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How Californians Self-Identify When Asked About Their Ethnic Roots

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Our discussions of race and ethnic identity usually paint ourselves and others in broad strokes: Black. White. Latino. Pacific Islander. Asian. A new dataset released today aims to deepen the conversation on race by taking a look at "our incredibly varied 'roots.'"

The Roots Beyond Race project -- created by our friends at APM Research Lab -- defines 198 distinct heritage groups pulled from U.S. Census Bureau data. Because the census data is self-reported, it illustrates how Americans across all 50 states see themselves.


We're looking for your help as you explore this data. What stands out to you? Do you have any questions? Ask below>> We'll use your observations and questions as we dive deeper into race and heritage in L.A. and Southern California in another story coming soon.

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Let's start with a quick look at California.

5da64467c92b3500089d1fd6-eight.jpg
Revelers parade on horseback with American and Mexican flags during 2018 celebration of Mexican Independence Day in East L.A. When asked about ancestry, more Californians cite Mexico than any other country. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

HOW DO CALIFORNIANS SELF-IDENTIFY?

It's no secret that L.A. is a diverse, multi-ethnic melting pot of races and cultures. But how does the state as a whole stack up? According to the data, California leads the nation in the largest number of residents for many heritage groups, including:

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  • Mexican (13.1 million)
  • Irish (2.5 million)
  • Chinese (1.9 million)
  • Japanese (497,000)
  • Armenian (268,000)
  • Taiwanese (177,000)
  • Thai (77,000)
  • Afghan (57,000)
  • Mexican Indian (48,000)
  • Yugoslavian (21,000)
  • Sri Lankan (13,000)
  • Latvian (10,000)
  • Hong Kong (7,000)

CLICK HERE TO EXPLORE THE INTERACTIVE BELOW.

5da63911c92b3500089d1fca-eight.jpg
APM Research Lab analysis of the IPUMS version of the U.S. Census Bureau's 2017 American Community Survey. Notes: The Asian/Pac. Islander, Black, Indigenous, Latino, and White race/ethnicity groups include both single race and multiracial people. The White, non-Hispanic group includes only people who identify as White race alone and non-Hispanic. *NOS refers to Not Otherwise Specified. *NOS groups do NOT include the sum of other more specific origin countries. Zero values mean the estimate was fewer than 2,000 people and the data were unreliable. (APM Research Lab)

SO HOW DOES CALIFORNIA COMPARE TO THE REST OF THE NATION?

CLICK HERE TO EXPLORE THE INTERACTIVE BELOW.

5da63944c92b3500089d1fcf-eight.jpg
APM Research Lab analysis of the IPUMS version of the U.S. Census Bureau's 2017 American Community Survey. Notes: The Asian/Pac. Islander, Black, Indigenous, Latino, and White race/ethnicity groups include both single race and multiracial people. The White, non-Hispanic group includes only people who identify as White race alone and non-Hispanic. *NOS refers to Not Otherwise Specified. *NOS groups do NOT include the sum of other more specific origin countries. Zero values mean the estimate was fewer than 2,000 people and the data were unreliable. (APM Research Lab)
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More Americans (of any race) claim German heritage -- 43.5 million -- than any other group. This is followed by 37.9 million Americans who trace their ancestry to Mexico.

When you start to look at how specific racial/ethnic groups trace their family history, the data is even more diverse. The following are the most common heritage groups among the racial/ethnic groups studied:

ASIAN/PACIFIC ISLANDER*

  1. Chinese
  2. Asian Indian
  3. Filipino
  4. Vietnamese
  5. Korean

BLACK*

  1. African American
  2. Mexican
  3. European (not otherwise specified)
  4. Jamaican
  5. Haitian

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE*

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  1. Mexican
  2. Irish
  3. German

LATINO*

  1. Mexican
  2. Puerto Rican
  3. Spanish
  4. Salvadoran
  5. Cuban

WHITE*

  1. German
  2. Irish
  3. Mexican
  4. English
  5. Italian

*including multiracial people
NOTE: For single-race indigenous people, the top tribal affiliations are Navajo, Cherokee, and Chippewa/Ojibwe.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You might notice above that the top heritage group for blacks is African American. This is to compensate for the fact that many black Americans can't trace their family's ancestry to a country of origin because they were forced from their homelands as slaves. Consequently, the researchers constructed a heritage group for African American that included any responses of African American, African or Afro-American and American for their first or second ancestries. It also includes anyone who identified as Black (alone or in combination with other races) and also listed American for their first or second ancestries.