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Panethnicity is a political neologism used to group various ethnic groups together based on their related cultural origins; geographic, linguistic, religious, or 'racial' similarities are often used alone or in combination to draw panethnic boundaries. The term panethnic was used extensively during mid-twentieth century anti-colonial/national liberation movements. In the United States, Yen Espiritu popularized the term and coined the nominal term panethnicity in reference to Asian Americans, a racial category composed of disparate peoples having in common only their origin in the continent of Asia.[1]

It has since seen some use as a replacement of the term race; for example, the aforementioned Asian Americans can be described as "a panethnicity" of various unrelated peoples of Asia, which are nevertheless perceived as a distinguishable group within the larger multiracial North American society.

More recently[year needed] the term has also come to be used in contexts outside multiculturalism in US society, as a general replacement for terms like ethnolinguistic group or racial group.[clarification needed]

The concept is to be distinguished from "pan-nationalism", which similarly groups related ethnicities but in the context of either ethnic nationalism (e.g. Pan-Arabism, Pan-Celticism, Pan-Germanism, Pan-Iranism, Pan-Slavism, Pan-Turkism), or civic nationalism (e.g. Pan-Africanism).

United States[edit]

Panethnicity has allowed Asian Americans to unite based on similar historical relations with the US (such as - in some cases - US military presence in their native countries). The Asian American panethnic identity has evolved to become a means for immigrant groups such as Asian Americans to unite in order to gain political strength in numbers. Similarly, one can speak of a "panethnic white category".[2] The term "American" has become one of the more widespread panethnic concepts.[3]

Panethnic labels are often, though not always, created and employed by outsiders of the group that is being defined panethnically. Mainstream institutions and political policies often[quantify] play a big role in the labeling of panethnic groups. They often[quantify] enact policies that deal with specific groups of people, and panethnic groups are one way to group large numbers of people. Public policy might dole out resources or make deals with multiple groups, viewing them all as one large entity.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities; reference for Espiritu as originator of the term: Asian Pacific American Law Journal vol. 2 (1994), p. 43 "I use the term "pan-racialization" as the general equivalent of Professor Espiritu's term 'pan-ethnicity.' Espiritu uses Asian American 'pan-ethnicity' to describe an over-arching Asian American ethnic identity constructed in the 1960s"
  2. ^ For example: Emigh, Rebecca Jean; Riley, Dylan; Ahmed, Patricia (2016). Changes in Censuses from Imperialist to Welfare States: How Societies and States Count. Springer. ISBN 9781137485069. Retrieved 5 December 2020. The panethnic white category offered an escape valve for groups with low status in the American racial hierarchy, such as the Irish, the Jews, and the Italians. The ethnic boundaries separating the new immigrants from the old were much more permeable than the one distinguishing white from black.
  3. ^ Jay, Gregory S. (1997). American Literature and the Culture Wars. Ithaca: Cornell University Press (published 2018). p. 27. ISBN 9781501731273. Retrieved 5 December 2020. 'American,' after all, originated as a panethnic term to unite Northern European whites who had moved to the United States. The endorsement of the panethnic strategy lay behind the acceptance of the notion of the 'melting pot.' [...] 'American' is such a successful panethnic construction that its members have naturalized its contours and ceased to se it as a historical configuration that has changed in the past and will change in the future.
  4. ^ "Institutional Panethnicity: Boundary Formation in Asian-American Organizing", Dina G. Okamoto[citation needed]