer (90 percent), Vietnamese (5 percent). Literacy: 74 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See INDOCHINA; KILLING FIELDS; VIETNAM.

Typically family name first, personal name second. Middle names rare.

Not spoken by all Chinese, it is dialect mainly spoken in the environs of Canton, now known as Guangzhou, near the South China Sea. The dialect of many of the early Chinese immigrants to the United States in the 1840s to 1870s. Also the principal dialect of Hong Kong. Still widely spoken in U.S. Chinatowns. See MANDARIN.

Class system in India, and, broadly, a metaphor for class in other contexts (e.g., academia’s ‘caste system”). The four major castes in Hinduism are the Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (kings and warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and traders) and Shudras (laborers), though there are thousands of sub-castes. Discrimination based on castes is technically illegal in India, but the social hierarchies of the system are still recognized, particularly in the villages, and the Diaspora. Once fashionable to describe American classes (“Boston Brahmin”). These hierarchies are a corruption of an ancient system of classification that grouped people and families by their inherited trades. The lowest castes, once known as “untouchables,” are now commonly referred to as Dalits. See HINDI; HINDU; HINDUISM; INDIA; SOUTH ASIAN DIASPORA; UNTOUCHABLES.

Caution, not a synonym for American. Term for white, or relatively light-skinned, people originally from Europe and adjacent regions of Africa and Asia. Named after Caucasus mountain range between Russia and Georgia. The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould traced the term to Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), a German naturalist, who concluded that the Georgian people of the Caucasus region were the most beautiful and therefore most likely the first human beings created by God. See also ALL-AMERICAN; ARYAN; ASIA; ASIATIC; CHARLIE CHAN; EXOTIC; FU MANCHU; IRAN; RACE, biological basis for; RACE, sociological construct of; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

The name of the Indigenous people of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, which includes two U.S. territories: Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. On Guam, the official spelling is CHamoru (with the first two letters capitalized — in the CHamoru language, CH is a single letter). In the CNMI, it is still spelled as Chamorro and sometimes Chamoru.

Caution. Stereotype. Created by Earl Derr Biggers, a mystery novelist, in 1925. Charlie Chan became the protagonist in many popular Hollywood films from 1926 to 1981. Chan was played by white actors, including Warner Oland, who also played the evil Dr. Fu Manchu. While a skilled detective, Chan spoke “inscrutable” dialogue that often began, “Confucius say…” In “Behind That Curtain,” Chan said, “I fear I am victim of crude philosophy from Orient. Man — what is he? Merely one link in great chain binding past with future. All times I remember I am link.” See also CAUCASIAN; CHINA DOLL; CONFUCIANISM; DIALECT; DRAGON LADY; EXOTIC; FU MANCHU; INSCRUTABLE; ORIENTAL; PROVERBS, Chinese fondness for; STEREOTYPES; YELLOW PERIL.

A vast topic and one of the world’s oldest civilizations, at more than 4,000 years. Second-largest world economy after that of the United States. With Japan and India, China is part of one-quarter of the global economy. About the size of the United States in land mass, with four times the number of people. Communist Party rule since 1949; normalized relations with the United States since 1978. Economically weak for much of modern history, China revived sharply with a form of state capitalism beginning in the 1980s. Homogeneous population (see ethnic groups below), but many historical and linguistic divisions. A continuing theme of Chinese history is the central government’s fear of political instability leading to catastrophic violence (see Taipeng Rebellion). Archaic to use “Mainland China” or “Red China,” though the former may be used to distinguish the mainland from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Capital: Beijing. Languages: Standard Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese) and others. Faith: Officially atheist, but followers of Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are found. Population: 1.3 billion (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: less than one-fifth. Ethnic groups: Han (92 percent), Zhuang, Manchu, Hui, Miao, Uighur, Tujia, Yi, Mongol, Tibetan, Buyi, Dong, Yao, Korean and others (2000 estimate). Literacy: 92 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See ASIA, scholars of; ASIAN, U.S, Census definition of; BUDDHISM; CANTONESE; CHARLIE CHAN; CHINAMAN; CHINA DOLL; CHINK; COLONIALISM; CONFUCIANISM; DRAGON LADY; FORTUNE COOKIE; FU MANCHU; GOOK; HONG KONG; INDIA; INSCRUTABLE; MACAU; MANDARIN; PROVERBS, Chinese fondness for; SLANT; SLOPE; TAIPENG REBELLION; TAIWAN; TAOISM; TIANANMEN SQUARE; TIBET; UIGHUR; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN. See individual countries bordering China, such as VIETNAM.

Caution. A figurine, usually porcelain. When used metaphorically, the image demeans women of Chinese or Asian heritage because it implies submission, sometimes of a sexual nature. See reverse image of sexual dominance in DRAGON LADY. Both images are pejorative. See also CHARLIE CHAN; EXOTIC; FOREIGN-NESS; FU MANCHU; INSCRUTABLE; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Avoid. A slur, often applied to anyone of Asian heritage. A term from 19th-century America, specifically for Chinese workers who worked for small wages building the transcontinental railroad. “Chinaman’s chance’’ means no chance at all, and implies injury or death. See also CHINK; GOOK; SLANT; SLOPE; VIETNAMESE SLURS.

Arguably, the equal of French cuisine. China is 4,000 years old or more, about the land mass of the United States, and has four times the number of people. It can take years for a Chinese chef to gain proficiency and decades (if ever) to gain a modest acumen. There are at least eight traditions in Chinese cuisine, of which three are widely known in the United States. Crudely, at least in the American experience, they can be remembered as Hot (Hunan), Spicy (Sichuan) and Original Recipe (Cantonese). Cantonese cuisine comes from Guangdong province in southern China. Many Westerners think of Cantonese food as Chinese food. Cantonese residents were early American immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. Beef, pork, and chicken predominate, and lamb and goat are rare, unlike Chinese cuisines in the North and West. Steaming and stir-frying are common techniques. Sichuan (also spelled Szechuan and Szechwan) cuisine comes from the Sichuan province of southwestern China. It uses Sichuan peppercorn, sesame paste, ginger and other ingredients. Sichuan in China is called “heavenly country.” Much like Lyon in France, it is known for the richness of its agriculture. The best-known dish is Kung Pao Chicken, but Sichuan cuisine itself has many variations and no one style. Hunanese is also commonly found in the United States, especially in cities with large Asian populations. Hunan cuisine comes from the Xiang River region, in western Hunan Province in China. Hunan cuisine is known for its deep color and eye-watering levels of chili. On appearance, it is often oily. Common techniques include stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising and smoking. As in French cuisine, there is no one reference work for Chinese cuisine.

Caution. Can be racially charged. Legend has it that the first Chinese laundry was opened in 1851 in California by a failed Chinese miner. Inexpensive to open and posing no competition to white-owned businesses, Chinese hand laundries proliferated, peaking in 1940, with more than 5,000 laundries in New York City alone. In California, Chinese were once permitted to own only restaurants and laundries. The Chinese laundry declined sharply with the introduction of coin-operated laundromats.

Typically family name first (as in “Smith”), personal name second (as in “John”). Many Chinese Americans, however, change the word order to conform to Western practice. They also often adopt Western names in addition to traditional names. Personal names consisting of two words (one word is typically a generational name) are sometimes hyphenated. Check to see if the interview subject prefers a hyphen. Rules for married women adopting their husbands’ names are often elaborate. (Taiwan, consisting mainly of ethnic Chinese from the mainland, follows Chinese naming rules.) See also SOUTH ASIAN NAMES; TAIWAN; and individual countries.


Avoid. A slur. Similar to Chinaman. Avoid phrases such as “chink in the armor” — despite its original non-racial connotation — that call to mind the slur. See also CHINAMAN; CHING-CHONG; FOREIGN-NESS; GOOK; ORIENTAL; SLANT; SLOPE; VIETNAMESE SLURS; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

The European Age of Exploration that began in the 16th century led, for good and ill, to the subjugation of less technologically advanced peoples as European colonies. Many, but not all, of the countries of Asia have been part of European empires, often Dutch and British. (France played a similar role in the Middle East; Belgium in Africa; Portugal and Spain in North and South America.) One consequence of World War II was the rapid shedding of empire in the late 1940s, climaxing globally in the 1960s. See also IMPERIALISM; PHILIPPINES; RACISM, history of; RACISM, scientific; THIRD WORLD; “WHITE MAN’S BURDEN”; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Caution. A synonym for a neighborhood or town, but a cliché, as in “intelligence community.’’ By definition, community implies a shared like-mindedness that no reporter can possibly confirm. Avoid such phrases as “Korean community.” In any group there is a diversity of opinion. It would be absurd to quote “white community leaders.” Better to identify leaders and ethnically based groups by name, with possible reference to the size of their membership. Also, while many ethnic groups identify with the majority culture and faith of their home countries, some do not. In the United States, for example, many Arab Americans are Christian, not Muslim.

Like Buddhism, Confucianism is not a religion in the Western sense of the word. There is no deity. It is built around the teachings of Confucius, whose work gained early respect in the West. His “analects” (Greek for miscellany) were translated for the benefit of King Louis IV at Versailles in 1684. They often center on the importance of self-discipline, family and tradition.


A colloquial name for people of South Asian ancestry, especially those of India and Pakistan. Pronounced “DAY-see” or “DEH-see,” it is the Hindi word for “from my country.” See BANGLADESH; HINDI; INDIA; PAKISTAN.

Avoid. State that the interview subject speaks limited or otherwise inadequate English and then paraphrase the comments. Pidgin English often invites racial stereotyping. See CHARLIE CHAN; CHINA DOLL; DRAGON LADY; FU MANCHU; INSCRUTABLE; INTERPRETERS; STEREOTYPES; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Caution. A cartoon character from the 1930s comic strip “Terry and the Pirates.” Variations of the Dragon Lady were popularized in adventure movies of the 1940s and later. She was portrayed as sexy and evil in Chinese silk gowns with long sleeves, a cigarette holder in her hand. See CHINA DOLL, a reverse image. See also CHARLIE CHAN; EXOTIC; FU MANCHU; INSCRUTABLE; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Caution, vague. A group of people who self-identify with one another because of geographical, linguistic, cultural, religious and other ties. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was common to refer to ethnic groups as “races,” e.g. “the Hungarian race.” See also CAUCASIAN; RACE, biological basis of; RACE, sociological construct of; RACISM, Scientific; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

ETHNICITY, mention of:
Caution. Ethnicity (the character of a group, such as language) and race (a group distinguished by genetically transmitted physical appearance) should be reported only when ethnicity can be attributed to a reliable source to the story and their relevance can be explained. Some news organizations do not mention race or ethnicity because of the danger of suggesting stereotypes. Race, however, is often necessary to the physical description of a fugitive (“Asian male, mid-30s, 5-foot-6, medium build”). See ASIAN, various uses of; CHARLIE CHAN; CHINA DOLL; DIALECT; DRAGON LADY; EXOTIC; IMMIGRANT; ILLEGAL ALIEN; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

A war measure following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Signed Feb. 19, 1942, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it led to the internment in camps of thousands of people of Japanese heritage, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. A divided cabinet recommended the measure to Roosevelt, despite an affirmation by the Office of Naval Intelligence of the loyalty of Japanese Americans. The order was designed to combat sabotage, but Americans of German and Italian heritage were largely exempt. Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan formed the Axis. The Supreme Court repeatedly affirmed the constitutionality of the order, but Congress, in 1983, called it “a grave injustice.” See also ANGEL ISLAND; INTERNMENT; PEARL HARBOR; SEPTEMBER 11, 2001; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Avoid. When describing women of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, it often implies a departure from a white norm. Swedes, for example, are not described in the United States as exotic. See CHARLIE CHAN; CHINA DOLL; DRAGON LADY; FU MANCHU; INSCRUTABLE; ORIENTAL; PACIFIC ISLANDER; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

EYE SHAPE, reference to:
Misnomer (all human eyeballs have the same shape). The distinctive “Asian” feature is known as an “epicanthic fold” of the eyelid but is found in all races. Not all Asians have the fold. It is unclear what evolutionary advantage is conferred by such a feature. Eyes aren’t “slanted” or “slitty” and such terms are racially derogatory. The relevance of discussing the fold, which might call to mind racial stereotypes, must be explained to the reader or viewer. A discussion of why some Asian women seek plastic surgery to change the shape of their eyelids, for example, is relevant. Whether an Asian basketball player has a reduced field of vision is not. See CHARLIE CHAN; CHINAMAN; CHINK; DIALECT; FU MANCHU; GOOK; RACISM, scientific; SLANT; SLOPE; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Refers to an inhabitant of the Philippines, the former Spanish possession and American colony. Filipino American refers to those who share its heritage and culture. Some Filipino Americans, often younger, prefer Pilipino because Tagalog (pronounced tuh-GAW-lug), the leading dialect of the Philippines, lacks an “F” sound. The Philippines, claimed by Spanish explorers, was named after King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598). See COLONIALISM; IMPERIALISM; PHILIPPINES; TAGALOG; “WHITE MAN’S BURDEN.”

Avoid. Pejorative for “Filipino.” See PHILIPPINES; TAGALOG; “WHITE MAN’S BURDEN.”

FOREIGN-NESS, Asians and their:
While “African American” and “Asian American” are parallel phrases, their cultural emphases differ. “African American” is a coinage that grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1950s. It emphasizes a link to sub-Saharan Africa (broadly, non-Arab Africa) and an evocation of the past. American blacks, long separated from slavery, may have never seen Africa or know anyone who has. By contrast, Asian Americans, because of restrictive immigration laws before 1965, may be only one or two generations distant from an Asia that is present in immigrant parents and grandparents. The emphasis in “Asian American,” therefore, is on “American” and belonging to the nation. Most Asian Americans are stung when asked: “Where are you from? I mean, originally?” See ASIAN EXCLUSION ACTS; COLONIALISM; DIALECT; IMPERIALISM; MODEL MINORITY, myth of; RACE, biological basis of; RACE, scientific; RACE, sociological construct of; WALTER-MCCARRAN ACT; “WHITE MAN’S BURDEN”; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Origin almost certainly Japanese. There are references to the cookies in Japanese literature and history, including an 1878 image of a man making them in a bakery. China and Japan do not have a tradition of dessert following a meal.

Caution. Stereotype. Created by mystery writer Sax Rohmer in 1913 and popularized in 1930s and 1940s films. Fu Manchu was an evil genius. He was portrayed by many actors, including Warner Oland, who also played Charlie Chan. Rohmer described him this way: “Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green.” He is also “the yellow peril incarnate in one man.” Later Asian and pseudo-Asian villains — like Flash Gordon’s nemesis, Emperor Ming the Merciless, and James Bond’s Dr. No — were variations of Fu Manchu. See also ASIATIC; CAUCASIAN; CHARLIE CHAN; COLONIALISM; EXOTIC; IMPERIALISM; INSCRUTABLE; ORIENTAL; “WHITE MAN’S BURDEN”; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948). Known as the Mahatma (“great soul”) and the father of modern India, M.K. Gandhi served as president of the Indian National Congress and helped lead a nonviolent movement for independence from Britain during the first half of the 20th century. He was assassinated in 1948 in a conspiracy by fanatical nationalists who accused him of betraying Hindus and favoring Muslims during the Partition of 1947. No relation to Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi. See COLONIALISM; HINDI; HINDU; INDIA; ISLAM; MUSLIM; SOUTH ASIA; THIRD WORLD.


A U.S. territory in the northwestern Pacific. The island was taken by the U.S. in 1898 and was governed by the U.S. military until the Japanese invaded on December 7, 1944, the same day as Pearl Harbor. The island endured a brutal Japanese occupation for more than two years until it was retaken by the U.S. military. The indigenous people and language are called CHamorus and in CHamoru, Guam is called Guahan. They did not receive U.S. citizenship until 1950 and still cannot vote for president. See PACIFIC ISLANDER, CHAMORRO or CHAMORU.

Caution. A term used to refer to people from Guam. The U.S. Census removed Guamanian for the 2020 Census and now uses Chamorro exclusively to refer to the indigenous people from Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. If using this term, consider whether CHamoru/Chamorro would be a more accurate descriptor. See PACIFIC ISLANDER, GUAM or GUAHAN, CHAMORRO or CHAMORU.

HAJJ/HAJ (typically not capitalized):
A pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. Every Muslim able to afford the journey is to make the hajj at least once in his or her lifetime. Similar to Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages but more urgent. A person who has undertaken this pilgrimage is known as a hajji (or haji). Many East Asians and South Asians are seen in Mecca. See ISLAM.

