PROVIDENCE — The number of Rhode Islanders identifying as Asian American grew by nearly 28 percent over the past decade, new census data show.
Asian Americans now account for 3.6 percent of the total Rhode Island population, up from 2.9 percent in 2010.
That makes those of Asian descent one of the fastest growing racial or ethnic groups in Rhode Island, noted Allan W. Fung, the former Cranston mayor who has been Rhode Island’s most prominent Asian-American official.
“There has been a big diversification through the Northeast,” said Fung, a Republican who ran for governor in 2014 and 2018. “And in particular in Rhode Island, it’s nice to see that growth in the Asian community.”
Meanwhile, Rhode Island’s Latino or Hispanic population increased by nearly 40 percent since 2010, census data show, while the Black or African American population grew by 3.3 percent in that time period.
Fung noted the increase in Rhode Island’s Asian American population dovetails with the national trend that saw the overall US Asian population grow by 35.5 percent over the past decade. And he said it reflects a migration of Asian Americans into areas beyond New York and into New England states – most notably Massachusetts but also Rhode Island and Connecticut.
At 3.6 percent, Rhode Island’s Asian American population remains smaller than the state’s Latino/Hispanic population (16.6 percent) and its Black/African American population (5.7 percent). And Fung said he is concerned the local Asian community is too often overlooked.
“Basically, we need a seat at the table as part of the conversation about needs in the community,” he said. “The Asian community tends to be an afterthought when talking about diversity and minority populations.”
Fung, an attorney who is considered a possible state treasurer candidate in 2022, noted that he has been one of only a handful of Asian Americans elected to office in Rhode Island in recent years.
“Hopefully, with continued growth trends, we can see more political activism and more people getting elected into office,” he said.
John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said Asian Americans make up substantial portions of some Boston suburbs, for example. But in Rhode Island, the Asian American population is not large enough or sufficiently concentrated to build electoral districts in the way that can be done with Latino or Black populations, he said. “So Asian American politicians have to get elected as part of coalition politics,” he said.
While the overall Asian American population is growing, Marion said there is a desire to disaggregate that data to show different subgroups. For example, parts of Rhode Island contain populations of Laotian and Cambodian residents, he said.
In Rhode Island, the biggest Asian American population is in Providence County (4.3 percent), and the smallest is in Newport County (1.8 percent), while the biggest growth in the Asian American population has taken place in Bristol County (up to 2.5 percent).
Nationally, Hawaii has the largest Asian American population (37.2 percent), while Montana and West Virginia have the smallest (0.8 percent).