Panethnicity is a political neologism used to group various ethnic groups together based on their related cultural origins; geographic, linguistic, religious, or 'racial' similarities are often used alone or in combination to draw panethnic boundaries. The term panethnic was used extensively during mid-twentieth century anti-colonial/national liberation movements. In the United States, Yen Espiritu popularized the term and coined the nominal term panethnicity in reference to Asian Americans, a racial category composed of disparate ethnic groups having in common only their origin in Asia.
It has since seen some use as a replacement of the term race; for example, the aforementioned Asian Americans can be described as "a panethnicity" of various unrelated peoples of Asia, which are nevertheless perceived as a distinguishable group within the larger multiracial North American society.
More recently[year needed] the term has also come to be used in contexts outside multiculturalism in US society, as a general replacement for terms like ethnolinguistic group or racial group.[clarification needed]
The concept is to be distinguished from "pan-nationalism", which similarly groups related ethnicities but in the context of either ethnic nationalism (e.g. Pan-Arabism, Pan-Celticism, Pan-Germanism, Pan-Iranism, Pan-Slavism, Pan-Turkism), or civic nationalism (e.g. Pan-Africanism).
Panethnicity has allowed for Asian Americans to unite based on similar historical relations with the US, such as US military presence in their native country. The Asian American panethnic identity has evolved to become a means for immigrant groups such as Asian Americans to unite in order to gain political strength in numbers.
Panethnic labels are often, though not always, created and employed by outsiders of the group that is being defined panethnically. Mainstream institutions and political policies often play a big role in the labeling of panethnic groups. They often enact policies that deal with specific groups of people, and panethnic groups are one way to group large numbers of people. Public policy might dole out resources or make deals with multiple groups, viewing them all as one large entity.