Pacific Islanders

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PACIFIC ISLANDERS do not form one distinctive ethnic group, but come from across Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. Pacific Islanders come from the islands of Hawaii, the U.S. insular territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the Freely Associated States of Micronesia and the tiny nations of the Marshall Islands and Palau. Other places of origin outside of U.S. affiliation include Fiji, Tahiti, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga.

In the 2000 census, 874,000 people, or 0.3 percent of the U.S. population, identified themselves as Pacific Islanders, either exclusively or in combination with other groups. Of this total, native Hawaiians, Samoans, and Guamanians-Chamorros accounted for 74 percent of the respondents. The majority of Pacific Islanders were born in Hawaii. Honolulu, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix were the largest population centers, with groups of Pacific Islanders also found in Utah, Texas, and Washington.

Pacific Islanders had the highest proportion of people reporting more than one race. Ethnic identification may be situational; for example, a person might be a Samoan living in Hawaii, but may also have Tongan, Maori, and European ancestors, and yet ultimately be identified as Hawaiian when on the mainland. In this sense, Pacific Islander is an inclusive designation, and mixed ancestry is as definitive as pure ancestry. The Pacific Islander has a larger household than average, which often includes extended family members. Language and culture, closely linked to family and tradition, are the keystones to retaining Pacific Islander identity when living in the United States.

Migration of Pacific Islanders has occurred in response to shrinking economic opportunities in their homelands or to the changing status of the island nations and their relationship to the United States. Although only 16 percent of those who identify themselves as Pacific Islanders were actually born on the islands, they continue to maintain close economic and political ties to their homeland communities.

The first of the islands to come under U.S. authority was American Samoa, in 1872. It remained under the authority of the U.S. Navy until 1951, when it was transferred into the administration of the U.S. Department of the Interior. After World War II (1939–1945) the United Nations granted the United States trusteeships of the small island nations of Micronesia, known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. These trusteeships began to be dissolved in the 1970s, a process that was concluded in 1994. The fluidity of the compacts with the United States allowed large numbers of Pacific Islanders to migrate to Guam and Hawaii, where they had a significant impact on the local economies.

Hawaii was annexed in 1898 and became a state in 1959. In the 1990s a movement for Hawaiian sovereignty grew, which had popular support among native Hawaiians, but has not succeeded in legal challenges to the status of the islands. The sovereignty movement brought to attention the means by which Hawaii had been acquired, and in 1993, President William Jefferson Clinton signed a congressional resolution apologizing for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii one hundred years earlier. Similar movements have appeared in Guam, but remain outside the mainstream.


Spickhard Paul R., and Rowena Fong. "Pacific Islander Americans and Multiethnicity: A Vision of America's Future?" Social Forces 73 (1995): 1365–1383.

Statistics Site. Office of Insular Affairs. Home page at

White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Home page at


See alsoGuam ; Hawaii ; Marshall Islands ; Samoa, American .

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Pacific Islanders

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Pacific Islanders