As the daughter of a Chinese-Thai father and a Filipina mother, I struggled with stereotypes of Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), including being perceived as a “perpetual foreigner.” When I was in kindergarten, my parents offered me the choice of learning Thai or Tagalog. However, my classmates were already teasing me because of my perceived otherness, and I roundly rejected learning another language because I was “American.” I received compliments about how “well” I spoke English. And questions such as “Where are you from?” followed by “Where are you really from?” when my answer was unsatisfactory for my interrogator, started to trigger me.
AAPI history is also inextricably linked to the history of U.S. immigration law. The Immigration Act of 1875, which prevented women from immigrating from China, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 were the first federal laws to restrict immigration in any way. Although AAPIs made up only 0.002% of the nation’s population at the time, Congress restricted immigration explicitly from China through the 1882 law and declared Chinese immigrants ineligible to naturalize. On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, and when the United States was weighing the implications of immigration quotas on foreign policy abroad, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 finally eliminated discriminatory national origin quotas, which opened up immigration from Asia and other parts of the world.
Today, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing racial group in the nation, growing 81% in the past 20 years, and AAPIs are projected to triple in population by 2060.[i] Immigration is one of the primary drivers of that growth,[ii] and those shifting demographics are causing fear for some and the implementation of hostile policies which target BIPOC communities. AAPIs have a long history in the United States, but AAPI communities also continue to grow and shift as new arrivals contribute to the complexity of the population.
[ii] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/asians-us-are-fastest-growing-racial-group-rise-rcna1680, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/asian-americans-are-the-fastest-growing-group-in-the-u-s-report-finds