Caution. Once considered derogatory, hapa comes from the Hawaiian phrase hapa haole (pronounced “hah-puh how-lee”) meaning “half white/ foreigner.” It is now often used to describe anyone whose heritage is white plus another racial or ethnic group, but especially Asians and Pacific Islanders. Some Hawaiians say the word hapa only refers to people who are part Hawaiian and is consistently misused (see “Who Gets To Be ‘Hapa’?”). Still, the term is now considered by many to be one of positive self-identification. See ETHNIC GROUP; HAWAIIAN; PACIFIC ISLANDER; RACISM, social construct of.

The 50th state and a North Pacific archipelago that became part of the U.S. after the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown in 1893. The backwards apostrophe in the word is known as an “okina,” and became popularized in the 1970s as Hawaiians sought to prevent their language from extinction. The state government consistently spells Hawaii as Hawaiʻi.

Caution. An ethnic group. Refers to a person who is indigenous to Hawaii, also known as Kānaka Maoli. Unlike a term like Californian, Hawaiian should not be used for everyone living in Hawaii. The distinction is not trivial. If Wales were the 51st state, not everyone living in Wales would be Welsh. If referring to Hawaii residents, use the term Hawaii resident, per AP Stylebook. If referring to someone who is ethnically Hawaiian, consider using Native Hawaiian, a U.S. Census term. The capitalization of native previously referred to people who were 50% Hawaiian but is currently often used to refer to all Hawaiians. See ETHNIC GROUP; ETHNICITY; PACIFIC ISLANDER.

A scarf or other head covering worn by Muslim women and, broadly, a metaphor for female privacy and modesty. Wearing one in most Muslim societies is a matter of choice, but there can be pressure to use one in fundamentalist communities. In countries such as Turkey and Egypt, there are different styles of hijab, including wearing none at all.

The primary language of a plurality of India’s citizens, and one of almost two dozen major languages spoken around that country. It is derived primarily from Sanskrit, using the Devanagari script. Do not confuse Hindi with Hindu, which is a religious designation. See HINDU; INDIA; SOUTH ASIA.

Designating the faith practiced by most Indians, and designating certain cultural features of South and Southeast Asia. Hinduism is a largely polytheistic religion and has evolved over thousands of years. Many Hindus regard the 2,000-page Vedas and the Gita (a segment of the epic Mahabharata) as sacred texts. Do not confuse Hindu with Hindi, which is a language. Ethnic conflict with Islam one of the bloodiest in the world. See HINDI; INDIA; ISLAM; SOUTH ASIA.

HMONG (also Mong or Muong):
An ethnic group living in southern China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Laotian civil war in mid-1970s led to an exodus to the United States. See ETHNIC GROUP; LAOS; THAILAND.

Typically family name first, personal name second, often one-syllable names.

Former British colony. Independent of Britain in 1997 and now one of China’s two “special administrative regions” (the other is Macau). Capitalist after many years of British rule, Hong Kong’s character was preserved by agreement with the British under China’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy. Continuing tension over what that policy means. See CHINA; MACAU; TAIPENG REBELLION; TAIWAN; TIBET.

Caution. Most journalism organizations use this phrase because it is a legal description. Advocates for immigrants not authorized to be in the United States, however, argue that the term interferes with the dispassionate presentation of the news. They argue that while actions can be and are illegal, a person cannot be. An immigrant who has lived in the United States for many decades may be, depending on individual circumstances, unfairly described as an immigrant. Undocumented immigrant or unauthorized immigrant are possible options to using “illegal” as an adjective. See ETHNIC GROUP; ILLEGALS; RACE, biological basis of; RACE, sociological construct of; STEREOTYPES.

Avoid. A slur. See AAJA MediaWatch committee’s call on newsrooms to stop using the term “illegal immigrant.”

Caution. A racially or ethnically charged term in some contexts. Like race and ethnicity, the status of being a first-generation immigrant should be mentioned where relevant and its relevance can be explained. For example, a person whose accent leads to a bar fight or whose lack of English may have led to his failure to stop when requested by police to do so can be described, along with other biographical details, as a recent immigrant. The date of entry to the United States might also be helpful, if available. See also ASIAN EXCLUSION ACTS; ILLEGAL ALIEN; ILLEGALS; WALTER-MCCARRAN ACT.

IMMIGRATION, historians of:
There are many, but these two are especially prominent. Oscar Handlin (1915-2011), whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, is a historian who influenced the view of American history to reflect the effect of immigration, especially in the United States of the early 20th century. His 1965 congressional testimony helped lead to liberalization of immigration rules, which led to an expansion of the Asian population in the United States in the second half of the 20th century. Ronald Takaki (1939-2009), whose Japanese grandfather immigrated to Hawaii in the 19th century, is a historian whose works on ethnicity were pioneering, especially “Strangers From a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans” (1989). See ASIA, historians of; and entries for individual countries.

The ideology of empire justifying an expansion of national power, including colonialism. See CHINA; COLONIALISM; INDIA; INDOCHINA; PHILIPPINES; RACISM, history of; RACISM, scientific; “WHITE MAN’S BURDEN”.

A vast topic and the world’s largest democracy. Once the quintessential “Third World,” or developing, country, it now has a fast-growing economy. Combined with Japan and China, India is part of one-quarter of the global economy. One of the great civilizations of the world, whose cultural influence in Asia is enormous (Buddhism, for example, began there). Former “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire. Independent from Britain in 1947. About one-third the land mass of the United States. Ethnic clashes between majority Hindus and minority Muslims have been some of the bloodiet in the world. Capital: New Delhi. The nation’s commercial center is Mumbai, also known as Bombay. Population: 1.2 billion (2012 estimate). Faith: Hindu (81 percent), Muslim (13 percent), Christian (2 percent), Sikh (2 percent), (2001 estimate). Proportion of the population younger than 15: nearly one-third. Literacy: 61 percent. See ARYAN; BOMBAY; BUDDHISM; CASTE SYSTEM; COLONIALISM; HINDI; HINDU; IMPERIALISM; MUMBAI; THIRD WORLD.

Like China, it is 4,000 years old or more. India is about one-third the size of the United States and contains nearly four times the number of people. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, which will advertise Hunan or Sichuan on the storefront, Indian restaurants in the United States are less likely to advertise regional variations. An important distinction, however, is between south and north. North Indian cuisine uses more dairy products such as yogurt, as well as chilis, saffron and nuts. It also favors the “tandoor,” a cylindrical clay oven. South Indian cuisine places a greater emphasis on rice and there is a wide variety of biryani, or rice-based dishes. And while all regions (including western and northeastern) have vegetarian dishes, South Indian cuisine, especially in American restaurants, may have a greater variety of non-meat dishes. There are also important differences from the cuisines of Pakistan and Bangladesh, but all three countries may be advertised on one menu. It may make more sense, at least in the United States, to speak broadly of South Asian Cuisine, so intermingled are the influences within and outside India, especially Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia and Singapore.

Caution. Refers to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, but not nearby Thailand and Burma (Myanmar). Some say term has a colonialist connotation. See BURMA; CAMBODIA; COLONIALISM; IMPERIALISM; LAOS; MYANMAR; THAILAND; VIETNAM.

Independent from the Netherlands in 1949. Archipelago between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Three times the land mass of Texas. Capital: Jakarta. Largest Muslim nation (Muslim traders from India in the 12th century spread the religion). Population: 248 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: more than one-quarter. Faith: Muslim (86 percent), Christian (9 percent), others (2000 estimate). Languages: Bahasa Indonesia (official, modified form of Malay) English, Dutch, numerous indigenous dialects.  Ethnic groups: Javanese (41 percent), Sundanese (15 percent), numerous others (2000 census). Literacy: 90 percent. (Source: World Factbook.)

Many have two names, but having only one name is also common. Muslims have complex name rules.

Caution. Synonym for mysterious, but considered a racially charged adjective. See also CHARLIE CHAN; CHINA DOLL; DRAGON LADY; EXOTIC; FU MANCHU; ORIENTAL; PROVERBS, Chinese fondness for; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

INTERNMENT, Japanese and:
During World War II, the incarceration of 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens. The last detainees were released in 1946. Some advocates urge the use of “incarceration” instead of internment as a more accurate depiction. See also ANGEL ISLAND; EXECUTIVE ORDER 9066; JAP; PEARL HARBOR; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Caution. An interview subject may speak limited or otherwise inadequate English. Use of another member of the family as an interpreter can yield flawed translations. A daughter, for example, may hesitate to completely translate her mother’s words or the daughter’s vocabulary (in English or the parent’s native language) may itself be limited. If deadline permits, have an independent native speaker listen to a recording of the original interview. See CHARLIE CHAN; DIALECT; FU MANCHU; INSCRUTABLE.

