Jump to Content
California Cultures

Asian Americans
[Unidentified children on bicycle.] Anacieto Soriano, Sr. and Friend, World War II Photograph of Hari Singh Everest portrait


Everyday Life and Cultural Traditions, 1860s-1980s
Gold Rush Era to 1890s
Early 20th Century
World War II
New Communities: 1960s-Present


People from Asia began migrating to California during the Gold Rush era. But a number of factors — including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion act, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the "alien ineligible for citizenship" status imposed on Asian immigrants into the 1950s and 1960s — limited their numbers. In 1965, federal officials changed immigration policy to allow migration from Asia after many years of exclusion.

The 2000 US Census reported that 49% of all Asian Americans lived in the West. California became home to thriving immigrant communities from China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong, Thailand, and other parts of Asia. The greatest concentration of these 3 million Asian Americans was in the San Francisco Bay Area; large numbers also settled in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Fresno, Sutter, Yuba, and Sacramento counties.

According to 2000 census data, a higher percentage of Asian Americans attended college than any other California group. Yet their per capita income still lagged significantly behind that of whites ($22,000 versus $31,700, suggesting the continued presence of a glass ceiling for Asian Americans. The growing political strength of Asian Americans, which is just beginning to be exercised, has thus far manifested in the elections of US Senator S. I. Hayakawa, Congressmen Robert Matsui, Mike Honda, and Norman Mineta, California Secretary of State March Fong Eu, and California State Treasurer Matt Fong.

Explore Further

Themed Collections

Chinese Exclusion Act
The Transcontinental Railroad
Growing Ethnic Diversity

Historical Essays

1848-1865: Gold Rush
1866-1920: Rapid Population Growth
1921-Present: Modern California

Lesson Plans

Based on the art and writing of internee Estelle Ishigo, official photographs, and other selected primary sources

Views and Voices from Within: The Art and Writing of Estelle Ishigo, Heart Mountain Relocation Center, 1942-1945
Are We Americans Again?: A Portrait of Japanese American Internment
Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Relocation Camp Experience of Estelle Ishigo