Data Disaggregation: Explained

As the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has increased, so have demands for disaggregating data on AAPIs.

But what does that mean?

Aggregated AAPI data analyzes all AAPIs as a single collective entity. Sometimes Pacific Islanders are aggregated with Native Americans instead, but the issue remains: AAPIs cannot be analyzed as a collective group because we are a community of people from vastly different backgrounds. My own experiences as a middle-class mixed-Chinese American with college educated parents cannot be conflated as being similar to the experiences of Pacific Islanders or those of refugee communities from Southeast Asia.

Disaggregating the data, that is, breaking it down into smaller chunks based on ethnic differences, allows us to see the individual needs of different communities. Many states have passed legislation requiring the collection of disaggregated data and the Federal Department of Education has established an Asian American and Pacific Islander Data Disaggregation Initiative.

But some Asian Americans are against data disaggregation. What’s the deal with that? 

I’ve seen most of this coming from my own Chinese American community. Chinese Americans are among the wealthier, and more educated AAPIs, and due to our large population size, we often overshadow the problems of other AAPI communities. But this aggregation also serves to shroud our wealth. Many Chinese Americans protest disaggregation bills because they think that data will be used to make it harder for them to access “elite” institutions of higher education.

And it’s no surprise that they think this. Studies have shown that Asian Americans have to score higher than White students on standardized tests to be admitted into colleges and universities, which is why there is a divisive split in the AAPI community around affirmative action (See ECAASU’s stance here). Additionally, a study has shown that White Americans tend to favor admissions that disadvantage PoC. For many Asian American students, race has been made into a limiter, rather than something that expands on their complex experience.

But let’s be real. Compared to other AAPIs, Chinese Americans do not need more help achieving higher education. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth found a great disparity between different Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities and access to higher education. This disaggregated data shows that Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders face far more barriers in accessing higher education.

Obviously, there is great diversity within the Chinese American community. There are Chinese Americans that are undocumented, that face financial barriers, and that have disabilities. But we cannot throw the rest of our AAPI community under the bus for the sake of self-preservation. We can challenge how we are affected by our racial identities in admissions without pretending that our racial identities don’t affect our lived experiences. Southeast Asians need this data. Pacific Islanders need this data. And we must fight with them for it instead of standing in their way.

For further reading, check out some of the work done by SEARAC, The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center:
Moving Beyond the ‘Asian’ Checkbox
Data Disaggregation Fact Sheet
Opportunities and Challenges


This post expresses only the opinions of the author. To learn about ECAASU’s stance on Data Disaggregation, please read our official statement here.