When I was in high school, my U.S. history teacher spent an entire month — I shit you not — teaching the class about Andrew Jackson’s love life, but he failed to spend even one hour focusing on the history of Asian Americans. It wasn’t until I attended college and did some research on my own that I finally learned about Vincent Chin, the Chinese Massacre of 1871, and the L.A. Riots.
This is an experience shared by many, if not most, Asians educated in western countries. There is a general lack of interest surrounding our history in the U.S. and as a result, the hard work of the first Asian immigrants to settle in this country have been reduced to a mere paragraph in our textbooks. With all the anti-immigration rhetoric in the news today, it’s more important than ever to brush up on our history, so here are 15 shocking facts on Asian American history that you’ve probably never heard about.
1. Filipino immigrants were some of the first Asians to settle in America. In 1763, they fled from the Spanish galleons by jumping ship in New Orleans and escaping into the Louisiana bayous. And in the 1790s, the first Asian Indian immigrants arrived in Massachusetts. It wasn’t until 1848 that gold was discovered in California and Chinese miners began to arrive.
2. In 1854, Yung Wing graduated from Yale, making him the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university. In 2004, Yale university dedicated a bronze statue of Wing in Betts House.
3. Also in 1854, People v. Hall reversed the murder conviction against George W. Hall because all three witnesses were Chinese and ultimately established that Chinese Americans or Chinese immigrants could not legally testify against white Americans in court.
4. In 1858, the San Francisco Evening Bulletin published an editorial that stated, “If we are compelled to have Negroes and Chinamen among us, it is better, of course, that they should be educated. But teach them separately from our Caucasian blood pure. We want no mongrel race of moral and mental hybrids to people the mountains and valleys of California.” In 1859, the Chinese were officially excluded from San Francisco public schools.
5. In 1877, a group of white men shot six Chinese men in Chico, California, killing four of them. After this shooting, several fires were set in the local Chinatown, which was extinguished by the residents.
6. Chinese miners in Wyoming were attacked by a mob of white miners in 1885, resulting in at least 28 Chinese killed and 15 wounded. After the murders, the bodies were tossed into a fire and 79 homes of Chinese miners were also set on fire. The remaining several hundred Chinese miners were forced to flee after being chased out of town.
7. A Japanese man, Shebata Saito, applied for naturalization in 1894, but the courts refused because he was neither White nor Black. The report quoted the act for naturalization as justification for this rejection, which states, “The provisions of this title shall apply to aliens being free white persons, and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.”
8. Following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Honolulu in 1896, officials perpetuated stereotypes about the dirtiness of Chinese immigrants and turned to extreme measures. The homes of Chinese residents in Honolulu were sprayed with carbolic acid, the residents were forced to shower at public stations and their belongings were thrown out. Eventually they resorted to burning down Chinatown, leaving eight thousand people displaced. In 1900, a similar bubonic plague scare swept through San Francisco at a time when anti- Chinese sentiment was rampant. As a result, Chinatown was quarantined and health officials ran house inspections against the wishes of the residents.
9. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed all municipal records, incuding the immigration records. This meant Chinese immigrants were finally able to claim citizenship and even bring their children to America. Prior to the Earthquake, white leaders were trying to push out Chinese immigrants, believing them to be filthy and dangerous economic threats so this proved to be a massive turning point for Asian American immigrants.
10. Fusakichi Omori, a seismology professor from Tokyo, arrived in San Francisco in 1906 to study the aftermath of the earthquake with his colleague, Professor T. Nakamura. The two were stoned and attacked by angry white residents carrying anti-Japanese sentiment. However, these attackers were portrayed as heroes in the local press.
11. The Expatriation Act of 1907 declared that American women who married non-citizens or immigrants would lose their citizenship. To gain citizenship, she would have to wait until her husband became naturalized and they would be allowed to go through the naturalization process together. None of these rules applied to American men seeking foreign wives.
12. The Immigration Act of 1917 is also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act and banned immigration from any Asian country not owned by the U.S. including Japan, China, India and several other countries regardless of the immigrant’s education or class. The Philippines were not included in the ban as it was a U.S. territory at the time.
13. Bhagat Singh Thind immigrated to the U.S. from Punjab in 1913 and worked in a lumber mill to pay off his tuition at UC Berkeley. He later enlisted in the U.S. army in 1917 when the U.S. was entering World War I and was honorably discharged in 1918. In 1920, he applied for naturalization and the case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind declared that Asian Indians were ineligible to become naturalized citizens and as a result many Indian immigrants who obtained naturalization prior to this case were stripped of their citizenship.
14. In 1930, mobs of mostly young white men terrorized the Filipino communities of Watsonville, California for five days. Filipino immigrants were robbed, beaten and eventually driven out of their homes. This violence resulted in the death of Fermin Tobera along with 50 other Filipino residents suffering injuries. Out of the hundreds of rioters, only eight were caught. Four of these men were tried and only one was given a maximum sentence of one month in prison.
15. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 abolished the immigration quota system imposed on non-European countries. The new immigration policy focused on attracting skilled labor to the U.S. and reuniting immigrant families. Over the next few years, this act would significantly alter the demographic of the American population as immigrants from Asia and other non-European countries significantly increased.