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44% of Americans can’t name a famous living Asian American

A new study found that the most popular choices for famous Asian Americans were Jackie Chan (who is not American), Bruce Lee (who died 50 years ago) and VP Kamala Harris.
Bruce Lee, Kamala Harris and Jackie Chan.
Bruce Lee, Kamala Harris and Jackie Chan.NBC News / Getty Images

More than 1 in 4 Americans are unable to name a famous Asian American, according to a study released Tuesday. 

The study, conducted by the nonprofit Asian American Foundation, found that, when asked, 26% of respondents said “I don’t know.”

Jackie Chan, who is not American, was the next most popular answer for the third year in a row (12%). Bruce Lee, who died 50 years ago, was the second most popular choice (6%) and Vice President Kamala Harris was the third (5%). In all, it boils down to 44% of respondents either not knowing or giving a wrong answer.

The study also found that Southeast Asians were not listed among the top 20 names.

The third annual Social Tracking of Asian Americans in the U.S. Index, which examines attitudes and stereotypes toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, surveyed 5,235 American adults nationwide.

When asked to name a famous Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 32% said “I don’t know.” The next most popular choices were Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (23%), Singer Don Ho, who died 16 years ago (8%), and actor Jason Momoa (5%).

In addition, the study found that 18% of Americans did not know what roles Asian American men and women are often portrayed as in television and film. The most popular choice for women was geisha/sex worker/stripper (15%) and Kung Fu/martial artist (23%) for men.

The number of Americans unable to identify a famous Asian American has decreased since the first study. The first STAATUS Index, which was released in 2021, found that 42% of Americans could not name a famous Asian American. Among the names mentioned, the most popular choices were Jackie Chan (11%), Bruce Lee (9%) and Lucy Liu (5%). 

“This just shows that even when we’re in the news, people are not really soaking in the presence of Asian Americans in our country,” Norman Chen, the co-founder and chief executive of the nonprofit Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change, previously told NBC News.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have dealt with systemic racism and stereotyping in the entertainment industry for decades. A study in 2021 found that in top-grossing films between 2010 to 2019, audiences were often asked to laugh at Asian Americans on screen. It also found that AAPI women were often more disproportionately sexualized than their Asian male and non-Asian female counterparts.