Sometimes thought of as part of the Middle East, although not an Arab country. Iran is nearly 3000 years old. In the classical world, it was the Western image of Asia. Herodotus chronicled the Greco-Persian Wars of the 5th century B.C. Much of the premier collection of fairy tales, “The Thousand Nights and One Night,” is set in Iraq and Iran. In Farsi, the Persian language, it means “Land of the Aryans,” or Nobles. Not an Arab ethnic group, but much cultural interaction with Arabia, so Iran is often thought of as part of the Middle East. In many ways, the center of Shia scholarship, Iran has an affinity with other Shia Muslims in the Middle East, notably in Iraq and Syria. Known as Persia until 1935. Iran and Persia are used interchangeably in cultural and other contexts. Following the overthrow of its monarchy, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979. Simmering tensions with the United States since then, especially over the development of nuclear materials. About the land mass of Alaska. Capital: Tehran. Languages: Persian (official, 53 percent), Azeri (16 percent), Kurd (10 percent) and others. Faith: Muslim (Shia, 89 percent; Sunni 9 percent) and others. Population: 79 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: about one-quarter. Ethnic groups: Persian (61 percent), Azeri (16 percent), Kurd (10 percent) and others. Literacy: 77 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See ARYAN.

A Persian or Iranian name consists of a given name, sometimes more than one, followed by a family name. Many of the names in the Alf Layla wa-Layla, or “The Thousand Nights and One Night” are Persian, including Scheherazade (various spellings). See IRAN.

One of the two major religions of South Asia, the other being Hinduism. The conflict between followers of Hinduism and Islam remains one of the bloodiest in the world. Though its origins are in Arabia, modern Islam is a world religion (Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation). It is one of the three great religions that venerate Abraham and incorporates teachings from both Judaism and Christianity. At the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the holiest cities of the Islamic world, there is a minaret known as the Tower of Jesus. Halal, dietary rules under Islamic law, are similar to the kosher dietary laws of Judaism. During what are known as the Dark Ages in Europe, Islamic scholars preserved many of the great books of Western civilization. Arab mathematicians invented algebra (Arabic for “the reduction”). Within Islam, the great divide is between the majority Sunni and the minority Shia. There is no quick description of the theological differences between the groups. But as far as the blood feud between them, it is similar to the European religious wars of the majority Catholics and minority Protestants. See also COLONIALISM; HINDUISM; ISLAMIST; JIHAD; MOSQUE “AT” GROUND ZERO; ORIENTAL; SEPTEMBER 11, 2001; SIKHISM; TURBAN.

Adjective, from the Arabic “aslama,” to submit, as to God. Related to the Arabic for Muslim, literally, one who submits to God. Similar to the Christian “supplicant,” Latin for one who kneels down, as in prayer to God. Caution for set phrases like “Islamic fundamentalist” and “Islamic terrorist.” See ISLAMIST.

Caution. Similar to the adjectival “Islamic,” but now used with the connotation of “religious fundamentalist” and the further connotation of “possible or actual terrorist.” As with Christians and Jews, Muslim religious fundamentalism rarely expresses itself in terrorism. See JIHAD; MOSQUE “AT” GROUND ZERO; PEARL HARBOR; SEPTEMBER 11, 2001; SIKHISM; SUICIDE BOMBING; TURBAN.


The world’s third-largest economy behind the United States, then China. With China and India, Japan makes up one-quarter of the world economy. Economic stagnation since 1990s. Japan’s cultural influence is enormous, from Nintendo to Hello Kitty to Zen. Land mass smaller than California. Historical enmity with China, Korea, Philippines and others. World War II and the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor are the source of many racial slurs by Americans. Capital: Tokyo. Population: 127 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: about one-seventh.
Language: Japanese (English spoken in commerce). Faith: Shintoism and Buddhism. Ethnic groups: Japanese (99 percent). Literacy: 99 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See BUDDHISM, Zen; GOOK; JAP; JAPANESE NAMES; NIP; PEARL HARBOR; SHINTOISM; SLANT; SLOPE; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

In the United States, Chinese and Japanese are the Asian ethnic groups longest in residence (Filipinos are not far behind, but they have few restaurants). Sushi (small pieces of raw or cooked fish on rice), sashimi (raw fish sliced thinly) and tempura (seafood or vegetables dipped in batter and deep-fried) are familiar to many Americans. Ramen has long been the stuff of legend in Japan, as well as in American college dormitories. Despite its inclusion in “Pan-Asian” restaurants, Japan’s austere cuisine would never be mistaken for other cuisine in Asia.

In Japan, typically family name first, personal name second. But in the United States, Western word order is common. Women’s names often end in -ko, or “child,” as in Michiko.

Often translated as “holy war,” but, narrowly, it is a personal spiritual duty. “Jihad bis saif,” Arabic for “jihad by the sword” is armed conflict and holy war. “Jihad” is Arabic for “struggle,” as with one’s relationship to God. One of the many interpretations of jihad would be something similar to the Christian idea of penance. Nonetheless, “jihadist” is now often used to describe a religious extremism that can take violent form. See ISLAM; ISLAMIST; MOSQUE “AT” GROUND ZERO; SEPTEMBER 11, 2001; SRI LANKA; SUICIDE BOMBING.

One of the world’s most unstable regions. A disputed border area high in the frozen mountains of the Western Himalayas between India and
Pakistan. In 1949, after the first of three wars, the nations agreed to a cease-fire line that was poorly defined. The agreement said the line was to continue “north to the glaciers.” In 1984, low-level skirmishes broke out between Indian and Pakistani forces, but flared into major clashes in the summer of 1999, when India and Pakistan had both become nuclear powers. See INDIA; PAKISTAN.

Massacre of civilians in Cambodia by the Communist Khmer Rouge in mid-1970s. Broadly, any site of mass killing. Coined by Dith Pran (1942-2008), a Cambodian refugee and later a photojournalist for the New York Times. Also the title of an Academy Award-winning film (1984) chronicling Dith’s epic escape from Cambodia.

No significant emigration to the United States. Continuing enmity with South Korea and United States over development of nuclear weapons. See KOREA, SOUTH.

An undivided Korea gained independence from China in 1895. Korea split into North Korea and South Korea after World War II. War in 1950-53 hardened division into Communist north and capitalist South. Historical enmity between two Koreas and both with Japan. South has one of world’s most dynamic economies. Unlike Japan and China, which have a character-based written language, Korea uses an phonetic alphabet (created in the 15th century) known as Hangul. Known for wide availability of Internet access, as well as other technological advances. South is about the land mass of Indiana. Capital: Seoul. Population: 49 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: about one-sixth. Languages: Korean and English. Ethnic groups: Korean, with tiny minority of ethnic Chinese. Literacy: 98 percent. (Source: World Factbook.)

As with its writing system (a phonetic alphabet, not characters), Korea has developed a cuisine distinct from that of China and the rest of Asia. In larger U.S. cities, Koreatowns are often next door to Chinatowns. Korean cuisine has many side dishes, panchan, that accompany steamed short-grain white or brown rice. Kimchi (or kimchee), the national dish served at every meal, is spicy pickled cabbage, radishes and other vegetables; kimchi recipes vary by region and even family. In the United States, Korean restaurants are especially known for barbecuing thin slices of marinated meat from a do-it-yourself gas or charcoal grill built into the center of the table. Koreans are also fond of a rice-cake soup called “dduk-guk” for New Year’s Day. Korean fried chicken is crunchy, skinless chicken prepared as fast food or a late-night snack, especially at bars.

Typically family name first, followed by two-part personal name. But many Korean Americans have adopted Western name order. Rules differ for men and women. In Korea, more than a third of the population comes from three historically large clans: Kim, Lee and Park. Add Choi and Chong and the proportion exceeds half.

Independent from France in 1949. Larger than Utah’s land mass. Between Thailand and Vietnam. Border disputes with Thailand. Capital: Vientiane. Population: 6.6 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: more than one-third. Languages: Lao, French, English and various ethnic languages, including Hmong. Faith: Buddhism (67 percent), animist and others, including Christianity, (33 percent). Ethnic groups: Lao (55 percent), Khmou (11 percent), Hmong (8 percent) and others. See HMONG.

