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Researching Ethnic and Cultural Groups in Los Angeles: Overview

The definition of culture varies, therefore the following information is based on the broadest definition to reflect the diversity of people residing in Los Angeles. The Library of Congress, which sets subject heading standards for many of our library databases and our catalog, as well as the U.S. Census Bureau, which sets standards for the statistical classification of race and ethnicity and also for ancestry, strongly influence the terminology used to describe groups. Furthermore, this terminology changes over time to reflect diversity and current usage. For ethnicity and/or ancestry, often the term "American" is added to the group name to differentiate between people born in the United States versus immigrants, in which case the group name plus "United States" or other geographic term is used, which reflects to where the group emigrated. However, researchers often combine these terms, therefore, it is helpful to search both.


The following search tips and terms are suggestions in the context of efficient searching and are are not meant to be definitive or authoritative, and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or attitudes of the author of this web site. Keep in mind the denotative and connotative uses of these terms may directly influence your search results.

Search Tips

The use of the asterisk (*) is a "wildcard" that most databases use to search a root word and variable endings in order to be more efficient.

  • For example: "chican*" will retrieve "chicana," "chicanas," "chicano," "chicanos," etc.

The use of the word "or" in between synonyms or related words broadens search results by including either term in the search results. For example:

  • women or females

The use of the word "and" between keywords narrows search results by requiring that both terms must appear in the search results. For example:

  • deaf and los angeles

Use parentheses when you combine "or" and "and" searches. For example:

  • (los angeles or san fernando valley) and korean*

Cultural keywords

The terms "Hispanic," "Latino," "Chicana," "Chicano," and "Mexican American" can have many different meanings to many different people. For example, the term "Hispanic" is used by the U.S. Federal government for statistical purposes, and is often used on the East Coast of the U.S.; whereas "Latino" is the preferred term on the West Coast. Also, you may have to broaden your search to include larger geographic areas, for example, "Salvador or Central America." For searching purposes, try one of more of the following search strategies, depending on your particular definitions:

  • mexican american* or chican* or latino* or latina*
  • mexican american women or latina* or chicana*
  • hispanic* or latino*
  • latin american* and united states
  • salvadorean* or central american*

The term "African Americans" is preferred over the term "Blacks," which is currently used for people living in or from Africa. However, for older books and other resources, you will encounter the terms "Negroes," "Blacks," and "Afro-Americans." Depending on your research needs, particularly if you are looking for older published information, you may have to use a combination of terms to be thorough. For example:

  • african american*
  • negro* or black* or afro american* or african american*

The term "Asian American" is used to include groups whose heritage is from the continent of Asia, except for people of Middle Eastern origins. Also search individual countries of origin. For example:

  • chinese american*
  • chinese and (american* or united states)
  • filipino*
  • filipina*
  • pakistani*
  • east indian* and (american* or united states)

The term "Pacific Islander" usually refers to the following groups: Melanesians, Micronesians, or Polynesians. For example:

  • polynesian* or hawaiian* or samoan*
  • guamanian* or micronesian*
  • melanesian* or fijian*

To search for Armenians, it is useful to add a geographic location to the search strategy and/or use the term "Armenian Americans." For example:

  • armenian* and los angeles
  • armenian american*
  • armenian* and (american* or united states)

To search for people of Middle Eastern heritage, suggested terms include:

  • arab american*
  • arab* and united states
  • (lebanon or lebanese) and (american* or united states)
  • palestinian* and (american* or united states)
  • (iranian* or persian*) and (american* or united states)
  • israeli* and united states

To search for people of Jewish heritage, suggested terms include:

  • jews
  • jew* and los angeles (or other geographic area)

To search for people whose heritage is from other countries, use the adjective to describe the nationality. For example:

  • russian* and los angeles
  • russian american*
  • french and united states
  • french american*
  • anglo american
  • british and (american* or united states)

To search for American Indians or Alaska natives:

  • indians of north america and los angeles
  • indians of north america or native american* or american indian*
  • cahuilla and los angeles
  • alaska native* or inuit*

To search for mixed race, multiethnic, multiracial, try the following search strategies:

  • (mixed race or multiracial or multiethnic) and los angeles
  • ethnic groups or minorities
  • multicultural*
  • divers* and united states

To search for alternative sexual orientations, consider the following options:

  • gays
  • gay men,
  • lesbian*
  • transsexual* or transgender*
  • bisexual*
  • queer*

To search for gender-related terms, try the following:

  • transsexual* or transgender*
  • women or woman or female*
  • male* or men or man

Suggested age related terms:

  • older people or aged or senior citizen* or elder*
  • child* or youth
  • teen* or adolescen*

Other ways that people may self-identify into groups: religious affiliations, hobbies, occupations, people with disabilities, marital status, student status, homelessness, etc. may also have more than one keyword:

  • muslim* or islam*
  • deaf or hearing impaired
  • blind or visually impaired
  • visual* and (impaired or disab*)
  • people with disabilities or disabled
  • lawyer* or attorn*
  • surfer* or surfing [Note: Searching "surf*" would also retrieve irrelevant results, such as "surface," therefore, this strategy should find more relevant results.]
  • homeless* and shelter*
  • runaway and (teen* or youth or adolescen*)
  • veteran* and gulf war