11 Moments From Asian American History That You Should KnowHistorians in the News
tags: Asian American History, AAPI Heritage Month
More than 30 years after President George H.W. Bush signed a law that designated May 1990 as the first Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, much of Asian American history remains unknown to many Americans—including many Asian Americans themselves.
Often the Asian-American history taught in classrooms is limited to a few milestones like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the incarceration of people of Japanese descent during World War II, and that abridged version rarely includes the nearly 50 other ethnic groups that make up the fastest-growing racial and ethnic group in the U.S. in the first two decades of the 21st century.
To many, the resulting lack of awareness was highlighted after the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings that left six women of Asian descent dead. The killings fit into a larger trend of violence against Asians failing to be seen or charged as a hate crime, even as leaders lamented that “racist attacks [are]…not who we are” as Americans. But in fact, while the shootings represented the peak of more than a year of increased reports of anti-Asian harassment and discrimination, the tragedy was also part of a more than 150-year-old history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.
“Students can go through their whole educational life, not hearing a single fact or historical reference to Asians in America. We need to teach how Asian Americans experience life and race in America, and how Asian Americans have stood up not just for other Asians, but for all Americans to fight against racism,” Helen Zia, a Chinese American activist and former journalist, tells TIME. “This kind of learning is essential for all of us to see the humanity of each other.”
To help fill the knowledge gap, TIME asked historians and experts on Asian American history nationwide to pick one milestone from this history that they believe should be taught in K-12 schools, and to explain how it provides context for where America is today. Here are the moments they chose.
1765: The first Filipino Americans settle in Louisiana
As early as the year 1765 and through the 1800s, Filipino sailors, known as “Manilamen,” who worked as crew or indentured servants aboard Spanish galleons, jumped ship in the Gulf of Mexico and established the first Filipino American communities in what is now known as the continental United States of America. According to historian Marina Espina, author of Filipinos in Louisiana, by the 1880s, the Manilamen set up eight villages in the bayous of Louisiana. The Manilamen fought alongside the U.S. in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, built houses on stilts similar to the nipa huts of the Philippines, became fishermen who caught and “danced the shrimp” on drying platforms, established ethnic organizations, and intermarried with local Cajun and Creole families, now spanning eight to ten generations of Filipino Americans.
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