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History of Asian Americans

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Asian-American history is the history of ethnic and racial groups in the United States who are of Asian descent. Spickard (2007) shows that "'Asian American' was an idea invented in the 1960s to bring together Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino Americans for strategic political purposes. Soon other Asian-origin groups, such as Korean, Vietnamese, Iu Mien, Hmong and South Asian Americans, were added."[1] For example, while many Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigrants arrived as unskilled workers in significant numbers from 1850 to 1905 and largely settled in Hawaii and California, many Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Hmong Americans arrived in the United States as refugees following the Vietnam War. These separate histories have often been overlooked in conventional frameworks of Asian American history.[2]

Since 1965, shifting immigration patterns have resulted in a higher proportion of highly educated Asian immigrants entering the United States.[3] This image of success is often referred to as the "model minority" myth.[4] For the contemporary situation, see Asian American.

Hostility to immigration

San Lorenzo, California. Fruit and vegetable stand on highway operated by a Filipino American.
San Lorenzo, California. Fruit and vegetable stand on highway operated by a Filipino American.

The Chinese arrived in the U.S. in large numbers on the West Coast in the 1850s and 1860s to work in the gold mines and railroads. They encountered very strong opposition—violent as riots and physical attacks forced them out of the gold mines (citation needed). The Central Pacific railroad hired thousands, but after the line was finished in 1869 they were hounded out of many railroad towns in states such as Wyoming and Nevada. Most wound up in Chinatowns—areas of large cities which the police largely ignored. The Chinese were further alleged to be "coolies" and were said to be not suitable for becoming independent thoughtful voters because of their control by tongs. The same negative reception hit the Asians who migrated to Mexico and Canada.[5][6]

The Japanese arrived in large numbers 1890–1907, many going to Hawaii (an independent country until 1898), and others to the West Coast. Hostility was very high on the West Coast, but not especially violent. Hawaii was a multicultural society in which the Japanese experienced about the same level of distrust as other groups. Indeed, they were the largest population group by 1910, and after 1950 took political control of Hawaii. The Japanese on the West Coast of the U.S. (as well as Canada and Latin America) were interned during World War II, but very few on Hawaii at the Honouliuli Internment Camp.


According to Chan (1996), the historiography of Asians in America falls into four periods. The 1870s to the 1920s saw partisan debates over curtailing Chinese and Japanese immigration; "Yellow Peril" diatribes battled strong, missionary-based defenses of the immigrants. Studies written from the 1920s to the 1960s were dominated by social scientists, who focused on issues of assimilation and social organization, as well as the World War II internment camps. Activist revisionism marked the 1960s to the early 1980s as a new wave of Asian-American scholars rejected the dominant assimilationist paradigm, and instead turned to classical Marxism and internal colonialist models. Starting in the early 1980s there was an increased stress on human agency. Only after 1990 has there been much scholarship by professional historians.


Major milestones according to standard reference works[7] are:

16th century

  • 1587, "Luzonians" arrive in Morro Bay, (San Luis Obispo) California on board the galleon ship Nuestra Senora de Esperanza under the command of Spanish Captain Pedro de Unamuno.[8][9]
  • 1595, Filipino sailors aboard a Spanish "galleon" the San Agustin which was commanded by Captain Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno arrive on the shores of Point Reyes outside the mouth of the Bay Area. The ship was on a trip to Acapulco before it was shipwrecked on the aforementioned area.[10]

17th century

18th century

  • 1763, Filipinos established the small settlement of Saint Malo in the bayous of Louisiana, after fleeing mistreatment aboard Spanish ships. Since there were no Filipino women with them, the "Manilamen," as they were known, married Cajun and Native American women.[12]
  • 1778, Chinese sailors first arrive to Hawaii. Many settled and married Hawaiian women.[13]
  • 1785, Chinese sailors of an American ship reached Baltimore.[14]

