2000 Census Shows Contrasting Growth and Settlement Patterns of 4 Major
Southeast Asian Origin Groups

By Mark E. Pfeifer, PhD (Originally Written for Asian American Press Newspaper, St. Paul, MN)
Copyright 2001 by the Author.

Persons of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, and Lao origin began settling in the U.S. in sizable
numbers as refugees 25 years ago in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Using recently released
census data, it is interesting to compare the similarities and differences in the growth and residential
settlement patterns of these four communities in the United States. It should be noted that it is widely
believed that substantial undercounts occurred in the census enumerations of each of these
predominantly immigrant and refugee populations. The census figures are useful however for a general
comparison of the residential distribution patterns of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong and Lao origin
individuals across the U.S.

In terms of population growth, the enumerated Vietnamese and Hmong populations in the U.S. grew at
the greatest pace between 1990 and 2000. The tallied Vietnamese population grew 47% from
593,213 to 1,122,528 over the decade. The enumerated Hmong population increased 44% from a
total of 94,439 to 169,428 in 2000. The tabulated Cambodian and Lao populations grew at slower
rates. The number of counted Cambodians expanded 13% from 149,047 to 171,937 over the ten year
period while the enumerated Lao population increased from 147,375 to 168,707 - a growth rate of
12%. These respective rates of increase suggest that following the Vietnamese, the Hmong-origin
population may soon constitute the second largest Indochinese-origin group in the U.S. in the near
future, exceeding Cambodians and Lao in sheer numbers.

There is significant variation in the regional distribution of the four communities. While more than 40%
of all four populations were enumerated in the Western states (primarily in California) in 2000, the
distribution of the four Southeast Asian groups differed markedly in the nation’s other regions. Persons
of Vietnamese origin were found in large numbers in several Southern states including Texas, Virginia,
Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. Just under 30% of the total U.S. Vietnamese population was
enumerated in the South in 2000. Much smaller proportions of the overall Vietnamese population were
observed in the Northeastern (12%) and Midwestern (9%) states .

Outside of California, persons of Cambodian origin were enumerated in substantial numbers in the
Northeastern states, particularly in the states of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. About
25% of all Cambodians were counted in the Northeast. Smaller proportions of the total Cambodian
population were tallied in the South (12%) and Midwest (9%).

In strong contrast to the Vietnamese and Cambodian origin populations, the largest share of Hmong
census respondents were counted in the Midwestern states. Just under 50% of all Hmong were
enumerated in the Midwest. The largest Hmong populations in the nation’s center were found in
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. 42% of all Hmong were counted in California and the Western
states while very small proportions of the population were observed in the Northeast (just under 2%)
and the South (6%). It should be noted though that the enumerated Hmong population grew enormously
in the Southeastern state of North Carolina from 1990 to 2000.

According to the census, the Lao population is perhaps the most evenly distributed of the four
Indochinese groups. As with the other three Southeast Asian communities, just under half of
enumerated Lao were counted in California and the West in 2000. However, 22% of all Lao were found
residing in Southern states and 21% in Midwestern states. In the South, sizable Lao communities were
enumerated in Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. In the Midwest, the largest Lao
populations were counted in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. About 10% of the total Lao population
was enumerated in the Northeastern states.

Mark E. Pfeifer currently manages the Hmong Resource Centre at the Hmong Cultural Center. He may
be reached at 651-917-9937 or at hmongcultural@yahoo.com Detailed breakdowns for the
Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong and Lao populations in the U.S. may be found at Pfeifer’s new
website www.hmongstudies.org/

Vietnamese Origin Population U.S. Census 2000

1. California - 447,032

2. Texas - 134,961

3. Washington - 46,149

4. Virginia - 37,309

5. Massachusetts - 33,962

6. Florida - 33,190

7. Pennsylvania - 30,037

8. Georgia - 29,016

9. Louisiana - 24,358

10. New York - 23,818

13. Minnesota - 18,824

Top States Cambodian Origin Population U.S. Census 2000

1. California - 70232

2. Massachusetts - 19696

3. Washington - 13899

4. Pennsylvania - 8531

5. Texas - 6852

6. Minnesota - 5530

7. Rhode Island - 4522

8. Virginia - 4423

9. New York - 2973

10. Georgia - 2905

Top States Hmong Origin Population U.S. Census 2000

1. California - 65,095

2. Minnesota - 41,800

3. Wisconsin - 33,791

4. North Carolina - 7,093

5. Michigan - 5,383

6. Colorado - 3,000

7. Oregon - 2,101

8. Georgia - 1,468

9. Washington - 1,294

10. Massachusetts - 1,127

Top States Lao Origin Population U.S. Census 2000

1. California - 55,456

2. Texas - 10,114

3. Minnesota - 9,940

4. Washington - 7,974

5. North Carolina - 5,313

6. Illinois - 5,235

7. Georgia - 4,531

8. Wisconsin - 4,469

9. Oregon - 4,391

10. Tennessee - 4,214