Ohio’s Evolving History with Asian American Communities

Special thanks to our guest contributor Sofialyn Durusan, Community Engagement Coordinator & ENACT Project Director, Community Engagement at Ohio History Connection.

Asian American Pacific Island (AAPI) Month gives us an opportunity not only to talk about where we have been, but what can we learn and move forward. The world is ever changing and very much so in the landscape of Ohio. When most people think of AAPI month, we honor those who come from East Asian, primarily Chinese, Korean and Japanese, but the landscape of Asia is much larger and vast within that. You have many countries such as India and the Philippines that have over 80+ dialects and languages spoken in one country.

Ohio has an evolving history with the Asian American Community. The first wave was seen was in the late 19th century with the rise of industrialization with Chinese and Japanese who started out west for work, but moved east due to a recession in the late 1870s. The next big wave came following the Cold War. Refugees came from Korea and Vietnam due to the wars in their respective countries trying to fight off the spread of Communism.

Many immigrants that we see settle in Ohio come from war torn nations and have no choice but to resettle in another country for their safety. There are 3 main ways that are paths for life in the United States: Visas, Asylum and Refugee status.

  1. Visas: permission from the government to be able to work, go to school and generally live in the country, depending on what kind of Visa you obtain.
  2. Asylum: granted to an asylee after entering the country or while seeking admission at a port of entry. When applying for Asylum, candidates must present their case on why they are running from their home nation and why they are asking for help from a country. Just like applying for refugee status, a person may be rejected from one or multiple countries first before being accepted into another.
  3. Refugees: individuals are invited to the host country and can be granted refugee status before even arriving to the country. When arriving, refugees have 90 days to adjust to their new norms as they receive assistance by resettlement agencies. After their 90 days, it is solely up to the family. However, there is little to no choice in where they are placed for resettlement.

So, how did these groups end up in Ohio?

Central Ohio is home to one of the biggest diasporas of Bhutanese and Nepali people. But why did they arrive here? Most Bhutanese refugees are part of a minority, ethnic Nepali group called Lhotsampa who had been living in Bhutan for decades. The Lhotsampa was targeted during an ethnic cleansing in the 1980’s by the majority and ruling ethnic group, Druk. In 1990, protests for democracy led to the arrest and torture of activists and the Bhutanese government expelled all Lhotsampas from Bhutan. Individuals fled to Nepal and West Bengal but were neither able to attain citizenship nor return to Bhutan. Many seek resettlement in a third country, such as the United States, and have spent years, even decades, in refugee camps in Nepal. Now these Bhutanese and Nepali people are calling Ohio home.

The Asian diaspora is growing. It’s important we help our students learn about these communities. Below are a few discussion questions to get your students talking and engaging with AAPI history and heritage.

  • If you were to relocate to another country, what are some problems may encounter? How would you solve them?
  • What do you know about the cultures immigrating to the United States?
  • With the increase of new Americans coming to Ohio, what is one small way you can be a friend to New American communities?

It is important to focus our stories on the thriving communities formed by immigrants and refugees. It’s also important to acknowledge how these communities came to be, and the role played by racism, colonialism, politics and war.

Blog image citation: Long, Herral. “Japanese Lesson”.  Photograph. Toledo, OH: Toledo Lucas County Public Library, c. 1985. From Herral Long Photograph Collection.  https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll33/id/177518 (Accessed May 10, 2022).

Posted May 17, 2022

Subscribe to Our Blogs