Asian American and Pacific Islander History

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have played vital roles in shaping the nation—from building the Transcontinental Railroad to advocating for labor law changes to fighting in multiple wars. They made these contributions while also facing persistent discrimination and violence throughout U.S. history.

Asian-American Milestones: Timeline

Asian American Milestones: Timeline

The first major wave of Asian immigrants arrived at American shores in the mid-1800s and Asian Americans have since played a key role in U.S. history, while also facing discrimination and exclusion. A diverse population, the nation’s 20 million-plus Asian Americans have roots in ...read more

Railroad workers

Building the Transcontinental Railroad: How 20,000 Chinese Immigrants Made It Happen

They toiled through back-breaking labor during both frigid winters and blazing summers. Hundreds died from explosions, landslides, accidents and disease. And even though they made major contributions to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, these 15,000 to 20,000 ...read more

Japanese Internment Camps

Japanese Internment Camps

Japanese internment camps were established during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt through his Executive Order 9066. From 1942 to 1945, it was the policy of the U.S. government that people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, would be incarcerated in ...read more

chinese-exclusion-act-promo

Chinese Exclusion Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States. Many Americans on the West Coast attributed declining wages and economic ills to Chinese workers. Although the Chinese composed only .002 percent of the ...read more

Asian American and Pacific Islander History Videos

Asian American and Pacific Islander History Stories

The Chinese-Born Engineer Who Helped Launch US Commercial Aviation

The Chinese-Born Engineer Who Helped Launch US Commercial Aviation

In 1904, anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. rose to a fever pitch as Congress passed an indefinite extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act, almost entirely closing the gates on Chinese immigration. Yet just over a decade later, Beijing-born Wong Tsu came to study at the ...read more

Filipino Fishermen Established the First Asian American Settlement in Louisiana

The Earliest Asian American Settlement Was Established by Filipino Fishermen

The history of the oldest known permanent Asian American settlement remains mysterious and as murky as the mosquito-infested marshland it was built on. Saint Malo was first established as a fishing village along the shores of Lake Borgne in Louisiana in the 18th century and ...read more

1885 Tacoma, Washington broadside rallying citizens to an anti-Chinese rally.

When West Coast Cities Tried to Drive Out Their Chinatowns

The Tacoma Riot of 1885 and Seattle Riot of 1886 drew national attention to the burgeoning coastal cities in Washington territory for their forced expulsion of their Chinese populations by angry—and largely white—mobs. The actions were part of a brutal wave of anti-Chinese ...read more

HISTORY: Hell's Canyon Massacre

Hells Canyon Massacre

In late-May 1887, around 30 Chinese laborers were mining gold in an isolated part of northeast Oregon, when the entire group was gunned down by a white gang of horse thieves. Initially referred to as the “Hells Canyon Massacre” or “Snake River Massacre,” and more recently as the ...read more

The Asian American Women Who Fought to Make Their Mark in WWII

The Asian American Women Who Fought to Make Their Mark in WWII

Asian American women played a critical part in America’s war effort during World War II. Coming from diverse backgrounds—including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino—they served in important roles ranging from pilots and translators to factory workers and guerrilla fighters. ...read more

Garment-Workers-Strike-GettyImages-926411126

When 20,000 Asian Americans Demanded Garment Workers' Rights—And Won

It was an unlikely group to storm the streets of New York City’s Chinatown in the summer of 1982: Nearly 20,000 garment workers—mostly Asian American women—marched together in solidarity for better benefits. Clad in matching union caps, they carried signs in both English and ...read more

The Rock Springs Massacre

The Rock Springs Massacre

What began as a labor dispute between white and Chinese coal miners on September 2, 1885 turned into a bloodbath known as the Rock Springs Massacre that left 28 Chinese miners dead and 15 others wounded. Following the violence, white miners set 79 homes ablaze, effectively wiping ...read more

8 Groundbreaking Contributions of Asian Americans Through History

8 Groundbreaking Contributions by Asian Americans Through History

Though the Gold Rush triggered the first major wave of Asian immigrants to the United States in the 1840s, their presence in America predates the country itself. For example, in 1763, facing a life of forced labor and imprisonment during the Spanish galleon trade, a group of ...read more

HISTORY: Angel Island Immigration Station

Angel Island Immigration Station

Located in San Francisco Bay, the Angel Island Immigration Station served as the main immigration facility on the West Coast of the United States from 1910 to 1940. Many immigrants from China or other Asian countries were detained there for extended periods thanks to the Chinese ...read more

This Day In History: Patsy T. Mink sworn in as first Asian American woman and woman of color in Congress, January 4, 1965

Patsy T. Mink sworn in as first Asian American woman and woman of color in Congress

Elected in 1964, Patsy T. Mink is sworn in on January 4, 1965, as the first Asian American woman and first woman of color to serve in the U.S. Congress. Throughout her career, the U.S. representative for Hawaii was a strong supporter of civil and women's rights, as well as an ...read more

The 16-Year-Old Chinese Immigrant Who Helped Lead a 1912 US Suffrage March

The 16-Year-Old Chinese Immigrant Who Helped Lead a 1912 US Suffrage March

In 1900, at a time when the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned most Chinese immigration and reflected a climate of deep anti-Asian prejudice, 9-year-old Mabel Ping-Hua Lee came to America from China on a scholarship to attend school. At 16, she would cement her place in women’s ...read more

Before The Chinese Exclusion Act, There Was the Page Act

Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, This Anti-Immigrant Law Targeted Asian Women

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is often seen as the first major law to restrict immigration in the United States. But there is an earlier law that was used to effectively prevent Chinese women from immigrating to the United States: The Page Act of 1875. Chinese Immigration in ...read more

Farm workers picking grapes

How Cesar Chavez Joined Larry Itliong to Demand Farm Workers' Rights

In the late 1960s, grapes grabbed national attention—and not in a good way. Newly organized farm workers, fronted by Mexican-American civil-rights activist Cesar Chavez, asked Americans to boycott the popular California fruit because of the paltry pay and poor work conditions ...read more

The Murder of Vincent Chin, How a 1982 Murder Ignited the Asian American Rights Movement

How the 1982 Murder of Vincent Chin Ignited a Push for Asian American Rights

On June 19, 1982, a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin went with friends to a strip club in Detroit to celebrate his upcoming wedding. That night, two white men who apparently thought Chin was Japanese beat him to death. At the killers’ trial, the men each received a $3,000 ...read more

WWII-Veterans

Filipino Americans Fought With US in WWII, Then Had to Fight for Veterans' Benefits

On an early December morning in 1941, waves of Japanese bombers roared through American airspace. While air sirens wailed and guns blazed, American nationals took cover as a surprise attack in the Pacific sank U.S. battleships and crippled the largest aggregation of American ...read more

Hawaii Under Martial Law

After Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Spent Three Years Under Martial Law

The night of December 7, 1941 was a panicked one in Hawaii. In the wake of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaiian civilians struggled to understand what had just happened—and to make sense of the announcement that their island was now under martial law. As military ...read more

The Kim Sisters

For the Original K-Pop Stars, Survival Depended on Making it in America

When Sue Kim arrived to the U.S. after leaving her home in Korea, decimated by war, she found herself performing at the storied Thunderbird and Stardust hotels in Las Vegas. It was 1959, and despite singing songs like Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to large ...read more

Mamie Tape

The 8-Year-Old Chinese American Girl Who Helped Desegregate Schools—in 1885

Nearly 70 years before Topeka’s Linda Brown and others challenged restrictive school laws on behalf of African Americans, sparking the legal battle that resulted in the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, 8-year-old Mamie Tape of San Francisco, and her ...read more

Chinese-immigrants-GettyImages-597922081

Chinese Americans Were Once Forbidden to Testify in Court. A Murder Changed That

Yee Shun was new to Las Vegas, in New Mexico Territory, and he didn’t intend to stay long. Though he’d secured a job at a local hotel, he’d decided to move on to Albuquerque, a frontier city even more promising and bustling than 1882 Las Vegas. But first, he planned to look up a ...read more

