The Volokh Conspiracy

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How Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders Became a Separate Classification from "Asian Americans"

Native Hawaiians had found that being lumped in with Asian Americans hurt their chances of admission to West Coast colleges.


When the Office of Management and Budget first created in the 1970s the racial and ethnic classifications that are used across the government and became standard throughout American society, Native Hawaiians were included in the "Asian and Pacific Islanders" classification.

As sociologist Michael Omi explained 2001 article, this wound up not sitting well with Native Hawaiians:

Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) initiated a discussion and subsequent lobbying effort to move Native Hawaiians out of the Asian/Pacific Islander category beginning in the early 1990s. Senator Akaka's office had been receiving phone calls from students and alumni of Kamehameha High School complaining of the difficulty of convincing mainland colleges and universities to consider Native Hawaiian admissions and scholarship decisions separately from those of Asian Americans.

Senator Akaka proceeded to do the logical thing, which is to propose that OMB "create a new indigenous category of 'Native American,' that would group Native Hawaiians together with American Indians and Alaskan Natives." OMB did not like this suggestion, "fearing that the move would open up the contentious and unresolved issue of Native Hawaiian sovereignty." And while Omi does not say so, I have read elsewhere that Native American groups also opposed such a change, not wanting Native Hawaiians to become eligible for various programs geared to American Indians.

OMB's Sally Katzen therefore proposed a compromise: "Why not put Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders together into a separate category? The proposal became official on October 30, 1997, when the Asian or Pacific Islander category was disaggregated into two categories.

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