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Asians in the U.S. are the fastest growing racial group. What’s behind the rise.

The Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities continue to grow steadily, the 2020 census data showed. 

The data, released Thursday, revealed almost 20 million people identified as “Asian,” and another 4 million checked boxes as “Asian” combined with another race group, for a total of 7.2 percent of the population. Another 0.5 percent of the population identifies as “Native Hawaiian” and “Other Pacific Islander” alone or in combination with another race group.

The results make the Asian population the fastest growing racial group in the United States at 35.5 percent.

Aggressive outreach in addition to the shifting demographics helped impact the group’s participation in the census, as well as overall population growth, Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder of AAPI Data, a policy and research nonprofit group, told NBC Asian America. 

The communities confront multiple barriers to census participation including distrust in the census, as well as a lack of outreach, experts say. 

The U.S. Census Bureau released findings in 2019 that revealed Asian Americans were the least likely of any racial group to report that they intended to complete the form. Ramakrishnan noted that one contributing factor to the reluctance was the addition of a citizenship question that was floated under the Trump administration. 

The discussions led to many concerns over the possibility that participants could jeopardize their or their family members’ immigration status. It also created an environment of suspicion due to the oftentimes controversial way such data was utilized in their own home countries, experts said. 

“It’s what it means to be an immigrant or refugee and the United States … it was really challenging to get communities to trust the federal government,” Ramakrishnan said. 

Since then, grassroots and community organizations put forth aggressive efforts to not only push back on the question, but also encourage community members to participate in the census, and soothe fears after the question was eventually scrapped. 

Throughout the pandemic and before, organizations put together virtual census parties to raise awareness and educate people on the fact that the citizenship question was no longer there, that their information was secure and safe, and to assist them in navigating the forms.

The last census took place in the shadow of the recession in 2010, when governments didn’t have the resources to invest in census outreach. At the time, philanthropy “had to step up,” Ramakrishnan said. 

“It’s the populations themselves that deserve the credit first, but then, you can’t take for granted that just because communities are growing because of migration or fertility, that it’s automatically going to show up in the census numbers,” he said. “You need to have investment and outreach.”

Other immigration trends played a role as well. Pawan Dhingra, a sociologist and a professor of American studies at Amherst College, said that movement to the U.S. has steadily continued at high rates among Asians. And despite discussions around discrimination, or even anti-Asian bias during the pandemic, the U.S. remains a destination for immigrants. 

“As more Asians live in the United States, it attracts more Asians who want to reunite with family and see the country as a place to settle down,” he said. 

Ramakrishnan also noted that while recent immigrants are less likely to fill out the census, many of their children, who were in the U.S. at the time of the last census have come of age since. This means that a significant chunk of the population, who would have relied on their parents to participate in the last survey but were not counted because the family did not do so, no longer had to for this round.

“When you look at populations that were children in the 2010 census and adults today, Latinos and Asian Americans would be disproportionately represented among those groups as well,” he said. 

While immigration and fertility stand as the primary drivers of growth among the racial group, the rise in those identifying as multiracial also contributed. The results showed that the population identifying as “Asian” in combination with another race group grew by 55.5 percent. 

Ramakrishnan said the actual growth in the population of children in multiracial families has risen, however changes in the way the race question was asked likely plays a role in the steep rise in the multiracial population. He said more people were likely to identify as multiracial in 2020 compared to 2010, especially with the census allowing participants to fill in their own race. 

And many multiracial children, who previously relied on parents to determine their race in past censuses, came of age and declared their own. 

Another factor that grew the number of AAPIs is the surge of multiracial people identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander as well as another race, said Van Tran, associate professor of sociology at City University of New York. 

Results also revealed that the U.S. is now more multiracial in general. 

Behind the “Other” section

The categories on 2020’s ethnicity question are consistent with what they were in decades past, including in 2010 and 2000. For the “Asian” category, the first six options represent the groups most populous in the United States: Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese, followed by an “Other” category where participants could fill in their ethnic identity. 

Similarly for Pacific Islander, the first three options were Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, and Samoan with an “Other” category. 

Tran said, though the “Other” category seems ambiguous, data disaggregation after results are counted will break down the ethnicities that people filled in. Analysts with the Census Bureau will count the top 25 Asian American groups in the U.S. by population, based on previous census data. Any group that doesn’t fit into the top 25 options will remain as “other” when data is presented. 

“Then there’s also a possibility that people in the ‘other’ category may also identify as both Asian and white, both Asian and Black,” he said. 

Included in the “other” category are multiracial people who want to check more than one box, a practice that has only been allowed since 2000. Despite these options, multiracial people who identify more closely with one ethnicity may choose to only select one. 

Tran says the breakdown of Asian ethnicity data can be strengthened by adding pan-ethnic categories, for example South Asian, Southeast Asian and East Asian. 

A disaggregation like this would help, Tran said, because of the role skin color plays in discrimination, and it would also help in understanding the experiences of minority Asian Americans. 

“There’s often the perception that Asian Americans are highly achieving, faring well socially, economically, and therefore they do not need any help or support,” he said. “But that perception is false … By not disaggregating the Asian category, we’re doing a disservice to the groups that are smaller and more disadvantaged.” 

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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