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Networking and Community-Building Among Early Asian Immigrants in America

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Asian immigrants began arriving in the U.S. in large numbers, including Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Indian migrants. These immigrants faced many challenges in their new country, including racism, discrimination, and barriers to citizenship and economic opportunities. However, they were able to overcome many of these challenges through building strong community networks and alliances.

The Chinese immigrants were some of the first to arrive, mostly as laborers. They formed Chinatowns in cities like San Francisco and New York, where they could live and work together, speak their native language, continue cultural traditions, and provide mutual support. Chinatowns had immigrant organizations, temples, and newspapers to help new arrivals adapt. The Chinese also formed secret organizations called tongs to help with employment, housing, and navigating legal issues.

When Japanese immigrants began arriving, they faced hostility from politicians and labor groups. They formed their own community organizations to advocate for their rights. Groups like the Japanese Association of America and the American Loyalty League helped counter anti-Japanese racism and push back against restrictive laws. They also built Buddhist temples, language schools, and cultural centers to help preserve their heritage.

Filipinos, Indians, Koreans and other Asian immigrant groups followed similar paths, forming ethnic enclaves, cultural institutions, labor groups, and community organizations. These grassroots networks were crucial for providing resources, facilitating adaptation to American life, advocating against discrimination, and giving immigrants a collective voice and power. They demonstrate how even disadvantaged groups can come together to support each other and work toward social change.

Overall, early Asian immigrant communities overcame immense hardships through building strong alliances and advocacy networks. Their efforts paved the way for later Asian Americans to gain more equal rights and opportunities in American society. Second- or third- generation immigrants tend to have a weaker association or network with each other as the pressure to “fit in” or appear as part of the mainstream in order to avoid overt discrimination start early in life. This phenomenon certainly played out as Southern and Eastern European immigrants became accepted as White Americans over the course of a couple of generations, but Asian Americans don’t benefit from the “sameness” by virtue of their outward appearance.

Tthe weaker alliances amongst first- or second-generation Asian Americans hurt our ability to lift each other and build a bigger voice in American society. Let’s build strong associations and networks just as our intrepid ancestors did when they moved to this country.

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