Historical Snapshots: Asian America Asian American Resource Center

Who are Asian Americans?

Do you like listening to pop music? Do you spend a lot of time on the internet? Bruno Mars is one of the most successful singer-songwriters today. Jerry Young co-founded the internet company, Yahoo. They are both Asian Americans. Today, Asian Americans are recognized in a variety of fields; arts and entertainment, politics, medical, academic, business, and many more. About 21 million Asian Americans have their roots in more than 20 countries in Asia.

Just like there are all kinds of Asian Americans, there is an even wider variety of stories. No two stories are alike but each equally important. As we learn more about our history, more stories appear.

This 3-series program is a snapshot of stories from groups in the three major waves of immigration in Asian American history. Meet different Asian and Asian American groups throughout history and learn their immigration story.

Part 2 is about the second wave of immigrants in the mid 1900s.

Image Description: Photographed by Dorothea Lange, members of the Shibuya family enjoy life in their Santa Clara home at the brink of Japanese American incarceration.

Image Source: Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Part 2

The Second Wave (1940s-1970s)

Recommended Ages: Middle School. Duration of Session: 1 hour.

Executive Order 9066 & Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Just like the 19th Century laws you learned in Lesson 1, immigration laws in the 20th Century continued to impact the realities and futures of many Asian Americans. Two laws, the Executive Order 9066 in 1942 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 serve as legislative bookends, but had long lasting effects on the groups you will meet in this lesson.

Background Image Description: President Lyndon B. Johnson signing into law the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 at the base of the Statue of Liberty, on October 3, 1965.

Background Image Source: Digitally reproduced by the USC Digital Library. From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California

The Issei, Nisei, and Sansei

Meet three generations of Japanese Americans. The Issei (First Generation), the Nisei (Second Generation) and the Sansei (Third Generation). During World War II, all three generations were gravely impacted by Executive Order 9066.

In 1942, Executive Order 9066 is President Franklin D. Roosevelt's order that infamously detained many Japanese and Japanese Americans and some German and Italian Americans into concentration camps throughout the country during World War II. Regardless of citizenship, anyone of Japanese heritage were viewed as "enemies of the state" and were required to leave their homes, businesses, careers, and school behind and stay in temporary housing facilities, such as horses stalls in converted racetracks. Once permanent facilities were built, Japanese and Japanese Americans were detained in the concentration camps until 1946.

Life in the camps were difficult and many families struggled during their incarceration and even after their release. Many returned to their homes sold to new families and businesses vandalized. Within many families, parents and grandparents did not talk about their time in these concentration camps and at the national level, their stories were buried for almost a whole generation.

Over 40 years later, in 1988, the efforts of community activists, leaders, and politicians resulted in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Survivors of the concentration camps were given reparations and a formal apology from the United States government for the evacuation, relocation, and incarceration. The 1988 act also intended to discourage similar injustices in the future.

Watch: Click on the video below to short cartoon that documents the experience of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Video Source: "Ugly history: Japanese American incarceration camps - Densho" by TED-Ed, Oct 01, 2019.

Image description: Posters announcing the forced removal and detainment of Japanese Americans in San Francisco, California, following the enactment of Executive Order 9066.

Image Source: Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain

First Hand Account: Listen to actress, Sandra Oh, read Civil Right Activist, Yuri Kochiyama's first hand account of her experience in the Japanese American concentration Camps.

Video Source: "Sandra Oh reads Yuri Kochiyama" Voices of a People's History of the United States, Jan 24, 2008

Manongs of Delano

Japanese Americans were not alone in facing discrimination in this time. From the 1920s and onward, Filipino immigrants settled in the West, in search of economic opportunity. As "manongs" found low-paying and demanding work in agricultural fields, they became part of the larger Farmworkers' Movement, forming the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC). After years of collaborating with other minority workers, including Chicanos and the United Farm Workers (UFW), they gained national recognition.

Though farmworkers successfully pushed for increased wages and improved working conditions in the 1930s through the 1950s, one of their biggest achievements came in 1965. Under the leadership of Larry Itliong, 1500 Filipinos rose to strike against the grape companies of Delano, CA. Itliong decided to reach out to the predominantly Mexican American National Farmworkers Association, led by key figures like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. The strike lasted five years, and by the end of it, the farmworkers made impressive gains to improve the lives of thousands of farmworkers. By joining forces in the United Farm Workers, they had more power and a stronger voice.

The Manongs show the strength and determination of Filipino Americans, and that immigrants groups can overcome the odds and pursue a better livelihood for everyone. Working together, as both Itliong and Chavez realized, was essential to demanding change. Their efforts occurred in the backdrop of the 1960s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Video Source: "California Farmworkers Who Sparked A Rebellion For Farmworkers' Rights" by AJ+, Sep 08, 2015.

Image Description: A mural pays ode to the leaders of the UFW (United Farm Workers), featuring Larry Itliong, Phillip Vera Cruz, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and more.

Image Source: "Leaders of the UFW" by kennyschang is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Civil Rights Activism

The 1960s is remembered as one of the most important decades in U.S. history, impacting the lives of many communities around the country, Asian Americans included. Coming together to voice their anger at the status quo, determined to create a better future, thousands of people took to the streets, workplaces, and college campuses to make history.

Communities continued to confront discrimination, injustice and inequality throughout the 20th century. In response, large protests and marches swept the country, often led by powerful African American leaders including Marin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. As protestors fought for basic rights and equal opportunity in education, they crossed ethnic lines. For example, Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama is known for her friendship with Malcolm X. Like Itliong and the Manongs, she found that change was only possible with collaboration. She strived to build bridges between Asian Americans and other minority groups to face common struggles for justice and civil rights.

College campuses became a critical place of protest for Asian Americans and other minority groups in the 60s. Not only did these students empower themselves to speak up about their experiences with discrimination, but they also recognized the importance of learning about their shared history. Historian and activist Yuji Ichioka is known for coining the term "Asian American." Before this era, the larger community of immigrants from Asia were divided based on ethnic origin. They did not see themselves as part of the same group. By realizing the similarities, and the differences, in their experiences, Asian Americans found a more influential platform to call for change.

Video Source: "AAPI Civil Rights Heroes - Yuri Kochiyama" by Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, May 16, 2019.

Image Description: Yuri Kochiyama saw parallels in how non-white Americans experienced racism, leading her to stand alongside African American activists.

Image Source: BlackPast.org

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, opened the door to waves of non-European immigrants. Before this major law passed, the 1924 Reed-Johnson Act only accepted small numbers of immigrants based on their ethnic origin, using a quota. After decades of this discriminatory system, the federal government decided to set preferences for family reunification, employment opportunities and refugee settlement.

With more immigrants coming from across Asia following the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community continued to grow in both presence and representation. In 1965, Asian Americans made up less than 1% of the total population of the country. Fifty years later, that number has jumped to 6%. Diverse groups of immigrants not only from Japan and China but also from countries in South and Southeast Asia carried their own stories of struggle and success to the United States. Their children and younger generations continue that legacy today.

Image Description: A chart documents the growth of diverse AAPI communities after the passage of the 1965 Immigration Law.

Image Source: Census Bureau Data from iPUMS

Background Image Description: Representative Patsy Mink announces the formation of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in 1994. Representative Mink was the first woman of color and the first AAPI woman elected to Congress. She also co-authored Title IX.

Background Image Source: CQ Roll Call Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

Craft Activity

Peace Poster

In the movements that took place throughout the 20th century, from the push for Civil Rights and an end to the Vietnam War, protests were essential. They brought people together under a common cause, and posters were another way to express their demands. In this activity, you will make your own poster for peace.

Image Description: A poster displays two hands raised up to showcase solidarity, along with a slogan encouraging peaceful protest.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Craft Supplies & Tools

  • White paper
  • Construction paper
  • Crayons or markers
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Optional miscellaneous craft material - string, ribbons, glitter, etc.


  1. Think about what peace means to you. What do you imagine? Do any symbols come to mind?
  2. Pick a symbol for peace and draw it on a piece of paper, using crayons or markers.
  3. Add words that you associate with peace. Try to come up with a short slogan to include with your drawing.

Part 3: Today's Wave Coming Soon!

Missed Part One: The First Wave? Revisit the series here.

We'd love to hear your feedback!


Created with an image by cheng feng - "untitled image"