Uncharted Singles
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Uncharted Singles

On making an Asian American Dot Density Map

The 2019 American Community Survey estimates that there are 22.19 million persons living in the United States who self-identify as Asian in answer to the Census race question.

The race question

Asian Americans are highly visible on national maps like the dot density maps below, but only as a uniform group represented by a single color. Dot density mapping represents quantities(number of persons) in polygons(census tracts or blocks) on a map. In the 2010 Racial Dot Map from the Cooper Center, we are the red dots that pop up along both coasts and in cities. We are red again in a 2015 map from the New York Times, bright green in 2018 at the Washington Post, and dark blue in 2021 at CNN.

All 4 maps above treat the many races within the label “Asian” as one, 3 of these are made to address the very topic of diversity and segregation of race in U.S. cities. Simplifications are often necessary to serve overarching arguments, but to what extent can these maps portray diversity or segregation if their starting point is the flattening of a large set of different groups to a single miscellaneous one?

Using the maps above as my starting point, I exported the Asian Alone Or In Combination With One Or More Other Races table in the American Community Survey Tables: 2015–2019 (5-Year Estimates) at the Census Tract level from Social Explorer. This table represents Asian Americans as 21 different racial groups(with more races falling under 2 “Others” — “Other Asian, Specified” and “Other Asian, Not Specified”).

New York City and surrounding areas. Before and After Asian groups are color-coded.

The resulting map is a Census Tract level dot density map where each Asian American is represented by 1 dot, and each dot is color coded by the 21 asian races found in the Census table. The map’s colorfulness makes the complexity that exists within this subsection of the Census race question immediately apparent. This map reveals the spatial dynamics of asian racial groups in places across the country.

This map is also personal. I started it the day after reading this essay on Asian American identity, and with the collective fears associated with this identity in the past year fresh on my mind. It is uncomfortable to be a dot on this map, to be made visible by an identity that is based on being part of a large group with varying ties to geographically similar places. But in the end, this map got me a little closer to understanding what it means to check the box marked “Asian” in America. I hope it does the same for you.

Some before and afters of cities I found interesting can be seen below.

You can find the full map here: https://centerforspatialresearch.github.io/asianAmericans/

and step by step instructions for making the map here: https://medium.com/uncharted-singles/asian-american-dot-density-map-84271a4e68cd

Miami, FL
Houston, TX
Austin, TX
St. Louis, MO
Minneapolis, MN
Portland, OR

Image Credit:

Census form image taken from https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/methodology/questionnaires/2020/quest20.pdf

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