America’s heritage is enriched by generations of immigrants from Asian and Pacific Island nations. Our tradition of celebrating this heritage during the month of May began as a way to commemorate two milestones: the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843; and the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869 by a workforce largely made up of Chinese immigrants.
According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, a 14-year-old fisherman named Manjiro is considered America's first Japanese immigrant, arriving in the country by way of a whaling ship in 1843. Reportedly the boy and his crew were caught in a storm at sea, washed up on an island far from home, and rescued by an American whaling ship led by Captain William Whitfield. Whitfield adopted Manjiro and brought him to America. Manjiro later returned to Japan, was honored as a samurai, and served as an emissary between Japan and the U.S.
As many as 20,000 Chinese immigrants endured inclement weather, explosions, landslides, disease, unfair wages and racism to help build the section of the Transcontinental
Railroad that stretched from Sacramento through the Sierras to Utah. Chinese laborers astounded railroad leaders by laying ten miles of track in a single day so the railroad company could meet its deadline. While Leland Stanford praised their work in his message to President Andrew Johnson, it was to no avail. Ironically, their essential role in the railroad was not only ignored but after its completion, anti-Chinese sentiment grew and persisted. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. and placed restrictions on those already here, and the Chinese were prohibited from becoming U.S. citizens until 1943.
Looking back, we must acknowledge the challenges faced by people who came to America for the promise of liberty, justice, and the opportunity to build a life for themselves and their families.
Looking forward, we must heal past wrongs, embrace equity, and celebrate the wide-ranging contributions of Asian/Pacific immigrants to our nation through the arts, sciences and humanities.
Please join us to explore and celebrate Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage month:
We are honored to feature Asian/Pacific immigrants in our docuseries, Stories from the Past. Enjoy our films, available free and on-demand.
Visit our local independent bookstore, BookSmart of Morgan Hill, to find historical nonfiction and fiction by leading Asian/Pacific authors.
Santa Clara County Public Library District:
Asia Pacific American Heritage: