This page is intended to stimulate discussion, and comments do not necessarily reflect the views of BRJA.

Additional resources about the history and impact of institutional racism on different Asian populations can be found on our Resources/Asians & Racism page.




Chinese railroad workers

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) trace their roots through hundreds of global journeys and to many different lands, nations, and tribes.  The “AAPI experience,” is diverse and often contested.  The Asian American and Pacific Islander population in the United States and its territories/Empire, like throughout the Americas, is directly connected to European and American colonization and imperialism.  Often, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are discussed together though they have very different historical roots and journeys.  Like other diasporic groups, the journeys of Asians and their descendants in the Americas is linked to the histories of war, colonization, and economic exploitation that has undergirded world history for five centuries.  Pacific Islanders, who trace their roots to the islands of Oceania including Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, Micronesia, and Polynesia, have historically faced colonization from European, American, and sometimes Asian forces.

Early 20th century Sikh migrants on the Pacific Coast

The first people of Asian descent in the United States were thought to be sailors from the Philippines on Spanish boats who jumped ship in Louisiana in the 1700s.  Starting in the late 1800s, migrants from China began to come to the West Coast due to increased aggression from the United States and Europe in China and the rumors of gold.  These migrants faced violence from whites who drove Chinese people out of their towns and terrorized them with racial violence and destruction of their homes.  They were followed by Japanese, Indian, Korean, and Filipino migrants who arrived in the U.S. and Hawaii from different circumstances but all to fulfill America’s desire for cheap labor. Indian and Chinese laborers, called “coolies” were also brought to work on the plantations in Hawaii and throughout the Caribbean.  In 1882, with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese were banned from immigrating to the United States.  Japanese, Indian, and Filipino migrations also started in the late 19th and early 20th century.  In 1898, the United States colonized the Philippines and it remained an American colony until 1943.  Hawaii, Guam, and other Pacific islands also became American territory.  After 1917, no person of Asian ancestry was allowed to enter the United States, except those of higher classes such as students, professionals, scientists, etc.  Before 1952, no person of Asian ancestry could become a naturalized citizen of the United States.  Wars and imperialism in Southeast Asia, Korea, and Japan generated new migrations of refugees, war brides, international adoptees, and others.


 Japanese American children at Camp Harmony (Puyallup Assembly Center) which was part of the internment camp system in Washington State
Japanese American children at Camp Harmony in Washington

During World War II, over 110,000 Japanese Americans (2/3 of them American citizens) were relocated from their homes to internment camps throughout the West Coast.  Deemed permanently alien and therefore, not capable of being trustworthy due to their race, Japanese Americans lost billions of dollars of property as they had to flee their homes and land.  The Densho Legacy Project collects oral histories from Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II.

Members of Asian American Political Alliance (including Richard Aoki) at a 1968 Free Huey protest in Oakland, California
Members of Asian American Political Alliance at a 1968 Free Huey protest in Oakland, California


The “Model Minority”

In 1965, a new immigration law opened the doors to Asian migration but put special procedures in place that made it easier for scientists and professionals to enter the country.  The stereotype of Asian Americans as the “model minority” was purposefully perpetuated by white supremacist media, scholars, and policymakers in order to repress African Americans by creating a myth that hard work and peaceful appeals would result in advances in racial justice.  Asian Americans were held up (and also stepped into the role) as the quintessential example of a minority that could “make it” through hard work.  This myth created positive stereotypes of Asian Americans that generally lessened violent repression but also erased the history of radical Asian American protest and made them “honorary whites,” inferior to whites but subject to less violence than other people of color.  The model minority myth also obscures the fact that some Asian American communities have not benefitted from the model minority stereotype such as Hmong and Southeast Asian communities.  In addition, the stereotype has been the cause of increased rates of depression and suicide, especially among young Asian Americans. The stories of Asian and their descendants in the US are largely unknown outside our communities.  The misinformation and stereotypes perpetuated by white America about Asians serve to bolster white supremacy, rewarding Asians for assimilating into whiteness and therefore maintaining anti-Black racism.


Resources on Asian Americans:

Below are some resources to learn about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders:



Who Says There are No AAPI Civil Rights Heroes?

16-part video series profiles AAPI civil rights icons



  • Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki
  • Bengali Harlem by Vivek Bald
  • The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority by Ellen D. Wu
  • Chains of Babylon by Daryl Maeda
  • Driven Out by Jean Pfaelzer
  • Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting by Vijay Prashad



Angry Asian Man:

A blog about Asian America and issues facing Asian Americans.

About Race Files (from the website)

“We live in an age of colorblind racism. We claim we don’t see color, yet American society continues to be organized and divided by race. Race Files exists to lift the veil of colorblindness – to make race and racism visible. We use analogy, pop culture, and personal narratives to tell the story of race and create a language that will help us defeat racism. Our main focus is Asian Americans, and much that you find here is for and about us. We are a group about which we believe a lot needs to be said, both concerning our experience of anti-Asian racism, and about the particular role Asians play in the racial hierarchy. We are also a group for whom we believe educational resources are needed if we are to play a positive role as the fastest growing racial minority group at a time when racial demographics in the U.S. are shifting in favor of people of color. We invite you to talk back to us, share your own thoughts, and to use what you find useful here to advance the dialogue about race and racism. Read more.”

botphoto “Ancestors in the Americas”:

An interactive website developed by PBS on the history of Asians in the Americas.