By: Joe Mauricio
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month takes place in May. It celebrates the culture, traditions and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United State.
The history of North America is shaped by the stories of immigrants from Asia and the Pacific and the native people of the Pacific Islands, while some of the earliest Asian immigrants arrived from China, Philippines, Japan, India and Korea. Immigration reforms tied to U.S, Civil Rights legislation brought even more Asian groups to the United States, such as, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians later on. These days, you may discover some wide-ranging stones preserved and interpreted in some national parks, trails and historic sites naming these early groups.
During the 1800’s, the discovery of gold in California and political upheaval in China triggered unprecedented waves of immigration from Asian countries to U.S, Asian immigrants contributed significantly to the history of American nation building and westward expansion. Between 1863 and 1869, Chinese, Irish, and Anglo laborers endured harsh working conditions in order to build the transcontinental railway, where the majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
Initially welcomed as much needed labor source in mining, railroad, and agriculture, Asian immigrants soon became a source of resentment for those American who thought of themselves as whites. They blamed the Asians for economic decline and high unemployment after the Civil War.
The U.S. government passed a series of measures to stem the influx of Asian immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 severely restricted immigration by barring Chinese laborers entering the country and made Chinese immigrants already within the U.S. ineligible for U.S. citizenship.
For the wake of exclusionary immigration policies and racial discrimination, early Asian immigrants nevertheless successfully built ethnic enclaves throughout the United States. Alaska was home to a diverse community of Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and Filipinos who helped build the region’s fishing industry. Currently, over 20 million people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent live in America, about six percent of the U.S. population.
As diverse communities built strong roots, they retain cultural heritage that stretches across the globe. As our nation’s storyteller, the National Park Service strives to tell the stories of ordinary and extraordinary Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders preserved in memorial and historic sites and national parks.