WWII-Japanese-GettyImages-515363662

These Japanese American Linguists Became America's Secret Weapon During WWII

In February 1942, a small group of members of a top-secret military language school defied orders. They slipped out of their headquarters in San Francisco and snuck toward their destination, a nearby racetrack. They weren’t there to gamble: They were there to visit their ...read more

Japanese Internment Camps

These Photos Show the Harsh Reality of Life in WWII Japanese American Internment Camps

In February of 1942, just 10 weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government issued Executive Order 9066, calling for the internment of Japanese Americans. Intended initially to prevent Japanese spies from receiving intel, this order authorized their removal from ...read more

HISTORY: U.S. Immigration Timeline

The Volatile History of U.S. Immigration

The United States has long been considered a nation of immigrants. Attitudes toward new immigrants by those who came before have vacillated between welcoming and exclusionary over the years. Thousands of years before Europeans began crossing the vast Atlantic by ship and ...read more

Madame Butterfly

How Hollywood Cast White Actors in Caricatured Asian Roles

On an unusually empty street in New York City, a single cab drops off a woman clad in diamonds and a Givenchy dress in front of Tiffany’s & Co. As she casually gazes up, the iconic opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is underway. But it’s not long before many viewers are ...read more

kathy-kohner-50338930

Hawai'ian Surfers Have Been Riding Waves Since the 17th Century

Women and men began surfing in Hawaii and other Polynesian islands at least as far back as the 17th century. And while Christian missionaries tried to suppress surfing in the 1800s, a Hawaiian princess helped bring it back long before Gidget and Moondoggie hit the beach. Prior to ...read more

don-seki-548869111

Two Japanese American Veterans on Fighting the Nazis—and Discrimination at Home

Like most Americans, Don Seki and Frank Mitoshi Wada remember the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii as a dark day. For these two “Nisei” (American-born children of Japanese immigrants), December 7th, 1941 was darker than for most, since it led to their ...read more

flashback-japanese-internment-16x9

U.S. Propaganda Film Shows 'Normal' Life in WWII Japanese Internment Camps

History Flashback takes a look at historical “found footage” of all kinds—newsreels, instructional films, even cartoons—to give us a glimpse into how much things have changed, and how much has remained the same. On February 19, 1942, just over two months after the bombing of ...read more

gettyimages-515354622-e

This 21-Year-Old College Student Designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

You’ve probably seen it: the simple black walls that emerge from the peaceful Constitution Gardens in Washington, D.C., the more than 58,000 half-inch-high names inscribed on the granite. It’s the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and since 1982, it has commemorated military personnel ...read more

sect2owongkimarkdeparture_statementpr_a-2

Born in the USA: The Chinese Immigrant Son Who Fought for Birthright Citizenship

Wong Kim Ark was nearly home. As the steamship Coptic slipped through the Golden Gate on an August day in 1895, the young cook could see the buildings huddled on the steep hills of San Francisco, the city where he was born and spent most of his life. Returning to the United ...read more

japanese internment camp, roosevelt, franklin d roosevelt, fdr, war

U.S. approves end to internment of Japanese Americans

During World War II, U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt issues Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective January 2, 1945, Japanese American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes. On February 19, 1942, 10 weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl ...read more

CherryBlossomDC

Japanese cherry trees planted along the Potomac

In Washington, D.C., Helen Taft, wife of President William Taft, and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, plant two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Potomac River, near the Jefferson Memorial. The event was held in celebration of a gift, by the ...read more

This Day In History: First Japanese player makes MLB debut, September 1, 1964

First Japanese player makes MLB debut

On September 1, 1964, pitcher Masanori Murakami becomes the first Japanese man to play in U.S. baseball’s major leagues. Murakami pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the San Francisco Giants in a 4-1 loss to the New York Mets in front of 39,379 fans at Shea Stadium. Murakami ...read more

This Day In History: FDR orders Japanese Americans into internment camps, February 19, 1942

FDR orders Japanese Americans into internment camps

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, initiating a controversial World War II policy with lasting consequences for Japanese Americans. The document ordered the forced removal of resident "enemy aliens" from parts of the West vaguely ...read more