Typically family name first, personal name second, often multi-syllable names.

Once a Portuguese colony, it is one of China’s two “special administrative regions,” the other being Hong Kong, a former British colony. Macau, like rival Hong Kong, is a port city and commercial center. With a population approaching half a million in an area the size of five Central Parks, it is routinely described as the most densely populated spot on Earth. Tourism and gambling dominate its economy. See CHINA; HONG KONG; TAIPENG REBELLION; TAIWAN; TIBET.

Independent from Britain in 1957. Slightly larger land mass than New Mexico. Borders South China Sea and Indonesia. Border and other international disputes with neighbors. Capital: Kuala Lumpur. Population: 29 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: nearly one-third. Languages: Bahasa Melayu (official), English, Chinese dialects, Tamil and others. Faith: Islam (60 percent), Buddhism (19 percent), Christian (9 percent), Hindu (6 percent) and others. Literacy: 89 percent. (Source: World Factbook.)

Some Malaysians do not use family names, but, as in Burma, use honorifics. Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Muslims follow special naming rules.

Caution, important differences from Cantonese. The official language of China and Taiwan, derived from different dialects but not itself a dialect, or regional variety of a language, like Cockney English. The term Mandarin refers to the spoken language. One speaks Mandarin but writes Chinese. While the Cantonese dialect is more prevalent in older American Chinatowns, Mandarin is increasingly spoken in newer Chinatowns. China has one written language using characters understood by anyone who is literate, but many spoken regional dialects such as Shanghainese and Fukienese, which are unintelligible to people from other regions. See CHINA; HONG KONG; MACAU; TAIPENG REBELLION; TAIWAN.

MANONG (mah-nong)/MANANG (mah-nang):
Manong is a term of respect that precedes the first name of older Filipino men; manang for older Filipina women.

A southwestern Pacific region in Oceania. The region includes but isn’t limited to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Fiji. The indigenous people of the region are known collectively as Melanesians. See OCEANIA; PACIFIC ISLANDER.

Caution. A western Pacific region in Oceania encompassing more than 3 million square miles, broader than the size of the continental United States. The region includes but isn’t limited to Guam, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands. The Indigenous people of Micronesia are known collectively as Micronesians. The term is also sometimes used to refer to people from the Federated States of Micronesia, one nation within the region of Micronesia. In Hawaii and Guam the term “Micro” is sometimes used in a derogatory manner due to discrimination. See OCEANIA; PACIFIC ISLANDER.

Armed and unarmed fighting sports or skills, mainly of East Asian origin. Unarmed martial arts emphasize striking with the feet and hands or grappling. Influenced substantially by Taoism and Buddhism. Kung fu, judo, karate, kendo and archery influenced American popular culture, including the “Star Wars” films and “The Hunger Games.” Derivatives of the unarmed forms of combat can be seen in parkour, the French sport of scaling urban settings seen in the films “District B13” and the “Mission Impossible” series. Caution, like other Asian iconography, martial-arts imagery can be abused in contexts such as editorial cartoons. See ASIA, use and abuse of images from; BUDDHISM; STEREOTYPES; TAOISM.

Caution. Not a synonym for people of color. Use specifics whenever possible, particularly as demographic forecasts call for non-Hispanic whites in the United States to be outnumbered by 2042. See MODEL MINORITY, myth of.

The phrase “model minority” dates to at least the 1960s. In the 1980s, articles praising Asian Americans implicitly criticized blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans for failing to measure up. Factually inaccurate in the sense of collapsing the experience of many ethnic groups of many countries into one “group” experience. Newsweek used the phrase in quotation marks for a 1982 article celebrating Asian American academic achievement. Some regard it, at best, as a backhanded compliment and, at worst, as code for “lacking leadership potential.” See ASIAN AMERICAN; FOREIGN-NESS; STEREOTYPES; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

Famed for Genghis Khan and his martial empire of the 13th century. His military success was based in part on his army’s ferocity and its breed of warhorse that could survive on sparse grazing land in winter, allowing them to advance in all seasons. A bleak climate known for fossil discoveries, such as dinosaur eggs. Independent from China in 1921. Between China and Russia. About the size of Alaska. Population: 3.2 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: about one-quarter. Capital: Ulaanbaatar. Languages: Khalkha Mongol (official, 90 percent) and others (1999 estimate). Ethnic groups: Mongol (mostly Khalka, 95 percent) and Kazakh (5 percent). Literacy: 98 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See also ASIA, CENTRAL.

Extremely complex naming rules involving patronymics, matronymics and clan names. Beware second reference.

The quotations marks are necessary. Plans in 2010 for an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan quickly became an ugly religious and ethnic battle. Conservatives saw the plan as an Arab affront to Americans killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a memorial to terrorism (the attackers were Arab). It mattered little that the planned center wasn’t a mosque. It was intended to be a 15-story multi-use building with a small area for worship, akin to a chapel in a Catholic hospital. It was to be two blocks from the site of the attack, “ground zero.” Whatever the viewpoint, the building would not be on top of or “at” the World Trade Center site. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to building the center was cost: $100 million or more. See ISLAM; ISLAMIC; ISLAMIST; JIHAD; SEPTEMBER 11, 2001; SRI LANKA; SUICIDE BOMBING.

India’s largest city and commercial center, formerly known as Bombay. Although the rare journalism organization may continue to use “Bombay,” the name change is official in India. It doesn’t hurt, however, to gracefully remind readers that Mumbai is formerly Bombay when necessary. Other Indian cities have also formally switched to the names in their native languages, including Kolkata, formerly Calcutta. But it is understandable that some name changes may take years or decades to catch on, including Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore). In such cases, it is probably better to use the Western name, but when relevant, use the correct name of buildings or names (such as the Bengaluru International Airport). See BOMBAY; INDIA.

A follower of Islam. Not all Muslims are Arabs; not all Arabs are Muslim. See INDONESIA; ISLAM; ISLAMIC; ISLAMIST; JIHAD; MOSQUE “AT” GROUND ZERO; SEPTEMBER 11, 2001.

Pronounced MEE-YAHN-mar. See BURMA.

An ethnic group. A U.S. Census term that refers to indigenous people of Hawaii, also known as Kānaka Maoli. The capitalization of native previously referred to people who where 50% Hawaiian but is currently often used to refer to all Hawaiians. See HAWAIIAN, PACIFIC ISLANDER.

A federal race category established in 1997 that refers to anyone from Pacific Islander communities: Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, Marshallese and so on. This is also sometimes written as Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The term can be confusing because even if the NHOPI or NHPI community is experiencing a disparity, that doesn’t always mean that Native Hawaiians are experiencing the disparity. For example, in spring 2020, Hawaii reported that the NHOPI community had disproportionately high rates of COVID-19, but disaggregated data later showed Native Hawaiians specifically faced no disparity. When possible, be specific about what communities you’re writing about. See PACIFIC ISLANDER. 

A country in South Asia bounded by China on the north and India on the south. Believed to be the birthplace in the fifth century of a noble named Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha. Its capital, Kathmandu, is known for its history and culture, as well as being the gateway to Mount Everest in Tibet (Sherpas are a mountain-dwelling people in eastern Nepal). A civil war with Maoist extremists culminated in the abolition of the monarchy in 2006. A long period of instability followed, with various factions of Marxists rising, falling and rising again. About the size of Arkansas. Capital: Kathmandu (also largest city). Population: 23 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: more than one-third. Ethnic groups: Chhettri (16 percent), Brahman-Hill (13 percent), many others. Faith: Hinduism (official religion, 81 percent), Buddhism (11 percent) and others. Literacy: 49 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See BUDDHISM.

Caution. Use of patronymic rules, in which names are modified to reflect the father. Ask the interview subject how to refer to him or her on second reference.

Avoid, a slur. Short for Nipponese, or Japanese, a holdover from the racism of World War II. Avoid also “nip in the bud” as suggesting Nip if there is an Asian element to the story. See CHINK.

A U.S. commonwealth in the western Pacific. The islands are part of the Mariana Islands archipelago, which includes Guam. People born in the commonwealth are U.S. citizens but CNMI residents cannot vote for president. The indigenous people and language are known as Chamorros. See OCEANIA; PACIFIC ISLANDER.

