By Michelle Banh
From as early as the mid-1800s, people from Asian countries have immigrated to the United States seeking better lives. With assurances of prosperity and opportunities abound, the U.S. has and continues to play the role of the promised land for many foreigners.
Filipinos expected just that when they settled in modern day Louisiana in the 1760s. Arriving by Spanish galleons – broad, multi-decked ships – that stopped in Mexican ports, these Asian pioneers deserted their maritime posts to make their way into America. Once settled, Filipinos began forming shrimping villages that have lasted to this day.
Roughly 80 years later, Chinese and Indian immigrants came to the U.S., though under extremely unsavory circumstances. With the abolition of the slave trade recently underway, British and Spanish colonialists were running short on African slaves. Before long, South China and India became the new “it” locations to find replacement laborers. These Chinese and Indian individuals were ultimately “recruited” to work at remote sugar and cotton plantations.
Approximately 250,000 Chinese and 500,000 Indians were transported to America under this new system of slavery.
It was not until 1848 that Asians voluntarily immigrated to the U.S. in significant numbers. Lured by the promise of wealth at “Gold Mountain” (a Chinese nickname for California during the Gold Rush), Chinese immigrants flocked to America in record numbers. While some became miners, others worked as smalltime merchants, gardeners, and domestics.
Then in 1865, the Transcontinental Railroad project revolutionized transportation and effectively established Asian social standing in America.
As the Union Pacific worked westward from Nebraska and the Central Pacific worked eastward from Sacramento, the two companies hired roughly 3,000 Chinese immigrants to take part. Although they worked strenuous hours – often without fair pay – and sacrificed a number of their lives in the process, the Chinese were ultimately left out of any celebrations when the railroad was complete.
Anti-Chinese sentiments came to a head in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which stopped all immigration from China and denied citizenship to any Chinese already in the U.S.
Such were the beginnings of Asian immigration to America – not always positive, but definitive of the Asian American community today.
“When I read about how Asians used to be persecuted by Americans in history, I feel a sense of happiness that we have moved so far from that now that Americans can embrace being Asian,” said Jenny Liu, a USC freshman from Fremont, Calif.
Though the Asian American community has had its fair share of obstacles in immigrating to this country, its tremendous efforts to build and foster an Asian American identity from the ground up has forever impacted the millions of people living in America today.