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Antero Cabrera & the 1904 World Fair

In the midst of discrimination and exploitation of his race, there was one remarkable Igorot boy who, with his exceptional grace, stood tall and triumphant in front of the world at the St. Louis World’s Fair.

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A day for my grandfather in the fair would be waking up to the requirements of the fair managers. They had a routine. They were asked to perform dances. They were told to do some dog eating. These were savages and this was how they looked. This was how they lived.

Mia Abeya (Antero Cabrera’s granddaughter)
Antero Cabrera with his class at the 1904 World's Fair
Antero Cabrera 'at home' at the 1904 World's Fair

Antero Cabrera was a 12-year-old orphan who set off from the Philippines in 1904 to see the land of riches he'd always heard about, arriving at the St. Louis World’s Fair. But the promised land was not what Antero expected. His home at the fair was a replica of an Igorot village, inside a living anthropological exhibit.

Railroad workers & Golden Spike

Rendered invisible, Asian railroad workers were excluded from one of the most famous photos from the 19th century - a challenge that they’ll face over and over again in America.

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The Chinese dug out 15 tunnels through solid granite, using all hand tools with blasting powder. They would run out of the tunnel and after the blast, they'd muck it out and start doing it again. Can you imagine how dangerous that was?

Connie Young Yu (Lee Wong Sang's great granddaughter)
Laying railroad track
Asian railroad construction crew at work

The transcontinental railroad fulfilled the nation’s grand ambition to expand westward, seizing Native American land along the way. The new railroad connected the Atlantic to the Pacific. Irish immigrants laid the track westward, while the Chinese worked their way eastward to meet them. The Chinese became indispensable for the railroad company and made up 80-90% of the construction crew. The railroad line could not have been built without them.

Bhagat Singh Thind

If the term "white person" refers to race rather than color, or absence of color, then what is the white race & of what people is it composed?

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By law, only whites and blacks could apply for naturalized citizenship. So to become a citizen, Asian immigrants chose what they saw as their only option. For South Asians who wanted to become citizens, for the most part, they made the claim to being white.

Vivek Bald (Writer)
Bhagat Singh Thind with his batallion at Camp Lewis, Washington

The case of Bhagat Singh Thind is a particularly important case in US legal history, US immigration history, and the history of how we understand race and citizenship in this country.

Vaishno Das Bagai

Denaturalized and stripped of U.S. citizenship, house, and business, Vaishno Das Bagai became a man left without a country.

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The Immigration Act of 1924 closes the borders for almost all Asians, making their dreams of a new life in the US all but impossible.


Vaishno Das Bagai was a South Asian American who brought his entire family to the United States because he believed that the United States, unlike India under British Colonial rule, was a place where his children could be free. However, because of the Supreme Court decision on race, Vaishno Das Bagai was denaturalized and his US citizenship was revoked. Since non-citizens were banned from owning property, he then lost his house and his store, and was stripped of his identity.

Anna May Wong, Sessue Hayakawa & Hollywood

Through films, Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa helped to humanize Asian Americans to white audiences during a period of intense racism and discrimination.

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Blackface and yellowface, it’s really a reflection of Americans and how deeply racist American society was at the time. White actors and actresses would be made up and would play in general mocking performances, a very stereotyped and negative portrayal of what they believed the other races to be like.

Shirley Lim
Anna May Wong
Scene from The Toll of the Sea
Sussue Hayakawa
Sessue Hayakawa costumed as the Prince of the Island of Desire

Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa dazzled Hollywood and projected an image to audiences who may never have met an Asian in real life. Anna May Wong’s first starring role was in “The Toll Of The Sea,” while Sessue Hayakawa starred in “The Cheat,” propelling him to superstardom where he became a matinee idol. He later went on to establish his own studio to take creative control of his career. Despite the bamboo ceiling, Anna May Wong continued to break barriers and challenged the conventions of race and gender against all odds throughout her 40-year career, working in all the mediums of her time: silent movies, talkies, the stage, television, and radio.

The Tape Family / Mary, Joseph, and Mamie Tape

While the majority of Chinese immigrants were laborers, a lucky few started their own businesses. One such entrepreneur was Joseph Tape. His story began when he arrived from China, alone, at age 14.

