The first Japanese national to set foot on American soil was a young fisherman named Manjiro.
On a routine fishing trip near a coastal Japanese village in 1841, Manjiro’s crew was cast adrift in a storm. For a week they survived on icicles, before being washed up on a desert island three hundred miles away.
There, the crew subsisted on albatross until an American whaling ship out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, that had stopped at the island to take on sea turtles, rescued them five months later.
Young Manjiro caught the attention of William Whitfield, the captain of the ship, who adopted him as a son and renamed him John Mung.
Civil unrest and poverty in southeastern China encouraged many Chinese to migrate.
Chinese immigrants first arrived in the United States during the 1850s to try their luck at the California gold rush.
After the gold rush ended, some Chinese immigrants remained to work as farm laborers, in low-paying industrial jobs, or on railroad construction.
Because the Chinese immigrants effectively used the American legal system to expose loopholes in the U.S. immigration system. To better enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act, the United States decided to build the Angel Island Immigration Station.
Between 1892 to 1954, over twelve million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island. Between 1910 and 1940, one million immigrants entered the United States through Angel Island.
In June 1978, Rep. Horton introduced House Joint Resolution 1007. This resolution proposed that the President should “proclaim a week, which is to include the seventh and tenth of the month, during the first ten days in May of 1979 as ‘Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.’” This joint resolution was passed by the House and then the Senate and was signed by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978, to become Public Law 95-419.
The month of May was chosen by the U.S. Congress to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Many of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is observed in the United States Army and recognizes the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.
If you are interested in learning more about Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month please visit the official U.S. Army website.