19th century

  • 1815, Filipinos working as shrimp fishermen and smugglers in Louisiana serve under General Andrew Jackson's American forces in the War of 1812 and as artillery gunners at the Battle of New Orleans.
  • 1820s, Chinese (mostly merchants, sailors, and students) begin to immigrate via Sino-U.S. maritime trade.
  • 1841, Captain Whitfield, commanding an American whaler in the Pacific, rescues five shipwrecked Japanese sailors. Four disembark at Honolulu. Manjiro Nakahama stays on board returning with Whitfield to Fairhaven, Massachusetts. After attending school in New England and adopting the name John Manjiro, he later becomes an interpreter for Commodore Matthew Perry.
  • 1850, seventeen survivors of a Japanese shipwreck were saved by an American freighter; In 1852, the group joins Commodore Matthew Perry to help open diplomatic relations with Japan. One of them, Joseph Heco (Hikozo Hamada) later becomes a naturalized US citizen.
  • 1854, People v. Hall, the California Supreme Court case that denied the rights of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans to testify against white citizens.[15]
  • 1861–1865, Approximately 70 Chinese and Filipinos enlist in the Union Army and Union Navy during the American Civil War. Smaller numbers serve in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America.
  • 1861 The utopian minister Thomas Lake Harris of the Brotherhood of the New Life visits England, where he meets Nagasawa Kanaye, who becomes a convert. Nagasawa returns to the US with Harris and follows him to Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa, California. When Harris leaves the Californian commune, Nagasawa became the leader and remained there until his death in 1932.
  • 1862, California imposes a tax of $2.50 a month on every Chinese man.
  • 1865, The Central Pacific Railroad Co. recruits Chinese workers for the transcontinental railroad from California to Utah. Many are killed or injured in the harsh conditions blasting through difficult mountain terrain.
  • 1869, A group of Japanese build the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony in Gold Hill, California
  • 1869, The Fourteenth Amendment gives full citizenship to every person born in the United States, regardless of race.
  • 1877, Denis Kearney organizes anti-Chinese movement in San Francisco and forms the Workingmen's Party of California, alleging that Chinese workers took lower wages, poorer conditions, and longer hours than white workers were willing to tolerate.
  • 1878, Chinese are ruled ineligible for naturalized citizenship.
  • 1882, Chinese Exclusion Act is passed banning immigration of laborers from China. Students and businessmen are allowed. Large numbers of Chinese gain entry by claiming American birth.[16]
  • 1884, Philip Jason, a Korean independence activist and physician who later became an American citizen among Koreans for the first time, arrived in the United States.
  • 1886 The Rock Springs massacre in Wyoming leaves 28 Chinese miners dead.
  • 1887, Robbers kill 31 Chinese miners Snake River, Oregon.
  • 1890, In Hawaiʻi, then an independent country, sugar plantations hire large numbers of Japanese, Chinese and Filipinos. They form a majority of the population by 1898.
  • 1898 Hawaiʻi joins the U.S. as a territory. Most residents are Asian and they receive full U.S. citizenship.
  • 1898 The Philippines joins the U.S. as a territory. The residents of the Philippines become U.S. nationals but not citizens.

1901 to 1940

Asian-American loggers in Clallam Bay, Washington, c. 1919.
Asian-American loggers in Clallam Bay, Washington, c. 1919.


21st century

  • 2000, Norman Y. Mineta. Democratic Congressman, appointed by President Bill Clinton as the first Asian American appointed to the U.S. Cabinet; worked as Commerce Secretary (2000–2001), Transportation Secretary (2001–2006).
  • 2000, Angela Perez Baraquio became the first Asian American, first Filipino American, and first teacher ever to have been crowned Miss America.
  • 2001, Elaine Chao was appointed by President George W. Bush as the Secretary of Labor, serving to 2009. She is the first Asian American woman to serve in the Cabinet.
  • 2002, less than a month after the death of Rep. Patsy Mink, Congress passed a resolution to rename Title IX the "Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
  • 2003, Ignatius C. Wang is an American bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco from 2002 to 2009.
  • 2008, Cung Le, first Asian American to win a major mma title by defeating Frank Shamrock via TKO in Strikeforce
  • 2008, Bruce Reyes-Chow, 3rd generation Filipino and Chinese American, was Elected Moderator of the 2 million member Presbyterian Church (USA)[47]
  • 2008, Tim Lincecum, a starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, is selected as an All Star for the Major League All Star Game. Lincecum, who is half-Filipino, also won the Cy Young award as the most successful pitcher in the National League in 2008. Lincecum is the first Asian American to be selected as the Cy Young winner. Lincecum also won the Cy Young again in 2009 and led the Giants to a World Series victory in 2010.
  • 2009, Steven Chu, co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics, is sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Energy—thereby becoming the first person appointed to the US Cabinet after having won a Nobel Prize.[48] He is also the second Chinese American to become a member of Cabinet (after Elaine Chao.)[49]
  • 2009, Joseph Cao, a Republican, is the first Vietnamese American and person born in Vietnam elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, from Louisiana's 2nd congressional district; he was defeated for reelection in 2010
  • 2009, Judy Chu is the first Chinese American woman elected to the U.S. Congress.[50]
  • 2009, Gary Locke is appointed by President Obama to serve as the Secretary of Commerce.
  • 2009, Dr. Jim Yong Kim is appointed as President of Dartmouth College, becoming the first Asian American president of an Ivy League School.
  • 2010, Immigration from Asia surpassed immigration from Latin America.[51] Many of these immigrants are recruited by American companies from college campuses in India, China, and South Korea.[52]
  • 2010, Daniel Inouye is sworn in as President Pro Tempore making him the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in American history.
  • 2010, Far East Movement is the second Asian American band to top the Billboard 100, second only to Rocky Fellers with its song "Like a G6". The song was number one on two separate weeks in November 2010.
  • 2010, Jeremy Lin is the first American-born Taiwanese to become an NBA player. Lin was a star basketball player for Harvard University and excelled at NBA pre-draft camps. Lin is currently a player for the Atlanta Hawks.
  • 2010, Jean Quan is elected as Mayor of Oakland, California. Quan is the first Asian American woman elected mayor of a major American city. Quan is Oakland's first Asian American mayor.[53]
  • 2010, Ed Lee is appointed as Mayor of San Francisco, California.[53]
  • 2010, Ed Wang was the first full-blooded Chinese player to both be drafted and to play in the NFL
  • 2011, Gary Locke becomes U.S. Ambassador to the People's Republic of China.[54]
  • 2013, Nina Davuluri became the second Asian American and first Indian American to be crowned as Miss America. She is the second Asian American following Angela Perez Baraquio in 2000.
  • 2015, Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana (2008—present), becomes the first Indian American to run for President of the United States, and is the first Asian American to run a nationwide campaign to seek the United States Presidency.
  • 2016, Kamala Harris was elected to the United States Senate from California, and is the first Indian American to serve as a United States Senator.
  • 2016, President-elect Donald Trump announces his intention to nominate Nikki Haley to serve as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley is confirmed January 2017 and is the first Asian American and Indian American to serve as United Nations Ambassador.
  • 2017, Elaine Chao was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as the Secretary of Transportation.
  • 2017, Simon Tam wins a unanimous case at the Supreme Court for Matal v. Tam (the right to register The Slants' trademark).
  • 2018, Noel Francisco was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as the Solicitor General.
  • 2019, Kamala Harris becomes first Indian American woman to campaign for the United States Presidency.

See also

Histories of specific ethnic/national subgroups:

Further reading

Reference books

  • Chen, Edith Wen-Chu, and Grace J. Yoo, eds. Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today (2 vol, 2009) excerpt and text search
  • Huang, Guiyou, ed. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Asian American Literature (3 vol. 2008) excerpt and text search
  • Japanese American National Museum. Encyclopedia of Japanese American History: An A-To-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present (2nd ed. 2000)
  • Kim, Hyung-Chan, ed. Dictionary of Asian American History (1986) 629pp; online edition
  • Lee, Jonathan H.X. and Kathleen M. Nadeau, eds. Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife (3 vol. 2010)
  • Lee, Jonathan H.X. History of Asian Americans: Exploring Diverse Roots (2015)
  • Ng, Franklin. The Asian American Encyclopedia (6 vol., 1995)
  • Oh, Seiwoong, ed.. Encyclopedia of Asian-American Literature (2007)
  • Okihiro, Gary Y. American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders (University of California Press, 2015). xiv, 499 pp.
  • Jeffrey D. Schultz (2000). Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics: African Americans and Asian Americans. Oryx Press. ISBN 978-1-57356-148-8.

Surveys by scholars


  • Chan, Sucheng. "The changing contours of Asian-American historiography", Rethinking History, March 2007, Vol. 11 Issue 1, pp 125–147; surveys 100+ studies of defining events; Asian diasporas; social dynamics; cultural histories.
  • Chan, Sucheng. "Asian American historiography," Pacific Historical Review, Aug 1996, Vol. 65#3 pp. 363–99
  • Espiritu, Augusto. "Transnationalism and Filipino American Historiography," Journal of Asian American Studies, June 2008, Vol. 11#2 pp. 171–184,
  • Friday, Chris. "Asian American Labor and Historical Interpretation," Labor History, Fall 1994, Vol. 35#4 pp. 524–546,
  • Gregory, Peter N. "Describing the Elephant: Buddhism in American," Religion and American Culture, Summer 2001, Vol. 11#2 pp. 233–63
  • Kim, Lili M. "Doing Korean American History in the Twenty-First Century," Journal of Asian American Studies, June 2008, Vol. 11@2 pp 199–209
  • Lai, Him Mark. "Chinese American Studies: A Historical Survey". Chinese America: History and Perspectives. 1995: 11–29.
  • Lee, Erika, "Orientalisms in the Americas: A Hemispheric Approach to Asian American History," Journal of Asian American Studies vol 8#3 (2005) pp 235–256. Notes that 30–40% of the Chinese and Japanese immigrants before 1941 went to Latin America, especially Brazil, and many others went to Canada.
  • Ngai, Mae M. "Asian American History—Reflections on the De-centering of the Field," Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer 2006, Vol. 25#4 pp 97–108
  • Okihiro, Gary Y. The Columbia Guide to Asian American History (2001) excerpt and text search
  • Okihiro, Gary Y. Common Ground: Reimagining American History (2001) excerpt and text search
  • Tamura, Eillen H. "Historiographical Essay," History of Education Quarterly, Spring 2001, Vol. 41#1 pp. 58–71
  • Tamura, Eillen H. "Using the Past to Inform the Future: An Historiography of Hawaii's Asian and Pacific Islanders," Amerasia Journal, 2000, Vol. 26#1 pp. 55–85


  1. ^ Paul Spickard, "Whither the Asian American Coalition?" Pacific Historical Review, Nov 2007, Vol. 76 Issue 4, pp 585–604
  2. ^ Dorothy Fujita-Rony, "Water and Land: Asian Americans and the U.S. West," Pacific Historical Review, (2007) 76#4 pp 563–574,
  3. ^ Gary Y. Okihiro, Margins and mainstreams: Asians in American history and culture (2014).
  4. ^ Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou. "The Success Frame and Achievement Paradox: The Costs and Consequences for Asian Americans." Race and Social Problems (2014) 6#1 pp: 38–55.
  5. ^ Lee (2005)
  6. ^ Alexander Saxton, Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (1971)
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    Jackson, Yo, ed. (2006). Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology. SAGE. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-4129-0948-8.
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    "Asian Heritage in the National Park Service Cultural Resources Programs" (PDF). Cultural Resources Outreach and Diversity. National Park Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 October 2012. Retrieved 13 May 2013. Point Reyes National Seashore (Point Reyes, Marin County) was where the Spanish ship, the San Agustin, shipwrecked in 1595 with Filipino sailors aboard. The surviving crew eventually traveled by land to Mexico.
    Hank Pellissier (17 July 2010). "Halo-Halo". New York Times. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
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  11. ^ Martha W. McCartney; Lorena S. Walsh; Ywone Edwards-Ingram; Andrew J. Butts; Beresford Callum (2003). "A Study of the Africans and African Americans on Jamestown Island and at Green Spring, 1619–1803" (PDF). Historic Jamestowne. National Park Service. Retrieved 13 May 2013. A month later, George Menefie, who by 1624 had patented Study Unit 4 Tract L Lot F upon the waterfront and in 1640 patented Study Unit 1 Tract D Lot C on the Back Street, used “Tony, an East Indian” as a headright. (p. 52)
    Slaves, Tony, an East Indian and Africans brought out of England (p.238)