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Dear Sirs, will you please tell me, is it a disgrace to be born Chinese? What right have you to bar my children out of the school because they are of Chinese descent? Mamie Tape will never attend any of the Chinese schools of your making. Never. She is more of an American than a good many of you that are going to prevent her from being educated.

Signed Mrs. M. Tape

With dreams of owning his own business, Joseph Tape appeared to cut all ties to his family in China, including cutting his queue as if to symbolize his desire to be an American. Raised by the home of the Ladies Protection and Relief Society, Mary Tape effaced all of her Chinese-ness. Joseph and Mary got married and had an incredible life story together as one of the first Chinese American families.

Moksad Ali, Ella Blackman Family

The peddler network in some ways had gone under the radar because that group was so transient. Moksad Ali and the other peddlers, in order to sell their goods, played to the fantasies of the exotic East that the tourists who they were selling to expected.

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At the end of the day, they were dark skinned men in a deeply segregated society and the places that they were able to live, marry, and make homes were in African American communities.

Vivek Bald (Writer)

The emphasis in South Asian American history over the years has been on West Coast migration, but from very early on, there were also migrants and immigrants and ship workers coming to ports on the East Coast. One of the earliest of those migrations consisted of Muslim men from the region of Hooghly, north of Calcutta, who were silk traders. One of those men was Moksad Ali.

Itaru and Shizuko Ina (Satsuki’s parents)

Are you for us or against us? Would you be willing to fill out a Loyalty Questionnaire? Learn more about why Itaru and Shizuko Ina would choose to disavow any loyalty to the Japanese Emperor despite their never having any in the first place.

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There was no due process. The government framed it as an issue of loyalty. But there had never been a question of loyalty in the Japanese American community. Nobody asked about loyalty before they were incarcerated.

Satsuki Ina (Daughter of Itaru and Shizuko Ina)

taru and Shizuko Ina were born in the United States, but partly educated in Japan. Nine months after marrying, they found themselves imprisoned, where they had two children inside detention camps. It was 1943 and they were required to answer what was called the loyalty questionnaire, asking them if they were one, willing to bear arms against the enemy. And two, if they would be willing to disavow any loyalty to the emperor, which they never had in the first place. Though the vast majority of inmates answered yes to both questions, Itaru and Shizuko answered no out of despair.

Susan Ahn and Philip Ahn

WWII provided Asian communities an opportunity to prove their patriotism. Meet Susan Ahn - the first Asian woman to enlist in the U.S. Navy and its first female gunnery officer. Her older brother Philip Ahn contributed to the war effort in his own way.

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I’m very proud of being an American, born in this country. But I’m very proud that I’m Korean. I mean I like it. I like being Korean. Unless you respect your Korean heritage, you’ll never find identity.

Susan Ahn
Brad Dexter and Philip Ahn in the 1952 film Macao

Susan Ahn, born in Los Angeles in 1915, was part of the first generation of Koreans born on American soil. Though they lived all-American lives, Susan and her siblings had an unusual family background. Their father was an activist who led the movement for Korean independence from Japan. There was no doubt in the whole family's minds that they were loyal to the U.S. Both Susan and her older brother Philip took advantage of opportunities to do something for Korea, the country that their father and mother gave up their lives for.

Toy Len Goon

Could you live up to the name of ‘American Mother Of the Year?’ Learn more about Toy Len Good, the first Asian ever to be selected in the nationwide contest.

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The fact that one of her sons was in the Navy and that her other children were in these stereotypical model minority careers, doctor, lawyer, engineer - it fit this narrative of Americanization and assimilation, where Chinese Americans become this ‘model minority,’ these good immigrants living the American dream.

Andrea Louie (Toy Len Goon’s granddaughter)

In 1952, Toy Len Goon, a Chinese-born widow, carrying on in her husband's place and bringing up eight children to be fine American citizens, was selected as U.S. Mother of the Year. As the first Asian ever to be selected in the nationwide contest, she was upheld as the symbol of motherhood and family, a pillar of American identity that even an Asian immigrant can represent.

Patsy Mink

What she did for women’s rights & equal rights & Title IX was a remarkable achievement not just for Asian Americans, not just for women, or people from Hawaii but for all Americans! Learn more about Patsy Mink, the first woman of color & the first Asian American woman elected to Congress.

