Sometimes, all it takes is the whoosh of automatic sliding doors, the staticky beat of K-pop and the rattle of a grocery cart to feel at home. Living in a state where only 3.5% of the population looks like me, the Asian Market is a comfort—one that I have searched out over the last year.
Anti-Asian sentiment is woven into the fabric of this country, just as Asian hands have helped to weave that fabric. From Chinese Americans building the transcontinental railroad and Japanese American agricultural workers helping feed this nation—to my family emigrating to the United States in search of a better education and opportunities—we have been, and continue to be, an integral part of America.
May is AAPI Heritage Month
My experiences as an Asian American do not stray far from our collective history and the stories of many of my peers. I find that many people don’t know the history of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the US, and I hope that reading this will encourage you to learn more. This post is truly just the tip of the iceberg.
Building the West
Starting with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese and other Asian immigrants came to the American West as laborers. Many stayed in the rocky mountain territories as the construction on the railroad came to an end. Others came to Colorado in the late 19th century as agricultural workers and there was a significant population of Asian-identified people before Colorado became a state in 1876.
In the 1870s, Denver had a thriving Chinatown. It was home to a vibrant community in the area now known as LoDo (Lower Downtown). At the time this community was growing, anti-Chinese sentiment was also on the rise. On October 31, 1880, there was a “bloody riot” leading to the damage of many Chinese-owned businesses and the lynching of one Chinese Man, Look Young. Some members of the community elected to stay in the same neighborhood, but the population of Chinese people in Denver soon plummeted.
Era of Exclusion
While Asian immigrants had been living in the United States for some time, they were constantly seen as outsiders. This view was certainly heightened during the Exclusion Era beginning in 1917, which barred people of Asian descent from immigrating to the United States. Then in 1922 two Supreme Court Cases made it impossible for those who were already living in the US to become naturalized citizens.
During World War II, many Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps, one of which was located here in Colorado. Camp Amache (or the Amache-Granada Relocation Center), located in southeastern Colorado, had a population of nearly 8,000 people at its peak. While the camp was located in his state, Colorado’s governor at the time, Ralph M. Carr, was the only western governor to proclaim that under his administration, no American citizen, regardless of ancestry, would be denied their constitutional rights to reside unmolested in the state of Colorado.
Learn more about AAPI History in Colorado
If you’re surprised to learn that Colorado was home to an internment camp, check out this multimedia exhibit on the Amache-Granada Relocation Center from History Colorado. It includes videos and interactive rooms where you can learn what life was like at Amache—as well as what happened after the war.
America’s relationship with the immigrants that make up its population has long been ambivalent. And much of what we think we know about the story of US immigration is tangled up with myths that often don’t hold water. The reality is that Colorado’s pre-WWII immigration picture was complicated and, at times, fraught with prejudice.
How to Support AAPI Communities Now
Over the last year, reports of Anti-Asian hate crimes have increased across the US. Reading the stories of Asian immigrants and the discrimination they’ve faced is one way to start to understand where we are now as a country.
This Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I encourage you to learn more about AAPI history and dive into the many ways we can support the AAPI Communities around us.
Below, I’ve included some links that may help you learn more about AAPI people today, and ways that you can support them.