    Francis C.Assisi (16 May 2007). "Indian Slaves in Colonial America". India Currents. Archived from the original on 27 November 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  12. ^ See "Filipino Migration to the United States" Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
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  14. ^ Davis, Nancy E. (4 June 2019). The Chinese Lady: Afong Moy in Early America. Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-19-064524-3.
    Dawley, Evan (25 August 2016). "History of Canton". WYPR. Baltimore. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
    Barde, Bob. "Timeline of Chinese Immigration to the United States". The Bancroft Library. University of California Regents. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
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  17. ^ Payne, Charles (1984). "Multicultural education and racism in American schools". Theory into Practice. 23 (2): 124–131. doi:10.1080/00405848409543102. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |month= (help)
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  20. ^ See "Racial Riots" Archived 2012-01-06 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Min, Pyong-Gap (2006), Asian Americans: contemporary trneds and issues, Pine Forge Press, p. 189, ISBN 978-1-4129-0556-5
  22. ^ Irving G. Tragen (September 1944), "Statutory Prohibitions against Interracial Marriage", California Law Review, 32 (3): 269–280, doi:10.2307/3476961, JSTOR 3476961, citing Cal. Stats. 1933, p. 561.
  23. ^ See Bruce Lee
  24. ^ I. Cindy, and Fen Cheng, Citizens of Asian America: Democracy and Race During the Cold War (NYU Press, 2013)
  25. ^ Vecsey, George (August 11, 2009). "Pioneering Knick Returns to Garden". The New York Times. p. B-9. Retrieved 28 October 2010. He lasted just three games, but is remembered as the first non-Caucasian player in modern professional basketball, three years before African-Americans were included.
  26. ^ Cabanilla, Devin Israel (15 December 2016). "Media fail to give REAL first Asian American Olympic gold medalist her due". The Seattle Globalist. Retrieved 23 April 2019. The first Asian American Olympic gold medalist was a Filipina American woman. Her name was Victoria Manalo Draves.
    Rodis, Rodel (16 October 2015). "The Olympic triumph of Vicki Manalo Draves". Philippine Daily Inquirer. La Paz, Makati City, Philippines. Retrieved 23 April 2019. Victoria Manalo Draves, or Vicki as she liked to be called, made history as the first American woman to win two gold medals for diving and as the first, and still only Filipino, to win an Olympic gold medal and she won two of them in springboard and platform diving at the 1948 Olympics in London.
    Chapin, Dwight (3 March 2002). "VICKI DRAVES / Pioneer Olympian made quite a splash / Diver became celebrity after 1948 Games". SFGate. San Francisco. Retrieved 23 April 2019. So, with those two things going for her, maybe it figured that she would become the first female diver to win two gold medals at a single Olympics, taking both the platform and springboard events at the London Games in 1948 -- and the first American woman of Asian descent to win an Olympic medal.
  27. ^ Almasy, Steve (22 August 2008). "After 60 years, Olympians are fast friends again". CNN. Retrieved 23 April 2019. And there's Sammy Lee, another teammate from '48 and the first Asian-American to win a gold medal for the United States.
    "First Asian American to win Olympic gold, Dr. Sammy Lee, has died". The Press-Enterprise. Riverside. City News Service. 3 December 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
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