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The state’s Asian-American population is shifting to some wealthier suburbs, report says

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu poses for a portrait with dancers from Kwong Kow Chinese School in Boston Chinatown at the City of Boston's Asian American, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

For years, Quincy has been home to the state’s largest Asian-American community outside Boston. Now it’s getting some competition from towns such as Lexington, where Asian Americans account for a third of the population, according to the most recent US Census data.

Overall, the number of Asian-American residents in Massachusetts grew from 347,495 to 504,900 since 2010, according to the 2020 census.

And while Quincy’s Asian population is still much larger than Lexington’s — 31,282 compared to 11,416 — the data point to a shift in where the state’s wealthy AAPI residents are choosing to settle.

Drawn in part to good schools, more Asian Americans are moving to affluent suburbs like Lexington and Acton, according to Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, who co-led a recent report based on the census data.


Lexington has experienced one of the biggest surges, with an 83 percent increase in its Asian-American population over the past decade. Watanabe attributes the rise to an influx of Asian Americans who are highly skilled professionals and can afford to move to wealthier suburbs.

“It’s the high-end population of Asian Americans that are moving into these particular areas,” Watanabe said.

Asian Americans also continue to settle in less affluent suburbs in large numbers. In Quincy, Asian Americans make up 30.8 percent of the population (31,282 residents in the most recent census), while they represent 25.9 percent of the population in Malden.

Asian Americans in Lowell – home to one of the country’s largest Cambodian communities – account for 22.3 percent of the population, according to the census. Although Lowell had the state’s third-largest Asian-American population by percentage a decade ago, it is now behind Malden, Westborough, Acton, and Shrewsbury.

Like Quincy, Malden has attracted Asian immigrants and lower-income families because the community has accessible transportation, ethnic supermarkets, and a robust immigrant learning center, said Watanabe.


But with housing costs increasing in Malden and Quincy, Asian Americans on fixed income are likely to move further from Boston, said Shauna Lo, assistant director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston.

“We’ll have to see how long those communities remain affordable for people with limited income,” Lo said.

Braintree boasts the state’s fastest-growing Asian-American community, with its population soaring by 149.9 percent since 2010, according to the census.

Meanwhile, the number of Asian-owned businesses in Massachusetts increased by 70.3 percent since 2007, according to the Boston Foundation.

The growth and influence of Asian Americans is impacting education, as well. In Lexington Public Schools, for example, Asian Americans make up 44.7 percent of the student population. The school system is working on a K-12 integrated diversity, equity, and inclusion curriculum to acknowledge the histories, stories, and contributions of all groups, said Eileen Jay, a Lexington School Committee member.

“Learning how to be open to diverse perspectives is what’s going to help students become more compassionate and more understanding of different points of view,” Jay said.

Lexington’s DEI curriculum is an example of efforts happening nationwide to promote racially inclusive curricula in schools. Advocacy groups like Make Us Visible and Coalition for Anti-Racism, Equity & Justice in Education are pushing to pass bills requiring the K-12 curriculum to include the histories, writings, and contributions of racial and ethnic groups that have been historically underrepresented or marginalized.


Advocates who are pushing to mandate AAPI history to be taught in K-12 schools say it’s in response to hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic; 49 percent of AAPI respondents nationwide say they have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment that may be illegal, according to a report from Stop AAPI Hate.

The Lexington School District’s mission is to make American history more complete and have its curriculum reflect its student population across all demographics, said Mona Roy, co-chair of the Indian Americans of Lexington education committee.

“We’re taking control of our narrative, and along the way, we’re making sure that we don’t leave others behind,” Roy said. “This is the time for the AAPI community to really move America forward.”

Hannah Nguyen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @hannahcnguyen.