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Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States Today

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AAPI Activists at a Black Lives Matter March in Minnesota

Asians have been singled out as the most recognizable “foreigners” and even naturalized citizens and U.S.-born citizens of Asian heritage could be turned away from the polls if they did not have documentation to prove their right to vote.

Discrimination against Asian immigrants was due to beliefs and cultural practices that were not understood by U.S. society. Working-class, U.S.-born white Americans also feared losing their jobs to lower-paid immigrants. Beliefs from the days of more blatant discrimination still factors into voter turnouts among Asian American and Pacific Islander communities today.

In some communities voting barriers can last for generations, even after a legal barrier has been lifted, if participating in civic life has not become a part of the immigrant community culture. AAPIs who experienced barriers to voting may be less likely to encourage their family members, particularly younger generations, to vote or seek political office.



In Minnesota, the diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander community is mostly comprised of Far East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean), Southeast Asians (Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Hmong, Lao, Thai, Cambodian, Burmese, Mien, and Karen), South Asians and Himalayans (Asian Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, and Tibetans) and Pacific Islanders (Native Hawaiians, Samoan, Tongan, Guamanian/Chamorro, Marshallese, and Fijian).

The earliest Asian immigrants in Minnesota were two Chinese men who established laundries in St. Paul and  Minneapolis. Others moved to Minnesota as foreign exchange students or laborers seeking economic opportunities.

The Chinese community developed slowly because of the laws restricting Asian immigration. The community also faced difficulties trying to maintain their Chinese heritage and culture, and migration was limited by the expensive cost of traveling over the Pacific and by the political uprisings that displaced family members in China.

Despite these obstacles, the  Chinese population in Minnesota still made efforts to grow their communities and established successful businesses.

In 2010, the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans (CAPMN) reported that there were more than 245,089 Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) residing in Minnesota. Each ethnic group came to the U.S. for distinct reasons: to work or perform trade within the U.S.; because of military duties; or to seek refuge and political asylum from countries that were at war or persecuted specific minorities.

Early AAPI immigrants in Minnesota arrived and settled on similar terms such as the larger historical experience with the Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and South Asians having a long standing relationship based on labor, trade, and/or military ties in the U.S.

During the 1970s, some 70,000 ethnic Lao, 10,000 Mien, and 60,000 Hmong fled to America seeking asylum.

Many Hmong, Mien, Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodians migrated to Minnesota as a result of the Refugee Act of 1980 that enabled 50,000 refugees per year to enter the U.S. These refugees were immediately eligible for rights and benefits that applied only to citizens.

A few decades later, arriving as political refugees but officially labeled as immigrants, Tibetans settled under the U.S.-Tibetan Resettlement Project and established Minnesota as the second largest Tibetan community outside of Nepal.

The Karen, also arriving under political refuge, made Minnesota the largest Karen-populated area in the U.S.