Strangers at the Shore: An Early AAPI History

Early immigration of Asian people is rooted in a struggle for independence and determination for a better life, and the legacy of their treatment upon reaching American shores is often one of ostracization and disenfranchisement Preventing (a person or group of people) from having the right to vote. The idea of the perpetual foreigner The idea that someone is most likely from another country and not an American citizen, usually due to their physical appearance or language caused historical discrimination, though varying communities have fought to overcome the loss of their political power and rights.

Chinese Americans

Chinese immigration dates back to the 1780s. Early Chinese immigrants were mostly laborers who arrived in Hawaii and the West Coast and worked on plantations. Numbers grew during the California Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad as immigrants arrived to find fortune and leave behind political unrest.

Chinese laborers’ wealth led to racist anti-Chinese attitudes and acts of violence. White laborers blamed Chinese immigrants for their economic struggle and exploitation and created a campaign that labeled them as yellow peril A 19th century stereotype that portrayed Chinese immigrants as a dangerous people who stole jobs from white laborers.

The In re Ah Yup court decision in 1878 declared immigrants of Asian descent ineligible to become naturalized citizens. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and later extended it to exclude all Asian immigrants until World War II. The Act was repealed in 1943 and Chinese immigrants were allowed to become citizens.

Filipino Americans

Filipino immigration to Louisiana was documented in the late 1700s. In 1898, the Republic of the Philippines became a U.S. territory which opened a new immigration channel until the Philippines gained its independence.

Most Filipino immigrants arrived as laborers in the agriculture industry, domestic servants, and as students. Another contingent of immigrants were the Filipinos recruited by U.S. military. Today, Filipino Americans remain the second largest Asian ethnicity in the U.S.

South Asian Americans

South Asians immigrated to the U.S. as early as 1820 but restrictive immigration quotas meant less than 800 immigrated by the end of the 19th century. Many worked in California as farm workers.

South Asians, including peoples from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, are the third largest Asian American ethnic group.

Japanese Americans

A large Japanese labor migration to the U.S. began in 1885 and ended with the Immigration Act of 1924. From 1908 to 1924, Japanese women arrived as wives of these Japanese immigrants.

In 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor led President Franklin Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 9066, resulting in the apprehension and evacuation of most Japanese Americans into internment camps. The Order was suspended in 1944 and Japanese Americans had to rebuild their lives.

Korean Americans

Early Korean immigrants to the U.S. were laborers recruited from 1903 to 1905 to meet the labor demand on Hawaiian plantations after a series of enacted laws barred Chinese immigration.

Pictures brides, students, and political exiles were also early Korean immigrants. After the Korean War, thousands of war orphans and wives of American servicemen immigrated from 1951 to 1964.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

The Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in 1893 by White American immigrants and the country eventually became a U.S. territory, then a U.S. state in 1959. Becoming a state allowed Hawaiian residents--native and immigrant--full voting rights.

Over time the classification of the Pacific Islander population has encompassed or separated out Guamanian, Samoan, Polynesian, Micronesian, and Melanesian.