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Women have a tremendous responsibility to help shape the future of America, to help decide policies that will affect the course of our history. And women need to be represented.

Patsy Mink
1948 University of Hawaii Oratorical Contest finalists
Patsy Mink and others pose for a picture
Congresswoman Patsy Mink of Hawaii stands next to President Lyndon B. Johnson

Patsy Mink emerged in the 1950s as a key political figure. She was a third generation Japanese American and served in the U.S. House of Representatives for a total of 12 terms, representing Hawaii's at-large and second congressional districts. She was the first woman of color and the first Asian American woman elected to Congress. She was also the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii, and became the first Asian-American to seek the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in the 1972 election.

Dalip Singh Saund

Until the election of Dalip Singh Saund in California in 1956, no Asian American had ever served in the US Congress

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When I became a citizen of the United States on December 16th, 1949, it was my ambition to run for public office. Everyone thought that I had no chance. But I had faith in the American sense of justice and fair play.

Dalip Singh Saund
Dalip Singh Saund

Building on Congressman Dalip Singh Saund's success, Asian Americans in Hawaii were then poised to elect a new generation of political leaders.

Daniel Inouye & Hiram Fong

From Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii is hit with campaign fever in its first election as a state, with 81 offices open and highly contested from the legislature up to the governorship, two seats in the senate and one in congress. Learn more about key players Daniel Inouye & Hiram Fong.

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With the election of Republican Hiram Fong and Democrat Daniel Inouye, Hawaii becomes the first and only state to ever send a majority Asian delegation to the US Congress.


Daniel Inouye, an outstanding war hero, was the first Japanese American ever elected to Congress. Hiram Fong, the son of Chinese immigrants, overcame poverty to become the first Asian-American ever elected to the Senate.

Bruce Lee

Asian Americans needed someone who epitomized a search for truth & for justice, and who embodied the power that they knew they were capable of. Enter Bruce Lee.

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I remember just being mesmerized by this guy and I don’t think it was because he was Asian. It was just because he had so much charisma and confidence. I was obsessed with him and I’d watch his movies over and over again and afterwards I’d want to fight my brother, because I wanted to be him.

Randall Park (Actor)
Bruce lee,when he was a baby.
Bruce lee,when he was 18 years old
Bruce Lee as Kato

Bruce Lee was an actor considered by commentators, critics, media, and other martial artists to be the most influential martial artist of all time and a pop culture icon of the 20th century, who bridged the gap between East and West. He is often credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films.

Larry Itliong

One of the fathers of the West Coast labor movement in the 1930s, Larry Itliong demanded wages equal to the federal minimum wage. Learn more about the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee & the Delano Grape Strike.

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Larry knew that his style was not good PR. He's aggressive. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. He needed Cesar's charisma, his ability to speak. Cesar was the spokesman. Whereas Larry wanted to get down and dirty, he wanted to work out in the fields.

Alex Edillor (Delano Historian)
Cesar Chavez and Larry Itliong
Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez

Larry Itliong was president of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee known as AWOC. In the summer of 1965 he began to talk about organizing, improving the working conditions and increasing the salaries. It was his will and determination that led to the Grape Strike.

Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin’s case has a legacy that affects all Americans even to this day. A hate crime now is not just an act that is committed against somebody because of who they are but who the perpetrator perceived them to be.

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I think the Vincent Chin murder was shocking to a lot of Asian Americans. Not because it represented something new, but that it actually represented something old. It reminded Asian-Americans that progress hadn't really been made.

Viet Thanh Nguyen (Writer)

Vincent Chin was a Chinese-American draftsman who was beaten to death by two white men the night of his bachelor party in advance of his upcoming wedding. For Asian Americans, Vincent Chin's murder symbolized an extreme example of the kind of discrimination that they'd face and becomes a rallying point for Asian Americans to be able to say ‘that's me too.’

Tereza Lee

The Dream Act would open a path to citizenship for undocumented children who are brought to the country as minors. They become known as dreamers. Learn more about Tereza Lee, the original "Dreamer"

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The fear of separation is real. We grew up having nightmares of the police storming up our stairs and breaking our doors down and taking our family away.

Tereza Lee

Tereza Lee is the original "Dreamer" whose case inspired the first attempt in 2001 to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors.