Executive Summary

Orange County—the third-most populous county in California and the sixth-most populous in the United States—exemplifies the major demographic shifts sweeping the nation. These shifts have transformed this predominantly homogenous, White, and suburban county into one that is highly diverse and urbanizing, where Asian Americans & Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AA&NHPI) now comprise 21% of the county’s 3 million residents. With nearly 600,000 Asian Americans and over 19,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI), Orange County is home to the nation’s third- largest AA&NHPI population.

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Chapter 1


The diversity of Orange County, California, has made it a major destination that attracts new residents and tourists alike. It is now home to the third-largest Asian American & Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA&NHPI) population in the nation, which has changed the county’s cultural, economic, religious, political, and social landscape. Of the almost 3.1 million people living in Orange County, over 600,000 individuals identify as Asian American and over 19,000 individuals identify as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander.

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Chapter 2

Building Sustainable Communities

Orange County continues to be a place that attracts Asian Americans & Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AA&NHPI) because of its Pacific Rim location, temperate climate, quality of public education, employment opportunities, and well-established ethnic communities. As they settled in different cities in Orange County, AA&NHPI also established businesses and institutions that not only serve ethnic community members but also bring new residents to these areas. These amenities continue to attract AA&NHPI, including an increasing number of Asians from other countries, to Orange County. Despite these residential shifts that suggest the county is becoming a more multicultural and diverse area, AA&NHPI still face persistent discrimination and segregation.

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Chapter 3

Economic Development and Disparities

The growing Asian American & Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA&NHPI) population has been important to the economic growth of Orange County. In addition to bringing a diverse workforce of high- and low-skilled workers, the number of both large and small Asian-owned businesses has increased dramatically, especially with the creation of ethnic commercial centers. While some of these businesses cater to ethnic clients and customers, many have grown to serve the broader Orange County community. The increase in the number of businesses and developments established by overseas Asian entrepreneurs is also noticeable. These businesses bring new jobs, increase tax revenue, and attract new investments into the area, and they have helped to stimulate the local economy during economic downturns or recessions. However, there are still issues of poverty and unemployment among different AA&NHPI groups.

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Chapter 4

K-12 and Higher Education

Asian American & Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA&NHPI) students, parents, and educators have contributed to improving the Orange County public education system and increasing opportunities for immigrant and refugee families. Over 94% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and 90% of Asian Americans are enrolled in K–12 public schools; thus, addressing AA&NHPI educational needs should focus on these institutions. While much attention has been given to the high academic achievement of many Asian Americans and the framing of them as “model minorities” who are inherently smart, hardworking, and college bound, this misrepresents the diversity of educational experiences of the group. Like other students, AA&NHPI educational attainment depends on their parents’ level of education, socioeconomic background, and type of school they attend; however, being immigrants, being English language learners, or facing racial discrimination or bullying adds another layer of obstacles.

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Chapter 5

Health Care Services

Culturally appropriate and linguistically competent education and services are of critical importance in addressing Asian American & Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA&NHPI) health disparities in each community. In Orange County, there are a number of AA&NHPI organizations and health care professionals that deliver linguistically and culturally competent services and education to AA&NHPI communities, particularly to low-income immigrants and refugees who are monolingual and limited English proficient, and even to non-AA&NHPI. While AA&NHPI contribute significantly to the county’s health care services system, there are also continuing health service delivery needs as well as access to medical coverage that impact AA&NHPI. Providing timely and appropriate physical, behavioral, and mental health services to AA&NHPI ethnic groups is especially difficult as there are barriers both within the community and in the system.

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Chapter 6

Political Participation and Civic Engagement

Historically, Asian Americans & Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AA&NHPI) have faced many barriers that have discouraged, and even prevented, them from political participation and civic engagement. Asian immigrants were barred from citizenship for many decades until World War II and afterwards, so they could not vote or run for office. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders faced a history of colonialism that denied them the right to democratic participation. This historical legacy shapes AA&NHPI political participation; however, in the past few decades, given their population growth and increasing resources, AA&NHPI are emerging as an influential force in the civic and political life of the county.

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Chapter 7

Civil Rights Advocacy

Asian Americans & Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AA&NHPI) have enhanced the diversity of Orange County and helped to make it a culturally vibrant hub. In addition to their cultural and economic contributions, AA&NHPI in the county have also made visible issues of civil rights, racism, and other social inequities. As the county’s fastest-growing population, AA&NHPI voices on these issues are especially critical in a place like Orange County, which has a history of politics that has been hostile toward immigrants. The recent anti-immigrant rhetoric that was at the forefront of the 2016 presidential election indicates this issue will continue to be a major challenge for AA&NHPI communities.

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