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Asian Pacific Americans immigrated to America from the continent of Asia (including India) and the Pacific Rim islands. The Hawaiian Islanders were among the earliest Asian Pacific groups to migrate to the Pacific Northwest. Hawaiians came to the West Coast on British trading ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to work for fur-trading companies such as the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. They were experts at navigating canoes and transporting goods and people along the lower stretches of the Columbia River. By the 1840s, forty percent of the laborers at Fort Vancouver were of Hawaiian decent. They worked as cooks, gardeners, servants, millers, and sailors and lived in an area outside the fort named Kanaka Village (Kanaka means "person" in Hawaiian).
The Chinese were the next Pacific Asian group to arrive in the Oregon Territory in the early 1850s. Most of the immigrants were young, male farmers from the Kwangtung (now known as the Canton) province of southeastern China. Many Chinese from this area lived in poverty because of war, famine, and overpopulation. British and American trading ships arriving in Chinese ports brought news that gold had been discovered in northern California. Chinese men who came to the Pacific Northwest hoped to find jobs in the gold fields, save money, and return to China to support their families. With the discovery of gold in southern Oregon in the early 1850s, hundreds of Chinese immigrants traveled from California to the Oregon Territory to try their luck in the gold mines and set up temporary mining claims in the Rogue River Valley and along the southern Oregon coast. Many of them worked unproductive or reworked mining claims left by white miners.
Throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century Chinese and Japanese laborers found work in the railway industry. These men were known for their willingness to work long hours at low wages, and railroad companies sent agents to China and Japan to hire workers. Chinese and Japanese laborers often worked six days a week and lived in rough conditions at railroad construction camps. The increasing demand for low-wage labor in the salmon canneries and in the lumber industry created more jobs for Chinese and Japanese immigrants.
In the late 1880s, some Oregon residents resented Chinese labor and believed that the immigration and settlement of Chinese communities in the Pacific Northwest hindered jobs available to Euro-Americans. As a result, Chinese immigrants experienced hostility, persecution, and discrimination. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, anti-Japanese sentiment grew to an unprecedented height throughout the nation. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which forced citizens of Japan and Japanese American citizens living on the West Coast to leave their homes and relocate to internment camps.
During the 20th century, other Pacific Islanders and southeastern Asian people immigrated to Oregon. Filipinos arrived during the 1920s; Koreans came to Oregon in the 1950s; and Thai, Lao, Hmong, Iu-Mien, Cambodian, and Vietnamese immigrated to Oregon throughout the 1970s. Many of these immigrants traveled to the United States to escape war or the aftermath of war in their own countries. By the year 2000, Asian Pacific Americans had become a significant part of the state population, with 20,930 Chinese, 10,627 Filipinos, 12,131 Japanese, 12, 387 Koreans, 18,890 Vietnamese, 3,000 Laotians, and 7,976 Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders. Through art, music, cuisine, festivals, and social organizations, each culture has contributed to the diversity and history of the state.
We invite you to explore the Oregon Historical Society's primary source documents, articles from the Oregon Historical Quarterly and related internet links to learn more about Asian Pacific culture and Chinese and Japanese communities in Oregon.
Related OHS Documents