We’re quite the travelers.

Modern history tells remarkable stories of Asian migration around the globe. But what led to these intercontinental travels? Numerous factors such as war, persecution, and economic turmoil contribute to the expulsion and motivation of Asians out of their home countries. Vietnamese in France. Hmong in Minnesota. Chinese in Peru. How did they end up there? This article helps explain some of these patterns through historical context, cultural relationships, and political maneuvering.

First, a quick (modern) history lesson of US Asian immigration:

The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 eliminated race as a barrier to immigration, and in 1965 national quotas were ended, thus facilitating Asian immigration. In 1979, the United States and China resumed diplomatic relations, making immigration easier for Chinese and the most available since the Chinese Exclusion Acts of the 1880s. But, new arrivals came from other Asian countries as well, including India and Pakistan. In 1975, following the Vietnam War, more than 130,000 refugees fleeing from the Communist governments of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos arrived on U.S. shores. Million of Asians arrived in subsequent years.

The numbers:

In 1980, more than 2.5 million Asian immigrants entered the U.S., up from under 500,000 in 1960. The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the numbers of Asians coming to the U.S. by raising the total quota and reorganizing system of preferences to favor certain professional groups. This allowed Asians with training in medicine, high technology, and other specialties to enter more easily. In 1990, over five million Asian immigrants were reported, and in 2000 the figure swelled to over seven million.

There were also illicit and unfortunate reasons why APIS have moved across the globe: trafficking, pressure from the economic climate, political turmoil, and many more.

The formula:

Here are certain laws of social science proposed to describe human migration, according to Everett Lee’s Push-Pull theory. This theory divides factors causing migrations into two groups of factors: Push and pull factors. Push and pull factors are those factors which either forcefully push people into migration or attract them to an area.

Push Factors

  • Not enough jobs
  • Few opportunities
  • Primitive conditions
  • Desertification
  • Famine or drought
  • Political fear or persecution
  • Poor medical care
  • Loss of wealth
  • Natural disasters
  • Slavery
  • Pollution
  • Poor housing
  • Landlord/tenant issues
  • Discrimination
  • Poor chances of marrying

Pull Factors

  • Job opportunities
  • Better living conditions
  • Political and/or religious freedom
  • Enjoyment
  • Education
  • Better medical care
  • Security
  • Family links
  • Industry
  • Better chances of marrying

Listed here are a few examples of Asians in modern history carving out a home for themselves all over the world:

1. Vietnamese in France:

250,000 as of 2006 according to the Information Report of Friendship Group, Vietnam. Vietnamese have been in France since the early 1900s due to the colonization of Vietnam by France, but they only started to become visible after the massive influx of refugees after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Unlike their counterparts in North America or Australia, the French Vietnamese have not formed distinct Vietnamese enclaves within the major cities of France and the degree of assimilation is higher than in the United States, Canada or Australia due to better cultural, historical and linguistic knowledge of the host country.

The second generation of French-born Vietnamese strongly identifies with the French culture rather than the Vietnamese one and most of them are unable to speak and/or understand the Vietnamese language. The French people view the Vietnamese community in a much better light than other immigrant groups, partially because of their high degree of integration within the French society and their economic as well as academic success. Most of the French Vietnamese live in Paris and its surrounding areas.

2. Vietnamese in Germany: 125,000 Vietnamese in Germany according to the 2007 study “The Vietnamese diaspora in Germany” by Bernd Wolf.

Vietnamese comprise the largest Asian ethnic group in Germany, according to a 2005 study: “Riders on the storm: Vietnamese in Germany’s two migration systems”. In western Germany, most Vietnamese arrived in the 1960s or 1970s as refugees from the Vietnam War. The comparatively larger Vietnamese community in eastern Germany traces its origins to assistance agreements between the GDR and the North Vietnamese government. Under these agreements, guest workers from Vietnam were brought to East Germany, where they soon made up the largest immigrant group and were provided with technical training. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, many stayed in Germany, although they often faced discrimination, especially in the early years following reunification.

3. Italy: 15.8% of Foreign born population is Asian. Chinese, 170,265 Asian (non-Chinese: 445,795), according to the Migration Information Source.

The country has had a very small Chinese population since World War II, but most of the current population has arrived since the 1980s. Over 150.000 Chinese are thought to be living in Italy. The oldest and biggest Chinatown of Italy is in Milan around Via Paolo Sarpi. It is a very particular neighborhood located in the historical centre of the city close to Parco Sempione. The first settlement was established at the beginning of 1920 working silk products. The majority of Chinese people were from Zhejiang region south of Shanghai. During the Second World War the silk products were replaced by leather belts more useful for the soldiers involved in the war. At the beginning of 1980 the community diversifies its activities opening market stores, food stores and other shops.

4. Indians in Britain: 2,331,423 British Asians in United Kingdom

British Asian is a term used to describe British citizens who descended from mainly South Asia. Prior to the formation of the United Kingdom, immigration of South Asian people to England began with the arrival of the East India Company to the Indian subcontinent. This continued during the British Raj and increased in volume after the independence of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh from British rule, chiefly for education and economic pursuits. A major influx of Asian immigrants, mostly of Indian and Pakistani origin, also took place following the expulsion of Indian communities (then holders of British passports) from Uganda and other East African nations (see African migration to the United Kingdom). According to the 2001 UK Census, there were approximately 2,331,423 British Asians, constituting 4 percent of the population of the UK. Those who were of Indian origin was 1,053,411 people (1.8 percent of the population), 747,285 people of Pakistani origin (1.3 percent), 283,063 of Bangladeshi origin (0.5 percent), and 247,664 other Asian (0.4 percent). British Asians make up 50.3 percent of the UK’s non-European population.

5. Japanese in Brazil, Peru

Japanese Peruvians, estimated at nearly 90,000 in 2008, comprise the second largest ethnic Japanese population in Latin America after Brazil, according to Abraham Lama’s book, “Home is Where the Heartbreak Is”. Peru was the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic relations with Japan, beginning in June 1873. Peru was also the first Latin American country to accept Japanese immigration, according to a study by Hugo Palm. The newsletter, “First Emmigration Ship to Peru: Sakura Maru”, records that the ship, Sakura Maru, carried Japanese families from Yokohama to Peru, arriving on April 3, 1899 at the Peruvian port city of Callao. This group of 790 Japanese became the first of serial waves of emigrants who made new lives for themselves in Peru. After the start of World War II, the United States State Department reached an agreement with the government of Peru; and Japanese Peruvians were rounded up and transported to American internment camps run by the U.S. Justice Department. At war’s end, only 79 Japanese Peruvian citizens returned to Peru, and 400 remained in the United States as “stateless” refugees. Today, the occupations of Japanese Peruvians vary due to the fact that most of them are well educated people, ranging from substantial ranks in finance and academia, to catering and hospitality. Japanese Peruvians have a considerable economic position in Peru.

The end of feudalism in Japan generated great poverty in the rural population, so many Japanese began to emigrate in search of better living conditions. Until 1892, Asians and Africans were forbidden to immigrate to Brazil. Asians began arriving only in 1908, as a result of the decrease in the Italian immigration to Brazil and a new labor shortage on the coffee plantations. Between the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, coffee was the main export product of Brazil. In 1907, the Brazilian and the Japanese governments signed a treaty permitting Japanese migration to Brazil. The first Japanese immigrants (790 people – mostly farmers) came to Brazil in 1908 on the ship, Kasato Maru, from the Japanese port of Kobe, moving to Brazil in search of better living conditions. Many of them became laborers on coffee plantations.

Nowadays, Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), as of 2000, there were between 1.4 and 1.5 million people of Japanese descent in Brazil, more than the 1.2 million in the United States. The largest concentrations of Japanese people in Brazil are mostly found in the states of São Paulo and Paraná.

6. Indians and Chinese in South Africa

The majority of the Asian South African population (more than 1 million in all) is Indian in origin, most of them descended from indentured workers transported to work in the 19th century on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal area, then known as Natal. They are largely English speaking, although many also retain the languages of their ancestors. There is also a significant group of Chinese South Africans (approximately 300,000 individuals), of whom the great majority are recent immigrants of the last two decades. The smaller Chinese community was initially descended from migrant workers who came to work in the gold mines around Johannesburg in the late nineteenth century. Some of those workers were repatriated. Chinese immigration caused difficulties for the apartheid regime. Based on the earlier status of Chinese as indentured laborers, the government classified immigrants from Mainland China as “non-white”, and therefore subject to numerous restrictions in residence, voting, education, work, free movement, etc.

7. Koreans in Uzbekistan and eastern Russia

North Koreans in Russia consist mainly of three groups: international students, guest workers, defectors and refugees. A 2006 study by Kyung Hee University estimated their total population at roughly 10,000. Aside from North Korean citizens living in Russia, there has also historically been significant migration from the northern provinces of Korea, especially Hamgyong, to the Russian Far East. In the late 1940s, roughly 8,000 North Korean migrant workers were recruited by the Soviet government to work in state-owned fisheries, according to the Korea Times. During North Korea’s post-Korean War reconstruction period, many North Korean students enrolled in universities and colleges in countries of the Soviet bloc, including Russia, and others came as industrial trainees. According to the 2006 study, “North Korean slaves”, by Alain Devalpo, the first wave of North Korean labor migration to the Soviet Union began at this time; around 25,000 workers also came to work in fisheries during the 1950s. The second wave, which began in 1966, involved North Koreans working as lumberjacks; roughly 15,000 to 20,000 were present in any given year. The decline of the economy of North Korea has also resulted in an increasing number of North Korean refugees in Russia.

8. Filipinos in the Middle East

Many Filipinos work in the Middle East (mostly Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates) as engineers, nurses or hospital workers, accountants, office workers, construction workers, restaurant workers and maids. It is estimated that more than 2 million Filipinos have made the Middle East their home. According to the Asia Times, about 8 million Filipinos work abroad supporting their families back home. The total remittances of Filipino migrant workers amount to billions of dollars a year. Iraq is a way to escape the poverty and unemployment in the Philippines. According to available statistics, at least 4,000 Filipinos work in Iraq, mostly as contractors with the US military and private companies. Government sources say Filipinos are most likely the largest single group of foreign workers in Iraq, with many more unregistered. An employee of a recruiting agency in Dubai who did not want to be named told the Asia Times, “The [US] $500-$1,000 a month they earn in Iraq might not be a fortune, but it’s far better than the pre-tax minimum wage of around $140 they get in their country.” The Philippines government banned their citizens from working in Iraq after a Filipino truck driver was kidnapped in Baghdad by militants in 2004. The recruiting-agency employee said the ban by the Philippine government would have little effect on Filipino workers who want to make their way to Iraq. “Around 100-150 Filipino workers still leave for Iraq every day” from Dubai, he said. “They know about the ban and realize that their lives could be in danger there. But higher wages and burdensome responsibilities make them turn a blind eye to such things.”

9. Hmong in Minnesota

According to a 2006-2008 study by the Census, in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Asian demographic composed 4.9 percent of the population. The highest percentages of immigrants also came from Asia (38.2 percent). Many Lao Hmong war refugees resettled in the U.S. following the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. Beginning in December of that year, the first Hmong refugees arrived in the U.S., mainly from refugee camps in Thailand; however, only 3,466 were granted asylum at this time under the Refugee Assistance Act of 1975.

By 1978 some 30,000 Hmong had immigrated to the U.S. This first wave was made up primarily of men directly associated with General Vang Pao’s Secret Army, which had been aligned with U.S. war efforts during the Vietnam War. Four years later, with the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, families of the Secret Army were also permitted to immigrate to the U.S., representing the second-wave of Hmong immigration to the U.S. The 2000 U.S. Census counted 169,440 persons of full Hmong ancestry, up from 90,082 in 1990. In addition, the 2000 Census counted another 16,882 persons of partial Hmong ancestry. Today, the number of ethnic Hmong living in the United States is likely between 200,000 and 250,000. States with the largest Hmong population include: California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

10. Chinese in NY

The Chinese were the first Asians to arrive in large numbers. By the 1830s Chinese were selling goods in New York City as well as arriving as sailors. New York is home to the second largest Asian American population in the United States. Queens, also in New York City, is home to the state’s largest Asian American population, and is also the most diverse county in the United States. Flushing, one of the largest neighborhoods in Queens that has a large Asian community. Queens is home to 49.6 percent of NYC’s Asian population, According to the 2006 American Community Survey, Queens ranks 5th among US counties with 477,772 (21.18 percent) Asian Americans, behind Los Angeles County, California, Honolulu County, Hawaii, Santa Clara County, California, and Orange County, California. The 2000 census showed that the borough is home to the largest concentration of Indian-Americans in the nation, with a total population of 129,715 (5.79% of the borough population. The second concentration of Asian Americans is in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

11. Chinese in San Francisco

Gold was discovered in California in 1848, eventually attracting thousands of Chinese miners and contract laborers. In 1850, just over 1,000 Asian immigrants entered the U.S., but ten years later, the figure had jumped to nearly 37,000, mostly Chinese. At the news of the gold discovery a steady immigration commenced which continued until 1876, at which time the Chinese in the United States numbered 151,000 of whom 116,000 were in the state of California. This increase in their numbers, rapid even in comparison with the general increase in population, was largely due to the fact that previous to the year 1869 China was nearer to the shores of California than was the eastern portion of the United States. Another circumstance which contributed to the heavy influx of Chinese was the fact that news of the gold discovery found southeastern China in poverty and ruin caused by the Taiping Rebellion. Masters of vessels made the most of this coincidence of favorable circumstances. They distributed in all the Chinese ports, placards, maps and pamphlets with highly colored accounts of the golden hills of California. The fever spread among the men as it did among others, and the ship-men reaped a harvest from passage money.

12. Vietnamese in Dallas and Houston

Significant areas where Vietnamese are well-represented include Orange County, California, San Jose, California, and Houston, Texas. As almost all of them left Vietnam after 1975 to escape the communist Vietnamese government. As of 2007, the Vietnamese American population has grown to more than 1.6 million. A major Little Saigon can also be found in Houston. The redevelopment of Midtown Houston from run-down to upscale has increased property values and property taxes, thus forcing the Vietnamese Americans out of their current neighborhood into other areas.

13. Vietnamese in Versailles, New Orleans

The Versailles community is nearly thirteen miles from downtown New Orleans. After Katrina, Nearly 1,000 people have returned to Versailles and restored hundreds of homes.

Church leaders kept the Diaspora Vietnamese community linked together. Louisiana is home to many Vietnamese, many of whom especially engaged in traditional fishing. New Orleans has several areas with a concentration of Vietnamese American businesses. The largest among these communities is located around Village de L’Est.

14. APIS in Australia

Prior to Federation in 1901, Australia had seen waves of Asian immigration. People from China were among the first of these, settling mainly in coastal areas in the 1830s. Chinese migration increased dramatically in the middle of the century when the gold rush began. Vietnamese Australians constitute the seventh-largest ethnic group in Australia, with 159,848 claiming to have been born in Vietnam according to the 2006 Census. Over three quarters of Vietnamese Australians live in New South Wales (40.7%) and Victoria (36.8%). Being mostly refugees after the Vietnam War, they are generally antagonistic toward the government of Vietnam. The popular surname Nguyen is the seventh most common family name in Australia (second only to Smith in the Melbourne phone book). In the early 1990s Asian immigration to Australia peaked: over half of the immigrants arriving here were from an Asian country. Asian culture has had one of the most visible impacts on mainstream Australian society. There are Asian restaurants throughout Australia, even in some remote towns. Asian food is also a regular part of the Australian diet, even in the private homes of non-Asian Australians. In cities it is no longer unusual for non-Asian Australians to be able to use chopsticks and all major Australian cities have a Chinatown.

