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 our 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 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.
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.
Today, national park sites preserve and interpret the complex history of Asian experiences in America. This history can even be found in national parks such as Yosemite National Park, that were shaped by the presence of the Asian peoples.
These four national parks are dedicated to interpreting the Japanese-American experience:
- Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument
- Manzanar National Historic Site
- Minidoka National Historic Site
- Honouliuli National Monument
There are also a few locations within national parks, such as Chinese Arch at Golden Spike National Historic Site, the Jun Fujita Cabin at Voyageurs National Park, and Sing Peak in Yosemite National Park that honor the profound impact the 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 this 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.