Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It is a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A rather broad term, Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).
The month of May was chosen 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. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
Throughout the nineteenth century, there was very little immigration by the Asian population into Wisconsin.1 United States immigration policies, spanning from 1882 to 1934, were used to ban Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Philippine populations from immigrating to this country.2 During World War II, over 100,000 Japanese American citizens were sent to internment camps, including Wisconsin's Camp McCoy.3
Immigration reform policy removed previously established restrictions based on national origin by giving preference to family reunification and political refugees with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.4 In more recent times, the Asian population has increased with the immigration of Hmong refugees from Laos. About 100,000 Hmong fled to this country as political refugees from 1975 to the 1990s.5 Thirty-eight percent of Asians in Wisconsin are Hmong.6
Hmong people were recruited during the Vietnam War as guerilla soldiers.7 They were United States allies in a fight against communist rule. Their fight against the North Vietnamese caused them to live directly in the conflict and in constant danger.8 After the war ended, the Hmong population sought refuge in neighboring Thailand refugee camps because of persecution and imprisonment.9 With the sponsorship of organizations, such as the U.S. Catholic Conference and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the Hmong began to immigrate to the United States.10 Many small towns in Wisconsin began Asian-refugee settlement programs, with the encouragement of religious leaders and the government.11
Currently, Wisconsin has the third largest Hmong population in the U.S; Minnesota and California have the top two populations.12 The largest communities in Wisconsin are in La Crosse, Sheboygan, Green Bay, Wausau, and Milwaukee.13 Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, and ethnic Chinese are additional refugee populations found in Wisconsin.14
Resources: https://asianpacificheritage.gov/about/, https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/minority-health/population/asian-pophistory.htm