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Asian Americans

Indigenous peoples have been joined in the American journey by intrepid explorers, maritime workers on ships plying the oceans in the British Empire, and Filipino seamen landing in Mexico and the Mexican Gulf when the Spanish Empire sent Manila Galleons between the Philippines and Mexico, beginning in the 16th century. Filipinos have lived in the New Orleans region since at least the 1800s. Chinese men were marrying Irish women in New York City before that city had an established Chinatown while others were working for the Hudson Bay Company in Washington and Oregon, sending furs to China in exchange for tea and porcelain.

This early to mid-19th century trade with China created unprecedented wealth for entrepreneurial ship owners and traders in Boston, New York City, and Newport, Rhode Island. Chinese were recruited as strikebreakers in Lowell, Massachusetts and one of them, Lue Gim Gong, eventually went to Florida and developed the orange that revolutionized the juice industry. Native Hawaiians sent by Christian missionaries in Hawai'i to be educated on the mainland went to universities including Yale in Connecticut.

During World War II thousands of Japanese Americans volunteered for and were drafted into segregated units, earning praise and over 20 Congressional Medals of Honor for their heroism. Also during the war, Filipino Americans fought to expel Japanese invaders from the Philippines and both Chinese Americans and Korean Americans served with great distinction.

Early Asian Americans and Pacific Islander communities included the dwindling numbers of Chinese and Chinese Americans who famously created Chinatowns in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York City as well as in a few rural towns such as Walnut Grove, California, and in one instance they created a whole town Locke, California. There were Filipino groups as well, including those who established communities largely comprised of bachelors. Much later, retired Filipino farm workers created Paolo Agbayani Village in what is now The Forty Acres National Historic Landmark, honoring Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union.

Partly as a result of organizing work during World War II, the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union [ILWU] began a series of successful negotiations and strikes immediately after the war. By the end of the 1950s, Hawaii's plantation labor was the highest paid agriculture work force in the world. Not coincidentally, Hawaii's political order was fundamentally altered as workers streamed into the Democratic Party ranks. This coalition of organized labor and Democratic Party control extended from about 1960 and only began to dissipate in the 21st century, a period of fifty years.

Asian Americans, particularly Filipinos, were also active on the mainland in fighting for the rights of workers. The Cannery Worker's and Farm Laborer's Union was formed in Seattle in the 1930s to protect the rights of Filipinos working in the Alaskan salmon canneries. In the late 1950s the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) was created to fight for farm workers' rights in California. Led by and primarily made up of Filipinos, the AWOC went on strike in 1965, against California grape growers. They were eventually joined by Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association in the famous Delano Grape Strike. The five-year strike was a major victory for farm laborers and resulted in the merging of the two organizations into the United Farm Workers, which became a major force in politics and civil and labor rights in the US.

Shortly after the war ended, Filipinos and Asian Indians were allowed to naturalize as well. Later, in 1952, after the Treaty of Peace with Japan was signed by the U.S., Japan, and other Allied nations, Japanese Americans could also become naturalized. But it was the momentous Immigration Act of 1965 which forever changed the immigration dynamic, allowing Asians and Pacific Islanders to immigrate under the same conditions as aspirants from other parts of the globe. Today, the Asian American population in the U.S. is rising at a faster rate than any other "racial" group in the country.

America's war in Southeast Asia, notably in Vietnam but also in Laos and Cambodia stretching from the early 1960s until defeat and withdrawal in 1975, produced a long stream of refugees including many who had fought for the U.S. or who had supported the effort and others who had been impoverished by the cruelties of that devastating conflict. Some were multi-lingual scholars who had been trained under French colonial regimes, others were doctors and other professionals who fled Communist rule. From Laos came not only Laotians like General Vang Pao who had commanded his troops under CIA instructions but also the Hmong peoples, largely illiterate, who had assisted the war from beyond the Vietnamese borders.

One apparent obstacle to Asian American and Pacific Islander success is the lack of business alliances and support. Obtaining capital, marketing goods, and customer service present challenges. A weak political lobby and alliance contributes to the situation, particularly in terms of ensuring political support.

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Page last modified: 26-09-2017 18:49:44 ZULU