Skip to Main Content
  • David Glenn Hunt Memorial Library

    The history of immigration to the United States in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is long and complex. While no one cultural or ethnic group moved in a singular way, here are a few trends throughout America's history.

    Colonial presence

    Colonialism and the increased globalized trade of the 16th-18th centuries led to unique migration patterns and power dynamics for the peoples of Asia and the Pacific. The earliest Asian immigrants came on Spanish ships in 1587, and various Europeans and Americans influenced migration through expansion in the Eastern Hemisphere.

    Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

    The peoples of the Pacific Islands had a complicated history of immigration.  These regions not only immigrated themselves but saw large immigration of East Asian peoples who settled in the area, creating a complex tapestry of people in the region. Factors such as Christian missionaries in the region, the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest, and the annexation of Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa also led to increased immigration to the continental United States.

    Transcontinental Railroad and Chinese Immigrants

    The first major wave of Asian immigration to the continental United States occurred primarily on the West Coast during the California Gold Rush, starting in the 1850s. Many Chinese immigrants often worked for unfair wages in mines, factories, and notably on the Transcontinental Railroad. Despite unfair treatment, Chinese-Americans built cultural enclaves in cities such as San Francisco and New York.

    20th Century Wars and Refugees

    The wars of the 20th century destabilized many regions of Asia and the Pacific and led to increased immigration from many regions and the creation of even more cultural enclaves in the United States. Immigrants and refugees from regions such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to name a few, began to arrive in American throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Many of these immigrants even came and settled in Texas, bringing their rich culture and traditions with them!

    Sources: History of Asian Americans - Wikipedia, Pacific Islander Americans -Wikipedia, Asian American Milestones: Timeline -