By: Evie Fitzpatrick
Asians in the United States have always been hidden when it comes to being in our history books. We always hear the stories of the European immigrants coming to the United States (which is important of course!), but the fact that Asians are always left out of these curriculums is disheartening. Where are we when it comes to the story of America? What role do we play? I have been asking these questions for years, and never got an answer until recently. One day during quarantine, I was messing around on Google and began looking up some questions regarding the history of Asians in the United States. There, I found an influx of information that I had never known about until that moment. It really opened my eyes to the struggles that Asian immigrants faced when they came to the United States, and how much they had to overcome. So where did the story of Asian Americans begin?
Although Flilipinos attempted to come to America in the late 16th century, it wasn’t until the 17th century that the first Asian was documented in the United States. In Jamestown, Virginia, it was recorded that an East Asian lived there, although there are not many more details about who this individual was. After this, it wouldn’t be until the later half of the 18th century when Asians really started to come to the U.S. In 1763, Flilipinos established the settlement of Saint Malo in what is now Louisiana. These inhabitants of the settlements escaped from a Spanish trade ship, and decided to live in an area where Spanish officials could not reach them. Also around this time, Chinese sailors arrived in Hawaii and Baltimore, Maryland, where many settled and stayed.
In the 19th century, Asians began working in various occupations throughout the United States. Flilipinos worked as shrimp fishermen, smugglers, and artillery gunners in Louisiana under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans. Chinese sailors and merchants also begin coming to the United States to live. Even with all of these accomplishments however, there were still some setbacks. In 1854, the court case of People v. Hall ruled that Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans could be denied the right to testify against white citizens. Other obstacles to Asians, more specifically the Chinese, included California putting a tax on anyone who was a Chinese man, the Chinese being named ineligible for natural citizenship, the banning of Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States, and the killing of 59 Chinese miners over a span of a year.
Going into the early 1900’s, there was still a lot of hate towards Asian immigrants and Asian Americans. Schools were set on segregating Asians, especially those of Japanese heritage, but this was eventually stopped in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt and the Japanese government. The court case of Lum v. Rice also exemplified that states possessed the right to define a Chinese person as “non-white” in order to segregate them. Immigration policies for the Asian community also changed during this time. The 1924 Immigration Act barred most immigrants coming from Asia, which caused outrage. In 1935 however, Flilipinos were allowed to come to the United States officially under the Tydings-McDuffie Act, since the Philippines was transitioning from being an American colony to an independent one. Going into the later half of the 20th century, things would do downhill due to World War II.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, a navy base in Hawaii, in 1941, U.S. citizens became suspicious of Japanese Americans, even though they had no involvement in the attack. This led to President Franklin Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which sent over 100,000 people of Japanese descent to Internment camps. Here at these camps, people were surrounded by barbed wire, with no means of escape. Eventually, the order was suspended by Roosevelt in 1944, with the camps being shut down officially in 1946. Although these events were absolutely horrid, after World War II, Asians began showing up in all sectors of careers and entertainment. Asian athletes like Wataru Misaka, Vicki Draves, Sammy Lee, and Roman Gabriel begin playing in professional leagues and even being in the Olympics. Politicians of Asian descent also appeared including Dalip Singh Saund, Daniel K. Inouye, Pasty T. Mink, and John Wing. This was the time when Asian Americans suddenly became a part of the mainstream news. They weren’t just labor workers anymore. They were helping to make history for the United States. And this still continues to this day.
Now more than ever, we are seeing Asian representation. From Andrew Yang, to Mindy Kaling, we are seeing Asians do everything. Whether it’s running for presidency, or being on the big screen, we are finally being seen by the rest of the country. As an Asian American, I am proud to see how far the community has gone, and how resilient with have been. Even with the xenophobia we have faced due to COVID-19, we have remained determined and never let the harmful words of others faze us. I hope that in the future, these moments of history are actually put in the history books, so everyone can realize and learn about our history. We have an untold story, but that has now changed.