A regional description that refers to the thousands of islands that make up the North and South Pacific Ocean. There are three main subregions: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Within Oceania, the U.S. controls Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. 

Caution. Many Asian Americans liken “Oriental” to “Negro,” a term of condescension. A vestige of European imperialism, the term, at minimum, is vague. In art, it may include countries such as China and Japan, but exclude Turkey. In rugs, it may mean India and China and include Turkey. In food, it may mean China or Japan, but not India, Vietnam or the Philippines. See also ASIAN; ASIATIC; CHARLIE CHAN; CHINA DOLL; COLONIALISM; DRAGON LADY; EXOTIC; FU MANCHU; IMPERIALISM; INSCRUTABLE; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

A term used for the indigenous people of the Pacific islands. Not to be used for people who are not ethnically Pacific Islander but happen to live in Pacific islands. Some subgroups include but aren’t limited to: Fijian, Hawaiian, Samoan, Marshallese, Chamorro/CHamoru, Palauan, Chuukese, Tahitian and Tongan. When writing about Pacific Islander communities, it’s preferable to specify which ethnicities you are referring to and if possible, which islands. See ETHNIC GROUP; HAPA; HAWAIIAN; ASIAN, U.S. Census definition of.

Avoid. A slur, referring to Pakistanis. Sometimes used in Britain as an epithet against all South Asians.

Twice the size of California. Created in 1947 from the partition of British India. Pakistan initially consisted of West Pakistan and East Pakistan, supported by India. After a civil war in 1971, East Pakistan broke away and became the independent nation of Bangladesh. In the region, the clash between Hindus and Muslims is one of the bloodiest in the world. Majority-Muslim Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998 following nuclear tests by majority-Hindu India. Attackers from Pakistan conducted a terrorist raid in Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008, which is remembered in India as the equivalent of Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States. Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was found to be hiding in Pakistan, where he was killed. Capital: Islamabad. Commercial center is Karachi. Population: 190 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: more than one-third. Faith: Sunni Muslim (75 percent), Shia Muslim (20 percent) and others, including Christianity. Literacy: 50 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See also COLONIALISM; HINDUISM; IMPERIALISM; INDIA; ISLAM; KASHMIR; PAKI.


Use sparingly as metaphor or analogy because it may invite stereotypes. See INTERNMENT; MOSQUE “AT” GROUND ZERO; SEPTEMBER 11, 2001; SRI LANKA; SUICIDE BOMBING.


Became an American colony after the Spanish-American War (1898). Independent from the United States in 1946. Archipelago between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. Slightly larger than Arizona. Form the adjective for the country with a “Ph,” but the adjective for the ethnic group with an “F.” Prolonged political instability following the toppling of the Marcos family in 1986. Continuing controversies over corruption in the administrations that succeeded Corazon Aquino, widow of the assassinated Benigno Aquino, Jr. Long-simmering Muslim separatist movement. Capital: Manila. Population: 104 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: more than one-third, Languages: Filipino (official, based on Tagalog), English (official) and regional dialects. Faith: Roman Catholic (83 percent), Muslim (5 percent) and others. Ethnic groups: Tagalog (28 percent), Cebuano (13 percent), Ilocano (9 percent) and others (2000 estimate). Literacy: 93 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See also COLONIALISM; FILIPINO/PILIPINO; “FLIP”; IMPERIALISM; ISLAM; ISLAMIST; JIHAD; MANONG/MANANG; PINOY/PINAY; TAGALOG; “WHITE MAN’S BURDEN.”

Typically follows Western name order. Spanish names common as vestige of Spanish imperialism. Use of nicknames common. Muslims may follow special naming rules. See COLONIALISM; “FLIP”; IMPERIALISM; “WHITE MAN’S BURDEN.”

Also FILIPINO, PINOY (pee-noy)/ PINAY (pee-nai).
Tagalog, meaning a Filipino man; pinay means woman. The Philippines, claimed by Spanish explorers, was named after King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598). See “FLIP”; PHILIPPINES; TAGALOG.

Historical place names with offensive racial elements (“Chinaman Bayou”) should have a brief discussion of their historical context (e.g., “named in 1849 during California Gold Rush when many Chinese workers were present”).

POLLING, exclusion of Asians:
In many local polls as well as in national surveys, Asians are routinely excluded because of their small sample size. “Over-sampling,” or seeking out Asians, raises the expense of the survey and delays its completion. However, their exclusion in a large opinion poll (e.g. all of Milwaukee) should be noted.

Caution. The easternmost region in Oceania. The region includes but isn’t limited to Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand. The Indigenous people of Polynesia are known collectively as Polynesians. Polynesians are the largest and best-known Pacific Islander community in the U.S. but the term should not be used as a substitute for Pacific Islanders. See OCEANIA; PACIFIC ISLANDER.

To help the reader, include a phonetic rendering of possibly unfamiliar words.(e.g., “Tagalog, pronounced tuh-GAW-lug, is the leading language spoken in the Philippines”).

PROVERBS, Chinese fondness for:
In China, a facility with proverbs reflects a pride in ancient Chinese culture, a way to appear superior to other Chinese, as well as a softening of unpleasant realities with pat homilies. Chinese proverbs may seem cryptic to outsiders, instructive to those in the know. Example: “The sky is high; the emperor is far away.’’ Meaning: “Far from central authority, one enjoys freedom.” A rough English approximation is: “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” See CHARLIE CHAN; CHINAMAN; INSCRUTABLE; FU MANCHU; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

RACE, biological basis of:
The human genome, (the genetic information that determines a human being) differs from the chimpanzee genome by about 3 percent. Therefore, all of the information that makes a human being distinct from other primates is contained in that fraction. The portion of that information that distinguishes the familiar human races – Asian, black, and white – will be, by any measure, tiny. Variation within races for eyes, hair, face and other characteristics find their counterparts in other races. (In other words, twins or near-twins can find their counterparts within races and in other races.) Genotype, or specific information, of human beings is virtually identical in all races. The phenotype, or how the genotype is expressed in hair, skin and eyes after interaction with the environment (including climate and the mother’s womb), can vary. But race is not immutable. Thus, there can be very tall Asians with “Caucasian” eyes and very short Africans with “Asian” eyes.

RACE, sociological construct of:
There is a growing school of thought that race is “a sociological construct,” i.e., it is what people think it is. Thus, in the American South and elsewhere, there was the “one-drop rule.” It meant that if you were 99 percent white and 1 percent black, then you were treated as black; yet, 99 percent black and 1 percent white did not mean you were treated as white.)

RACISM, scientific:
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, was discovered and understood in the mid-20th century. Before then, there was “scientific” interest in an inherited basis for white superiority, i.e., a racial basis for advantageous differences such as intelligence. In the 18th century, the botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) helped lead such interest (Linnaeus invented the taxonomic system that yielded names like “homo sapiens”). European imperialism during the 19th century helped strengthen that intellectual pursuit, which led eventually to the Nazi theories that supported the Holocaust. See ARYAN; CAUCASIAN; RACISM, history of; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

RACISM, history of:
“Racism,” or at least the word, is a recent coinage. It was invented in the 1930s to describe the anti-Semitic theories used by the Nazis to persecute Jews. The ancient Greeks and Romans enslaved any ethnic group, including other whites. George M. Fredrickson, a history professor at Stanford, wrote “Racism: A Short History” (Princeton University Press, 2003). He argued that Western racism has two main ancestors, one anti-Semitic and the other white supremacist, and that anti-Semitism came first. Modern racism, he contended, began in Spain in the 15th century, when antipathy toward Jews as nonbelievers was replaced by a hatred that “made getting rid of Jews seem preferable to trying to convert them.” Jews were once thought to only hold false beliefs but were then seen as intrinsically inferior. Similarly, when the Atlantic slave trade began, also in the 15th century, Europeans did not necessarily believe Africans to be inferior but only nonbelievers who could be cured by conversion to Christianity. With the rise of the Enlightenment and scientific racism, slavery’s defenders needed an ideology. That need gave rise to the belief in white supremacy and the bitter history of slavery in the Caribbean and the Americas. See ASIAN AMERICAN; CAUCASIAN; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

A policy or practice based on race, but not necessarily leading to persecution.

Arguably the most influential work of fiction on modern journalism. Originally called “In a Grove” and written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the story was made into the acclaimed but now little-seen movie “Rashomon” (1950). It tells the story of a crime witnessed by different people and their differing memories of the same crime.  Its application to modern journalism was quickly understood. Rashomon (Japanese for “castle gate”) is a dilapidated area in Kyoto, Japan.

