May is National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we are celebrating these vibrant communities located throughout the Commonwealth!
While early Massachusetts made its fortune in trading with China following the American Revolution (so much so that businessman Elias Hasket Derby of Salem became America’s first millionaire
), it is unlikely that there were many Chinese immigrants before the mid-1850’s. Large-scale immigration from Asia to Massachusetts began in the 1870s, when many Chinese immigrants originally from Guangdong and other southern Chinese provinces were recruited from California to work in mills during labor disputes in North Adams
. Originally, these immigrants were almost exclusively single men due to laws like the Page Act of 1875, which barred Chinese women from immigrating to the United States, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Despite these attempts, more Chinese immigrants began to arrive in Massachusetts from the West Coast, creating communities most notably in Worcester and Boston around the turn of the century, with Boston’s Chinatown at one point so large that it was the third largest Chinese community in the United States. Following World War II, many of the laws barring Chinese immigration were lifted, and more Chinese immigrants settled in Massachusetts, specifically in Boston and Quincy. The Chinese Historical Society of New England was founded in 1992 to preserve the history of the Chinese community in Massachusetts, and recently partnered with the Massachusetts Historical Commission to register the Old Quincy School, home of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, on the National Register of Historic Places
, the first listing in Massachusetts associated with Asian-American history.
In the 19th and early 20th century, many Chinese immigrants had worked in railroad yards or in Chinese-owned landries and restaurants. At the same time, Japanese immigrants arrived in Massachusetts to attend the illustrious universities here and, later in the 20th century, to work in the growing technology and science industries. Harvard’s first Asian students were Japanese and attended the Law School as early as the 1870’s, and in 1922, Shichiro Hayashi became the first person of Japanese heritage to graduate from Suffolk University Law School.
Similarly, South Asian immigrants, one of the newest immigrant communities in New England, arrived in Massachusetts relatively recently for educational and economic reasons
, primarily to attend universities and work in the commonwealth’s burgeoning technology and research fields. Starting in the 1960’s, these communities are primarily from India, but also include Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepalanese, and Sri Lankan immigrants.
However, some immigrants came to Massachusetts as refugees, escaping warfare, famine, and turmoil in their home countries. Many Southeast Asian immigrants arrived in the United States following the Vietnam War, and are now the second largest Asian immigrant group in Massachusetts. Many Vietnamese immigrants arrived as political refugees and settled in Boston, though Malden, Quincy, and Randolph also have large Vietnamese communities. In fact, some activists near Fields Corner in Boston have been campaigning for an official cultural district designation
, “Little Saigon Cultural District,” in order to better recognize the size, history, and legacy of the Vietnamese community in Dorchester.
Cambodian immigrants began to arrive in the 1980’s and settled in Lynn and Lowell, which is now the largest Cambodian community on the East Coast and the second-largest in the United States. Rep. Rady Mom
, currently serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, made history in 2015 when he became the first Cambodian-American to be elected to a state legislature in the United States.
Asian immigration continues to be the fastest growing immigration population in the commonwealth, comprising not only of the communities listed above, but also of immigrants from Korea, the Philippines, and many other Asian and Pacific Islander countries and communities. In 2006, the Asian American Commission
was founded by the Massachusetts Legislature to advocate for Asian-Americans throughout Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Legislature also has a dedicated Asian American Caucus
established in 2011 that works to provide more Asian-American representation throughout the Massachusetts state government. For more information on other organizations and resources specifically for Asian immigrants and Asian Americans, as well as materials regarding the history of the many Asian immigration communities here in the Commonwealth, please see the list below.
Massachusetts has a rich immigrant history, and the many Asian and Pacific Islander communities here in the commonwealth have diverse, distinct, and varied histories. Some communities began over 100 years ago, and others are young communities only decades old, and yet all of them make up an important part of contemporary life and culture here in Massachusetts.