Asian American History Timeline

Asians first began to immigrate to the U.S. in the mid-19th century. Since then, they have undergone violent and unjust discrimination but have also overcome it. Today, Asian-Americans proudly live as U.S. citizens, with equal rights and equal contributions to the country.

19th Century Asian-Americans

1850’s Migration to Gold Mountain

The first Asians to migrate to the United States were the Chinese in the mid-19th century to work in the gold mines and railroads.1

1850 People vs. Hall

This appealed murder case established that Chinese in the U.S. had no rights to testify against white citizens. The ruling freed Hall, a white man, from the conviction and death sentence for killing Ling Sing, a Chinese man. Three Chinese had testified to the murder.2

1868 Burlingame Treaty

The Burlingame Treaty of 1868 established friendly relations between the U.S. and China, including the encouragement of Chinese immigration to the U.S., but naturalization was strictly prohibited.3

1870 Naturalization Act

The Naturalization Act of 1870 put controls on U.S. immigration and limited naturalization to “aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent” “whites” thus excluding all Asians from receiving citizenship.4

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Anti-Chinese sentiment grew and in 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, effectively banning Chinese migration for 10 years.5

As a result, there was an increase in Japanese immigration to replace Chinese laborers.

1885-86 Anti-Chinese Riots Washington

After years of anti-Chinese sentiment, which is said to have stemmed from the Union Pacific Railroad company hiring Chinese as strikebreakers in 1875, culminated in tragic riots. The China Town in Seattle was burned down on October 24. That year there were also violent riots against Chinese in Washington, Alaska, California, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nevada.6

1898 U.S. acquires the Philippines

In 1898, the U.S. acquired the Philippines from Spain as a territory at the end of the Spanish-American War. This was the start of Filipino migration.

20th Century Asian-Americans

1905 Anti-Japanese Movement

Japanese and Korean Exclusion League formed in San Francisco by 67 labor unions, barring

1906 Filipino migration to Hawaii

Hawai`i Sugar Planters'Association (HSPA) began recruiting workers from the Philippines in 1906 after their access to Chinese, Japanese and Korean labor was limited by immigration legislation. By 1930, about 100,000 Filipino workers had migrated to Hawaii.

1907 Asian Exclusion Act League

Japanese and Korean Exclusion League renamed the Asian Exclusion League to combat the influx of Indian immigrants.8

1907-1908 Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan

With a goal to reduce tensions between the two countries, the U.S. and Japan entered into an agreement in 1907 that hindered the migration of Japanese to the U.S. The U.S. would not restrict Japanese migration, but rather Japan would deny passports to laborers seeking to enter the U.S.9

1910 Angel Island

Angel Island, off the coast of San Francisco, opened as an immigration station. Here, many Asian migrants were unjustly held or even turned away.10

1914-1918 World War I

Despite discrimination against Asian-Americans, many chose to serve in the war and were awarded naturalization for their service. By the end of World War I in 1918, there were nearly 180,000 Asian-Americans living in the United States, including about 100,000 Japanese and 60,000 Chinese and 5,000 Filipinos.11

1917 Immigration Act

Enacted during World War I, the Immigration Act of 1917 restricted immigration from anyone born in a geographically defined "Asiatic Barred Zone" except for Japanese and Filipinos. The Gentleman's agreement already restricted immigration of Japanese and the Philippines was an American colony and so its citizens were American nationals.12

1924 Immigration Act

The Immigration Act of 1924 created a national origins quota which limited the number of immigrants by country and excluded all immigrants from Asia.12

1941 Pearl Harbor

Even before Pearl Harbor, Japanese were discriminated against in the U.S. After the attack, this discrimination grew to monumental proportions.

1942 Japanese Internment begins

On March 18, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority that forcefully moved to internment camps. But even with this discrimination, many first-generation Japanese-Americans joined the U.S. military.13

1942 Second War Powers Act

The Second War Powers Act of 1942 opened naturalization to many immigrant groups, removing requirements of such as age, race and enemy alien status. The Act was created with intentions to naturalize persons serving in the U.S. military during World War II.14

1943 Chinese Exclusion Act repealed

The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, removing the annual quota that limited Chinese migration to 105 visas per year. The action was done to strengthen ties with World War II ally China, who was under the influence of Japanese propaganda which referenced Chinese exclusion from the U.S. However, while the Act was repealed, the still standing Immigration Act of 1924 stated that aliens ineligible for U.S. citizenship were not permitted to enter the U.S. and this included Chinese.15

1945 World War II ends / War Brides Act

Enacted on December 28, 1945 the War Brides Act allowed the immigration of all non-Asian spouses, natural children and adopted children of U.S. military personal.

Asians who had served in the military, excluding Japanese, during the war were given the option of becoming U.S. citizens. Approximately 10,000 Filipinos took this opportunity.16

1946 Luce-Cellar Bill

The Luce-Cellar Bill was passed in 1946 to allow 100 Indians to be admitted per year and allowed them to become citizens. The Philippines got a quota of 100 persons per year.

1948-1965 Indian Immigration

Between 1948 and 1965 nearly 7,000 East Indians immigrated to the U.S., the largest number in history.8

1947 War Brides Act modified

The War Brides Act, originally established at the end of WWII, was modified to no longer me exclusionary to Asians. However, the ban was lifted only for spouses of U.S. military personnel, not children, and only if the marriage occurred no later than 30 days after the law’s enactment..17

1952 Immigration and Nationality Act

The 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act upheld the national origins quota system, which limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. annually by country. It ended the Asian exclusion from immigrating to the U.S. and created a preference system which determined eligibility by skill sets and family ties in the U.S.18

The Act eliminated laws preventing Asians from naturalizing, got rid of the Asiatic Barred Zone, and allotted each Asian country a minimum of 100 visas annually. However, the law allotted Asian quotas based on race rather than nationality. This allowed persons of Asian parentage and any nationality to receive visas under the generic quota for the “Asian Pacific Triangle,” which ended up limiting Asian immigration.18

1950-1953 Korean War

Many Asian-Americans served in the Korean War, which helped to combat Asian discrimination in the U.S.

1950’s - 1960’s Asian-Americans elected to Congress

The first Asian-America to be elected to Congroess was Dalip Singh from California in 1956. Throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s Asian discrimination in the U.S. began to recede. In 1962 Daniel K. Inouye, from Hawaii, was elected to the Senate and Spark Matsunaga, from Hawaii, to the House. Two years later, Patsy Takemoto Mink, from Hawaii, was elected to the House, becoming the first Asian-American woman in Congress.19

1965 Immigration and Nationality Act

The 1965 Immigration or Nationality Act, aka the Hart-Cellar Act, abolished the discriminatory national origins quota system, replacing it with a preference system that was based on skills and family ties to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. It established an annual cap of 270,000 immigrants per year with no more than 20,000 from one country.

1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allowed undocumented persons who had resided in the U.S. continuously since January 1, 1982 to apply for legal status.20

1990 Immigration Act

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the annual visa cap to 700,000, nearly tripling it, for the next three years and 675,000 annually for every year after.22

21st Century Asian-Americans

2012 Asians surpass Hispanics as biggest immigrant group

In 2012, Asians surpassed Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants in the U.S. A record 18.2 million Asians were recorded to be living in the U.S., making them the fastest-growing racial group in the country.

2013 Immigration Reform Bill

In the spring of 2013, comprehensive immigration reform was introduced to the U.S. Congress. If enacted, the bill will create a DREAM Act for persons of all ages, thousands of new visa allotments and a path to naturalization for undocumented persons living in the U.S.


“Gold Mountain Dreams” from PBS

“People vs. Hall” from Wikipedia

“The Burlingame-Seward Treaty, 1868” from U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian

“Asian American Studies” from University of Pennsylvania

“Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)” from Harvard University

“The Anti-Chinese Hysteria of 1885-1886” from Harperweek

“Filipino laborers arrive” from

“The Passage from India” from Immigration Policy Center

“Gentleman’s Agreement” from

“Angel Island: Guardian of the Western Gate” from University of Illinois

“World War I” from U.S. Army Asian Pacific Americans in the United States Army

“The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act)” from U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian

“World War II” from U.S. Army Asian Pacific Americans in the United States Army

“Military Naturalization During WWII” from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

“Repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, 1943” from U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian

“A Short History of the 1st & 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments of the U. S. Army in World War II” from California State Military Department, The California State Military Museum

“The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (The McCarran-Walter Act)” from U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian

“Vietnam War” from U.S. Army Asian Pacific Americans in the United States Army

“1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, a.k.a the Hart-Cellar Act” from US immigration legislation online

“The Immigration Act of 1990” from

“In a Shift, Biggest Wave of Migrants Is Now Asian” from New York Times

“Immigration Reform” from