SARI (also SAREE):
Often referred in the Western news media as a dress worn by Hindu women. It is also worn by many Christians in India as well as by many Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan women.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001:
Use sparingly as metaphor or analogy because it may invite stereotypes. See INTERNMENT; ISLAMIST; MOSQUE “AT” GROUND ZERO; PEARL HARBOR; SRI LANKA; SUICIDE BOMBING.

An indigenous Japanese religion that has elements of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. There is no clear-cut set of rituals or beliefs. The word Shinto means “the way of kami,” or the divine. It has a polytheistic root centered on shrines that preceded Confucianism’s arrival in Japan in the fifth century. When Buddhism was introduced in Japan in the sixth century, it influenced Shinto. (Zen Buddhism is widely practiced in Japan.) A “State Shinto” is closely identified with the emperor, but does not carry the same force of, say, Anglicanism in Britain. See also BUDDHISM; BUDDHISM, Zen; CONFUCIANISM; JAPAN; TAOISM.

Pronounced SICC-ism. Not an Arab faith, but a monotheistic religion with elements of Hinduism and Islam. Sikhs are often mistaken in the West for Arabs, who wear turbans as an article of clothing. But all Sikhs, men and women, wear turbans and related covering over their uncut hair as a religious symbol of respect for God. “Sikh” is derived from the Sanskrit for “he wishes to learn.” The word “guru,” or spiritual leader (from the Sanskrit for “venerable”), comes from Sikhism. Founded in the Punjab region in northwest India in the late 15th century, Sikhism is known among its followers as Gurmat, or “the way of the Guru.” Ten human Gurus (the last died in 1708), Sikhs believe, are embodiments of a single spirit. Things, however, may be changing when it comes to the turban. See also INDIA; ISLAM; HINDUISM; MOSQUE “AT” GROUND ZERO; SOUTH ASIAN NAMES; TURBAN.

City-state independent from Malaysia in 1965. Islands between Malaysia and Indonesia. Triple the size of Washington, D.C. Mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. Known for its authoritarian regime, urban planning, and rich culinary history. Capital: Singapore (comprises entire nation). Population: 5.4 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: about one-sixth. Languages: Chinese (official), Malay (official and national), Tamil (official), English (official). Faith: Buddhism (among Chinese), Islam (among Malays), Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Ethnic groups: Chinese (77 percent), Malay (14 percent), Indian (8 percent) and others. Literacy: 93 percent. (Source: World Factbook.)

Avoid, a racial slur. See EYE SHAPE; VIETNAMESE SLURS.

Avoid, a racial slur. See EYE SHAPE; VIETNAMESE SLURS.

Because of the British colonial legacy and large-scale immigration, there are substantial pockets of people of South Asian heritage outside of South Asia. In some cases — Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago — South Asians make up at least a third of the population. Other countries with large South Asian communities: Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.


SOUTH ASIAN NAMES (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and others):
Names currently used in South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora follow dozens of complex rules and vary by community. As a general rule, it is a good idea to ask an interview subject which name is his or her the first name and which is the surname. One Hindu may follow old caste traditions and have what he considers a first name and a last name, but his biological son may have a different name. Similarly, Sikh and Muslim names can vary by generation. Also, names and orders of names that were used in South Asia often get confused when immigrants arrive in the United States, forcing them to adopt names and spellings more “convenient” for mainstream America. Be careful about generalizing about South Asian names, not all of which are Hindu or Muslim names. There are many South Asian Christians, as well as South Asian Jews, and it may not be obvious from their names that they are South Asian. Moreover, there are some South Asians who have a one-word name.

Caution. This simple geographic term was popularized by a musical of the same name, and now is commonly incorrectly used by journalists to refer to any island in the Pacific. Prior to using this descriptor, confirm the islands in question are actually in the southern hemisphere.

Formerly Ceylon, it became independent from Britain in 1948. Island in the Indian Ocean, south of India. About the size of West Virginia. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, are ethnically Indian and believed to have invented suicide bombing in their separatist campaign. Long civil war ended in 2009. Capital: Colombo. Population: 21.5 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: about one-quarter. Languages: Sinhala (official, 75 percent), Tamil (national language, 18 percent) and others. Faith: Buddhism (69 percent), Muslim (8 percent), Hindu (7 percent), Christian (6 percent) and others. Ethnic groups; Sinhalese (74 percent), Sri Lankan Moors (7 percent), Indian Tamil (5 percent) and others. Literacy: 91 percent. (Source: World Factbook.) See JIHAD; PEARL HARBOR; SUICIDE BOMBING.

The word comes from the ancient Greek for “fixed impression.” Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), an American journalist, popularized the word, a printing-press term, as a metaphor for “a picture in our heads” that could be true or, more often, false. Examples of stereotypes include “geisha,” “delivery boy,” “manicurist” and “samurai” (all used metaphorically).

SUICIDE BOMBING, invention of:
Use of explosives carried to a target on the body of the attacker or in a vehicle operated by him or her. Especially fearsome attack because the attacker cannot be bargained with since he or she is determined to die. Similar to the Japanese kamikaze attacks of World War II. Thought to have been invented in the early 1980s by the Tamil Tiger separatists in Sri Lanka. See JIHAD; PEARL HARBOR; SRI LANKA; SEPTEMBER 11, 2001.

TAGALOG (tah-GAH-log):
The official language of the Philippines, but also one of scores of local and regional dialects.

One of the bloodiest conflicts in world history. A continuing theme in modern Chinese history is the central government’s fear of separatist movements leading to catastrophic violence. Perhaps 20 million or more Chinese died in a long civil war, contemporaneous with the American Civil War, in which fewer than 1 million Americans were killed. It was led by a Chinese national who thought he was Jesus’ younger brother.  See also CHINA; TAIWAN; TIANANMEN SQUARE; TIBET; UIGHUR.

Caution on description. Island off the southeastern    coast of China. Slightly smaller than Maryland and Delaware combined. Officially a province of China, but this fact is disputed by Taiwanese government. Continuing tension with China and the rest of the world on how to describe its status (it does not have a permanent representative to the United Nations, for example). Chinese invasion, a theoretical possibility, recedes with time and U.S. protection. Dynamic economy and thriving community in the United States. Useful to specify Taiwanese or Taiwanese American, as opposed to Chinese or Chinese American. After 1949 Communist victory in China, 2 million Nationalists fled to Taiwan, partially displacing native Taiwanese and creating Republic of China. Many present-day residents of Taiwan are from rural Fujian province across the strait from Taiwan. There have also been at least three native-born generations since 1949. Capital: Taipei. Population: 23.1 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: 16 percent. Languages: Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese (Min), Hakka dialects. Faith: Mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism (93 percent), Christianity (5 percent) and others. Ethnic groups: “Native” Taiwanese (including Hakka) 85 percent (note: most native Taiwanese Chinese, descended, as noted above, of migrants from Fujian), “mainland” Chinese (14 percent) and others. Literacy: 96 percent. (Source: World Factbook.)

Pronounced “dow,” Chinese for “the way.” It is a philosophy and guide to life that, much like Confucianism, has shaped China for more than two millennia. Also implies skill, harmony and the true nature of reality, as in “The Tao of Archery.” In many ways, more metaphysical than Confucianism but, like it, involving no organized worship of a deity. Attributed to Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Confucius, in the sixth century. His “Tao-te Ching,” or “The Book of the Way,” is a central text. See also CONFUCIANISM; MARTIAL ARTS; SHINTOISM.


Known as Siam until 1939, it was the setting of the 1951 musical “The King and I.” A 2000 film remake of the original 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam” was banned out of respect for the royal family. Thailand is one of the few countries in the region never to have been colonized by a European power. The first Thais believed to have come to the United States were Chang and Eng Bunker, born joined at the hip and with fused livers. A circus attraction, they were known as “The Siamese Twins.” Immigration to the United States was sparse until the 1970s and the end of the Indochinese wars. Thailand was an ally of the United States and South Vietnam. A thriving sex industry, a residue of the Vietnam War, remains an international controversy. Continuing political instability in Thailand followed a military coup in 2006. A “red shirt” faction formed, made up of supporters of the ousted prime minister. A “yellow shirt” faction, a loose grouping of the urban middle class and others, formed in opposition. Clashes between the two led to riots and the paralyzing of Bangkok’s airports. The former prime minister’s sister was elected prime minister in 2011. Her young administration was immediately tested by catastrophic regional flooding. Twice the size of Wyoming. Capital: Bangkok. Languages: Thai, English and regional dialects. Faith: Buddhist (95 percent), Muslim (5 percent) and others (2000 estimate). Population: 67 million (2012 estimate). Proportion of population younger than 15: one-fifth. Ethnic groups: Thai (75 percent), Chinese (14 percent) and others. Literacy: 93 percent. (Source: World Factbook.)

