Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

This May, join EMCC in celebrating the rich heritage, accomplishments, and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.


Women in a field of sunflowers


The estimated number of Asian alone-or-in-combination residents in the United States.

America's Anti-Immigration Laws: A History of Exclusion and Racism

America's Anti-Immigration Laws: A History of Exclusion and Racism

Beginning in the 1850s, young single men were recruited as contract laborers from Southern China. Working as miners, railroad builders, farmers, factory workers, and fishermen, the Chinese represented 20% of California's labor force by 1870, even though they constituted only .002% of the entire United States population.

And yet in times of economic hardship, the very laborers who built the foundations of wealth in California became the victims of violence and terror. During the depression of 1876, Chinese immigrants were harassed and targeted by white workers, who blamed Chinese immigrants for the lack of jobs. This anti-Asian sentiment led to the San Francisco Riot of 1877, a three-day ethnic expulsion that resulted in the deaths of four Chinese people and over $100,000 in damage in San Francisco's Chinatown. 

Six years later, in 1882, the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act—the only United States Iaw to prevent immigration and naturalization on the basis of race—which restricted Chinese immigration for the next sixty years.

By 1924, with the exception of Filipino "nationals," all Asian immigrants, including Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Indians were fully excluded by law, denied citizenship and naturalization, and prevented from marrying Caucasians or owning land.

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"In a time of destruction, create something." - Maxine Hong Kingston


Dew Yu Wong

Dew Yu Wong, Pillar of the Flagstaff Community

Dew Yu was a Chinese immigrant to Flagstaff during the turn of the 20th century when the Chinese Exclusion Act was law.

She and her husband opened American Laundry in Flagstaff in 1915, a business that, by the time she died, had become a pillar in the community. 

To hear more about Dew Yu Wong, her life and contributions to Arizona history, listen to this KJZZ interview with her son, 85-year-old Dr. James Wong. This interview is part of KJZZ's Women of the West interview series.

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Wong Kim Ark

Securing Americans' Birthright Citizenship

Wong Kim Ark was born in California in 1873 to parents who were Chinese subjects. In his 20s, after a temporary visit to China, he sailed back to San Francisco.

The Chinese Exclusion Act had been passed in his absence, and upon his return, Wong Kim Ark was detained by the Immigration Bureau because they assumed no Chinese person could hold U.S. citizenship.

Wong Kim Ark protested that he was born in California and was therefore a citizen by birth as understood in the 14th Amendment. He filed a writ of habeas corpus (an order demanding that a public official bring an imprisoned person before the court to show a valid reason for that person's detention), and his writ went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that Wong WAS a citizen by birthright and further ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment granted birthright citizenship to any person born in the United States, regardless of race or the status of their parents.

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“Being Asian American means wearing many layers of identity. At first glance, a man of Asian ancestry. At first spoken word, an American.  At deeper reflection, a person of color in America. At the core, a person who seeks peace and social justice.”

– Eddie Wong, Executive Director, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, San Francisco


Japanese Internment

Japanese American Internment: 1942-1945

In reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in early 1942, which allowed the U.S. military to declare the West Coast part of the Pacific Theater. It identified all people of Japanese descent, including Japanese Americans, as potential enemies of the state.

It required that all people of Japanese descent, up to 70% of whom were American citizens, be interred in isolated camps across the United States. People were given only 48 hours to pack essentials and secure their land, businesses, homes, and vehicles. If they were unable to find anyone to care for their property or belongings, it was confiscated and sold. Many families lost everything.

The internment camps were located in isolated sections of the country, many in brutal climates, and the cramped, uninsulated, army-style barracks housed four or five families per building. Most lived in these conditions until the end of the war in 1945.

Locally, there were two internment camps in Arizona, one on the Gila River Indian Reservation (over their adamant objections on civil rights grounds) and one in Poston, Arizona.

In 1976, President Ford officially repealed Executive Order 9066, but it wasn't until 1988 that Congress passed, and President Reagan signed, Public Law 100-383, which acknowledged the injustice of internment, apologized for it, and provided a $20,000 cash payment to each person who was interned.

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Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii

Colonization: Hawai'i's Loss of Sovereignty

As recently as 1893, the islands of Hawai'i were under the sovereignty of Queen Lili'uokalani, a daughter of the House of King Kamehameha.

Queen Lili'uokalani was deposed by Americans within the kingdom government, who had rewritten the constitution under the previous King Kalākaua, severely curtailing the royal's power and disenfranchising the rights of most Native Hawaiians and Asian citizens to vote through excessively high property and income requirements. This gave a sizeable advantage to the white landowners who had taken Hawai'ian land for sugar, coffee, and pineapple plantations.

Queen Lili'uokalani attempted to restore royal powers in 1893 but was placed under house arrest by businessmen, including Sanford B. Dole of Dole Foods, with help from the U.S. military. Against the Queen's wishes, the Republic of Hawai'i was formed for a short time. This government agreed on behalf of Hawai'i to join the U.S. in 1898 as the Territory of Hawai'i.

It is estimated that the native Hawai'ian population declined from 300,000 in the 1770s to over 60,000 in the 1850s to 24,000 in 1920. 

In 1959, the islands became the state of Hawai'i of the United States.

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Queen Lili'uokalani

Never cease to act because you fear you may fail.

- Queen Lili'uokalani