Inclusive History – Asian American and Pacific Islander’s stories
May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month so we compiled here a brief overview of the history of this community in Ohio. You can find very interesting materials for your classroom at https://asianpacificheritage.gov/for-teachers/. They were compiled in 2020 by the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Services, Smithsonian Institution and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We listed additional and very interesting resources for you at the end of this post, too.
We’d like to thank our wonderful Rapid Response team for researching and putting together some of the information you find here. Big thanks to Ben Anthony, Jerolyn Barbee, Karen Robertson, Emmy Beach and Todd Kleismit.
Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Ohio
The history of Asian communities in Ohio is as diverse and voluminous as the community itself. The first Asian community to arrive in the state of Ohio was largely made up of second-generation Chinese immigrants. They were workers that had originally immigrated to California – by 1870, Chinese immigrants made up 20% of California’s total workforce. Strong anti-immigrant sentiments caused by an economic recession in the late-1870s prompted many second-generation Chinese Americans to move east.
Most of the Chinese Americans who moved here landed in Northeast Ohio. Here they formed businesses and societies to aid their own community. A growing Chinatown set its roots in Cleveland near Ontario Street. Another boom of Chinese immigration hit the Cleveland area in the 1940s as families fled during the Chinese Civil War. Today, the majority of new Chinese Americans are students entering the United States to further their studies. Many other groups of Asian immigrants followed Chinese immigrants into Cleveland, so in the 1990s, Chinatown officially became Asiatown.
One of the first groups to follow Chinese immigrants into Ohio were Japanese Americans. Like their predecessors, many Japanese Americans had originally arrived on the West Coast, to find work during American expansion. During World War II, as anti-Japanese sentiment grew exponentially in the United States, the Federal Government forcibly removed most Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast, and placed families in American incarceration camps.
As the war continued, the United States government began efforts to relocate incarcerees into new homes around the country. Some of these incarcerees were placed in Ohio. The Cleveland Resettlement Committee began running publicity campaigns to urge acceptance, but incarcerees still largely refused to settle near each other, at risk of creating a large target. With the end of WWII and the migration back to their west coast homes, the Japanese population in Cleveland dropped sharply.
Korean and Vietnamese refugees both began to arrive in Ohio as the United States entered conflicts in their home countries in a Cold War effort to defeat Communism. Like many before them, Korean refugees mostly settled in the Cleveland area, forming the Korean American Association of Greater Cleveland (KAAGC) in 1966. The first Vietnamese resident of Cleveland arrived in May 1975.
While most Asian American immigrants in the twentieth century tended to settle in Cleveland, today many more Asian Americans in Ohio are living in the suburbs. Columbus actually boasts the largest Asian American communities of any Ohio cities, due to the draw of The Ohio State University.
According to Census data (2019 estimates and 2010 data), there are more than 300,000 people of Asian or Other Pacific Islander descent leaving in Ohio population. This population in the US includes more than thirty different nationalities and ethnic groups. A limited example includes these groups: Samoan, Tongan, Guamanian, and native Hawai’ian; Lao, Hmong, Mien, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, and Filipinos from Southeast Asia; Pakistani, Bhutanese, Indian, and Sri Lankan from South Asia; Afghani and Iranian from Central Asia; and Korean, Japanese, and Chinese from East Asia.
The diversity of Asian Americans, in terms of their various languages, cultures, and histories, is astonishing! There are significant differences in regional dialect, religion, class background, educational level, social and political perspectives within a single nationality.
It is important to focus our stories on the thriving communities that immigrants and refugees have formed. It’s also important to acknowledge how these communities came to be, and the role played by racism, colonialism, politics and war.
Blog post image citation: Children at Peter Wong’s school in Chinatown. Picture. Cleveland, OH: 1927. Cleveland Memory Project. https://clevelandmemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/press/id/15296/rec/8. (accessed May 4, 2021)