Interpreting the Asian-American Experience in Parks
The history of Asians in the U.S. reaches back to the early 1800s, long before the American Civil War. Asian peoples have made substantial contributions to the development of the U.S. throughout history. From the Filipinos who were settling in the New Orleans area since at least the 1800s; to the Asian Americans who served in the U.S. armed forces since the War of 1812; to the Chinese who comprised most of the labor force for the Central Pacific Railroad’s portion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s – Asians played a large role in shaping the story of this country.
As the world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia extends from China to Cambodia to India, and even parts of Russia. In the context of the history of the United States, up until the latter half of the 1900s, the Asian American story focuses mostly on East Asian Americans, namely the Chinese and Japanese.
As important as their roles were, both Asian immigrants and American-born citizens faced intense and federally sanctioned racial discrimination in the US. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the nation’s first racial exclusion law, barring Chinese immigrants from entering the country and from becoming naturalized citizens. This further expanded to other Asian and Pacific Island areas through the Immigration Act of 1917. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the deportation and incarceration of Japanese Americans with Executive Order 9066. Four national parks that are dedicated to interpreting the experiences of Japanese Americans after the issue of Executive Order 9066 include:
- Tule Lake National Monument
- Manzanar National Historic Site
- Minidoka National Historic Site
- Honouliuli National Monument
Other parks across the nation highlight the triumphs, perseverance, and contributions of Asian Americans, and visitors today continue to bring their own experiences and stories to parks. From the Chinese Arch at Golden Spike National Historic Site and the Jun Fujita Cabin at Voyageurs National Park to Sing Peak in Yosemite National Park and Angel Island Immigration Station near Golden Gate National Recreation Area, national parks honor the profound impact that Asian people have had on the development of our nation and of our national parks.
This is only the tip of the iceberg and only just begins to tell the story of Asian Americans. The National Park Service released a theme study and that identified multiple Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage sites to help tell a more complete story. The identification of these sites will begin to piece together more of the Asian experience in the U.S, as there is still much more to explore and many untold stories to be unearthed. The National Park Foundation's work in preserving America's history and culture aims to share more comprehensive and inclusive stories that amplify the full range of experiences and voices that are woven into the fabric of the United States, including those of Asian Americans.