Virtually unknown cuisine in the United States until the latter half of the 20th century. A distinct cuisine from those of China and Japan. (The Thai typically use forks and spoons, rather than chopsticks. King Rama IV, the model for the monarch in the Broadway musical “The King and I,” promoted Westernization.) Unlike Chinese restaurants, Thai restaurants are not so numerous as to emphasize regional cuisines. The typically spicy cuisine is sometimes tamped down to accommodate non-Asian palates, but Thai can equal or exceed Hunanese in spice. Best known is “pad thai,” stir-fried rice noodles, egg, bean sprouts, shrimp and peanuts.

Typically personal name first, family name second, with long multi-syllable names, especially if Chinese. On second reference, personal name is sometimes used.

A vestige of the Cold War and used to describe that portion of the globe that was non-aligned with either the West or Communist powers. Once in vogue, especially by such Marxist scholars of colonialism as Frantz Fanon, most experts today use “developing countries,” or “emerging world,” or a similar formulation. Coinage variously attributed, but principally to either Albert Sauvy, the French demographer and sociologist, or Charles de Gaulle, the French statesman. They both used “tiers monde,” or third world. See COLONIALISM; IMPERIALISM; INDIA.

The vast public square at the center of Beijing, capital of China. In 1989, as many as a million protesters, led by students, demonstrated in favor of democracy, prompting a lethal crackdown by the Communist government on June 4. Number of deaths still unknown, but totaling at least in the hundreds. The crackdown is a central event in modern Chinese history. See CHINA; TAIPENG REBELLION; TIBET; UIGHUR.

A mysterious culture and important branch of Buddhism dating back more than 2,000 years. Long known as the “Roof of the World” because it is home to the Himalayan mountain range and Mount Everest. Since 1965 an autonomous region of China. The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the head of the “Yellow Hat” order of Tibetan Buddhists. In 1959, he fled China on foot and horseback into India after a Chinese crackdown of a Tibetan uprising. Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes reincarnation. The Dalai Lama (a combination of the words “ocean” and “teacher”) is the 14th of his line. He is regarded as the earthly embodiment of the compassionate “bodhisattva,” or “buddha-to-be.” The Chinese central government views the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile with contempt. In 2012, state-run media sought to equate the Dalai Lama, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, with the Nazis. Tibetan exiles have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese rule. In his 70s in 2012, the Dalai Lama, has gradually devolved power, yielding secular authority to a prime-minister-in exile and starting the years-long search for a successor as spiritual head.

A head covering in desert or other hot climates that does not necessarily have ethnic or religious significance and is not solely Arab. See SIKHISM.

Pronounced wee-GORE. A small ethnic group in China that speaks languages of the Turkic family (which includes Kazakh, Turkish and Uzbek). They generally practice Sunni Islam. They are newsworthy because of increasingly violent clashes with China’s central government. China is perhaps the most homogeneous nation on Earth, with more than 92 percent of the population from one ethnic group (the Han). On paper, the separatist Uighurs should not affect China as a whole, but a defining theme of Chinese history is the government’s fear of political instability. See CHINA; TAIPENG REBELLION; TIANANMEN SQUARE; TIBET.

Dalit (capitalized) is a more respectful and current term for castes once called “untouchables.” M.K. Gandhi coined the term Harijan (“children of God”) to refer to these castes. See CASTE SYSTEM; GANDHI; HINDUISM; INDIA.

A part of Imperial China until the 10th century, Vietnam was colonized by the French in the mid-19th century. A war against the French led by Ho Chi Minh resulted in their expulsion in 1954, but not Vietnam’s independence. A simmering civil war between the Communist North, led by Ho, and the Western-leaning South drew in the United States in 1959. The shadow war expanded into war in 1965. After nearly 60,000 American dead, more than 300,000 South Vietnamese dead, and more than 1 million North Vietnamese dead (with uncounted millions of civilian deaths), the United States withdrew in 1975. The Communist North united the two halves. A significant migration of Vietnamese refugees began in the late 1970s and lasted into the mid-1980s. Tensions persisted between the former enemies and normal diplomatic relations were not reestablished until 1995. About the size of New Mexico. Capital: Hanoi (South Vietnam’s capital, Saigon, is now called Ho Chi Minh City). Languages: Vietnamese, English, French. Faith: None (81 percent), Buddhist (9 percent), Roman Catholic (7 percent) and others (1999 estimate). Population: 92 million. Proportion of population younger than 15: one-quarter. Ethnic groups: Viet (86 percent), Tay (2 percent), Thai (2 percent), Hmong (less than 2 percent) and others (2009 estimate). (Source: World Factbook.) See also INDOCHINA; THAILAND; VIETNAMESE SLURS.

Virtually unknown in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, Vietnamese restaurants grew in number with the end of the Indochinese wars in the 1970s. Similar to but distinct from Thai cuisine (they both use lemongrass, a tropical grass that yields an aromatic oil). Cuisine favors fresh ingredients and minimal use of oil. Vietnamese spring rolls aren’t fried, for example but are folded in rice wrappers. Like Indian cuisine, Vietnamese cooking has a long vegetarian tradition.

Typically family name first, personal name last. On second reference, personal name is sometimes used. But in the United States, Western word order common.

A legacy of the Vietnam War (1959-1975). See GOOK; SLANT: SLOPE.

Officially known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, it allowed Asians to apply for citizenship but set immigration quotas from each Asian country at only 100 annually. Liberalization of this law, in 1965, allowed the first large-scale migration of Asians into the United States in the 20th Century. See also ASIAN EXCLUSION ACTS; CHARLIE CHAN; ETHNICITY, mention of; EXOTIC; FU MANCHU; IMMIGRANT; ILLEGAL ALIEN; ILLEGALS; YELLOW PERIL; YELLOW SKIN.

An 1899 poem written by Rudyard Kipling about the American role in the Philippines, which became an American colony following the Spanish-American War (1898). The poem begins: “Take up the White Man’s burden– / Send forth the best ye breed– / Go bind your sons to exile / To serve your captives’ need; / To wait in heavy harness, / On fluttered folk and wild– / Your new-caught, sullen peoples, / Half-devil and half-child.”
See ASIA, use and abuse of images of; ASIA, perception of; COLONIALISM; IMPERIALISM; STEREOTYPES.

Archaic, possibly anti-Semitic rather than anti-Asian. Refers to the “Yellow Kid,” a young boy from a cartoon strip popular in New York tabloids of the 1890s and, thus, synonymous with tabloid sensationalism. The boy wore a yellow nightshirt. He was Eastern European, possibly Jewish, and was bald because his hair had been shorn because of lice, a common sight in Lower East Side tenements.

Avoid, a slur. An imagined invasion of the United States at the beginning of the 20th century by Asian “hordes,” specifically Japanese, who had become successful entrepreneurs in California agriculture. Led to racialist pulp fiction. See also CHARLIE CHAN; CHINA DOLL; DRAGON LADY; EXOTIC; FOREIGN-NESS; FU MANCHU; YELLOW SKIN.

YELLOW SKIN, Asian-ness of:
A persistent vestige of the age of scientific racism. Yellow skin is a sign of jaundice, a symptom of various diseases, including hepatitis. Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), the paleontologist, traced the terminology to Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), who coined “Caucasian.” Blumenbach, a German naturalist, derived his terminology from Carl Linnaeus (the 18th-century Swedish botanist who developed such classifications as “homo sapiens”) and the medieval theory of physiology that human temperament arises from the presence of various fluids, or “humors.” (“Sense of humor” comes from this theory.) Linnaeus said the black, or relaxed, humor dominated in Africa and the white, or muscular, humor in Europe. Linnaeus wrote that the “luridus, melancholicus, rigidus” (pale yellow, melancholy, stiff) humor predominated in Asia. See also CHARLIE CHAN; CAUCASIAN; FU MANCHU; RACISM, history of; RACISM, scientific; YELLOW PERIL.

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