15. Japanese, Chinese, and Filipinos in Hawaii

By the 1830s Chinese were toiling in Hawaiian sugarcane fields. According to the 2008 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, Asian Americans make up 38.5 percent of the state’s population. Pacific Islander Americans made up 9.0 percent. Hawaii has the highest percentage of Asian Americans, mainly 175,000 Filipino Americans and 161,000 Japanese Americans. In addition, there are roughly 53,000 Chinese Americans and 40,000 Korean Americans. Indigenous Hawaiians number 70,000 (or 5.5 percent). Roughly 75.0 percent of the foreign-born residents hail from Asia. The third group of foreigners to arrive upon Hawaii’s shores, after those from Polynesia and Europe, was from Han China. Chinese workers on Western trading ships settled in Hawaii starting in 1789. A large proportion of Hawaii’s population is now of Asian ancestry (especially Chinese, Japanese and Filipino.) Many are descendants of those immigrants brought to work on the sugar plantations in the 1850s and after. The first 153 Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii on June 19, 1868. They were not “legally” approved by the Japanese government because the contract was between a broker and the Tokugawa shogunate, by then replaced by the Meiji Restoration.

Filpinos in Hawaii

In 1899, following the Spanish-American War, the Philippines came under U.S. control, prompting increased immigration. In 1902, the pensionado program, which allowed Filipinos to study in the U.S., was implemented. Because most Filipinos are Roman Catholic, their integration into American life was somewhat easier than for other Asians. Though Filipinos faced the same prejudices as Chinese and Japanese laborers, Filipinos arrived with English skills, making assimilation easier. Many immigrated to Hawaii to work in the sugarcane plantations.

16. Koreans in Mexico

Approximately 1 percent of Mexico’s population is composed of other type of ethnic groups, these include Asian-Mexicans. Korean Mexicans are ethnic Koreans born in Mexico. The majority of them reside in Baja California, the state facing the U.S. state of California, and there are smaller concentrations in northern Mexico. Koreans first arrived in 1905 to the state of Yucatan, where they were used as laborers in the henequen plantations. Over generations, Koreans in the Yucatan Peninsula have intermarried with Mexicans, such as the Maya. When Korean immigrants arrived in Mexico many generations ago, they were not in enclaved ethnic communities as like in the U.S. and Canada, so intermarriage between Koreans and Mexicans were highly encouraged from the Korean Mexican society producing a unique and indistinguishable offspring of people mixed Korean, Spanish/European, and Amerindian ancestry.

17. Filipinos in Alaska

The largest Asian ethnic group currently living in Alaska are the Filipinos. As of the 2005–2007 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, Asian Americans made up 4.6 percent of Alaska’s population. Pacific Islander Americans remained at 0.5 percent of the state’s population. Some are involved in the quail industry. In the late 1700s, Filipinos served as crewmembers on merchant ships that were exploring and also bartering with Alaska Natives for sea otter furs. These Filipino mariners were known as “Manilla men” and were characterized as courageous, loyal, and experienced seamen. According to an Education Helper survey titled “Filipinos in Alaska”, a Spanish expedition seeking the Northwest Passage in 1791 is also reported to have had Filipino seamen on board. In the mid 1800s, Filipinos served as crewmembers on whaling ships. Although no actual records remain, Filipinos are believed to have spent several winters near Point Hope with the whaling ships. During that time, they made contact with Inupiat Eskimos. According to the survey, in 1903, eighty Filipinos were part of the crew of the cableship Burnside. They helped to install underwater communication cables that linked Juneau, Alaska, with other southeastern Alaskan communities and also Seattle, Washington.

18. Samoans and Tongans in Long Beach

About 65,000 people live on American Samoa, while the US census in 2000 and 2008 has found 4 times the number of Samoan Americans live in the mainland USA, approximately 215,000. California has the most Samoans, concentrations live in Los Angeles, Carson, Cerritos, East Palo Alto, Long Beach, Oceanside, San Jose, San Francisco and Upland. In other states, many Samoans live in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Portland (Oregon), Seattle, Phoenix, Houston, Kansas City, Anchorage, Alaska, and in the state of Hawaii. Since the end of World War II, persons born in American Samoa are United States nationals, but not United States citizens. For this reason, Samoans can move to Hawaii or the mainland United States and obtain citizenship comparatively easily. Like Hawaiian Americans, the Samoans arrived in the mainland in the 20th century as agricultural laborers and factory workers.

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