The Asiatic Exclusion League is formed to prevent immigration
The Asiatic Exclusion League, a white supremacist organization that starts in the United States and expands to Canada, is formed with the goal of preventing the immigration of people of Asian heritage.
Takao Ozawa v. United States
In 1915, Ozawa files for United States citizenship under the Naturalization Act of 1906, which allows only “free white persons” and “persons of African nativity or persons of African descent” to naturalize. In 1922, the United States Supreme Court finds Ozawa, a Japanese American who is born in Japan but lived in the United States for 20 years, ineligible for naturalization. This decision strengthens and reaffirms the racist policies of U.S. immigration. With successful judicial backing, policymakers pass more anti-Asian laws, a trend that continues until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Walter Achiu becomes first Asian to play in the NFL
Achiu makes it to the NFL in 1927, becoming the first known person of East Asian heritage to play in an NFL game. While he plays sparingly for the Dayton Triangles, Achiu is considered one of the greatest athletes to come through Dayton, where he is in the Athletic Hall of Fame at Dayton University. The running back becomes an All-American honorable mention at the school, and the local newspaper calls him one of the most popular players on the team. At Dayton, he also stars in baseball, track and wrestling, and he goes onto a professional wrestling career that goes until the 1950s.
President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 into effect
Encouraged by officials at all levels in the hysteria of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorizes the internment of more than 120,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan. The order isn’t formally rescinded until the late 1970s, and in 1988 Congress passes the Civil Liberties Act, which states that a “grave injustice” was done to Japanese American citizens and resident aliens during World War II. It also establishes a fund that pays $1.6 billion in reparations to formerly interned Japanese Americans or their heirs.
George Omachi, Japanese Americans take up baseball in internment camps
Per the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans are placed in internment camps. As part of that executive order, teenager George Omachi and his family are taken by train from their home in California to Jerome War Relocation Center in Denson, Arkansas. After the Omachis arrived in Arkansas, George took part in camp baseball, becoming a player for the Denson All-Stars. “Without baseball, camp life would have been miserable. … It was humiliating, demeaning, being incarcerated in our own country.” He continued to play and coach baseball for several teams at several levels. In 1968, he began scouting in the MLB.
First Samoan athlete plays in the NFL
As an offensive lineman for Washington, Al Lolotai is the first Samoan to play in the NFL.
Wataru “Wat” Misaka becomes first non-white and first player of Asian descent to play professional basketball
Selected by the Knicks in the 1947 Basketball Association of America Draft, Misaka became both the first non-white player and first player of Asian descent to play in this precursor league that would become the National Basketball Association.
Larry Kwong breaks hockey color barrier
Kwong is called up from the New York Rangers farm team and becomes the first person of color to play in the NHL. When he is hired as player-coach of Switzerland’s HC Ambrì-Piotta later in his life, he becomes the first person of Chinese descent to coach a professional hockey team.
Victoria Manalo Draves becomes first Asian American Olympic Champion
Growing up in San Francisco as the daughter of a Filipino father and English mother, an early coach makes Manalo Draves use her mother’s maiden name in swim and dive competitions as at that time interracial marriages are looked down upon. She also faces a regular indignity when using public pools as the water would be drained the day after she uses it each time. On August 3, 1948, Manalo Draves becomes the first Asian American Olympic Champion, placing first in the women’s three-meter springboard at the 1948 London Summer Olympics. After the Olympics, Manolo Draves and her husband open their own diving school. She is inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969.
First Asian American Man wins Olympic gold medal
Sammy Lee becomes the first Asian American man to earn an Olympic gold medal, winning in platform diving during the 1948 Summer Olympics in London.
President Lyndon Johnson signs the Hart-Celler Immigration Act
The Hart-Celler Act literally changes the face of America. Also known as the The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, it ends an immigration-admissions policies based on race and ethnicity and ends policies prioritizing immigrants from western and northern Europe which promoted the ideal of U.S. homogeneity. Beginning in 1965 when the Hart-Celler Act abolished racial quotas, the demographic makeup of America begins changing, as immigrants entering the United States under the new legislation came increasingly from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as opposed to Europe. When signing the act, President Johnson said, “This bill that we will sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives. … Yet it is still one of the most important acts of this Congress and of this administration. For it does repair a very deep and painful flaw in the fabric of American justice. It corrects a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American nation.”
Asian Americans for Equality peacefully protest
Moved to action by a developer who refuses to hire Asian workers for the massive Confucius Plaza construction project, local activists raise their voices and stage months of protests to finally prevail. DeMatteis Corp. eventually relents, agreeing to hire 27 minority workers, Asians among them. It was a major victory for the community and immediately establishes Asian Americans for Equal Employment as an organization that people could rely on. Reflecting on the dramatic events of 40 years ago, AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui says protest among New York Asians wasn’t just rare, it was unheard of at that time. “I remember the Asian community was afraid to speak up about issues they faced … lack of access to equal employment or services.”
Asian Americans for Equality protest treatment of Peter Yew
Yew, a young Chinese American living in New York City’s Chinatown, intervenes when he sees police beating a 15 year-old whom they had stopped for a traffic violation. For his concern, Yew is beaten himself on the spot and again back at the police station, where he is charged for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. A rally against police brutality at City Hall brings out 20,000 protesters and forces the closure of most Chinatown businesses. After weeks of public pressure, all charges are dropped against Yew on July 2. Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, also remembers it as a turning point: “There was a lot of discussion within the community. Some people said ‘Let’s not make trouble … it could hurt our future.’ Others even said ‘This isn’t really our country.’ But a whole new generation had a different view and said ‘This is our country. We have rights. Let’s fight for those rights.’”
Tiffany Chin becomes the first Asian American U.S. figure skating champion
At the 1985 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Chin is “fast and flawless,” the LA Times writes, en route to becoming the first Asian American and person of color to win national gold. Chin makes history despite years earlier being told by a white competitor, “You’re really good, but you know you’ll never be a champion. Figure skating champions have blond hair and blue eyes, and you don’t have either.” Chin would break barriers for future Asian American skating stars Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, but racism still permeated Olympic and U.S. figure skating when they competed. Corporate sponsors would still shun Yamaguchi, a Japanese American, despite winning Olympic and U.S. gold, and in 1998 a major media outlet produces an infamous headline celebrating Kwan, a Chinese American, losing to Tara Lipinski. The headline reads “American Beats Out Kwan.”
Erik Spoelstra is first Asian American head coach in any men’s major U.S. sports
In the spring of 2008, NBA icon Pat Riley steps down as Miami Heat head coach and handpicks the up-and-coming Spoelstra to replace him. Spoelstra, at 38, is the first Asian American to be the head coach of any team among the four major men’s U.S. sports – baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Spoelstra quickly establishes himself as one of the NBA’s best coaches, and over his career he coaches his Heat teams to five NBA Finals, winning two. Said Spoelstra in an ESPN The Undefeated interview: “I would love to be able to talk to owners, general managers and administrators in college, or athletic directors in high school,” Spoelstra, 49, said, “to be able to open their eyes to some very talented young coaches out here of a different ethnicity.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, Spoelstra also used his voice to speak out against the sharp rise in anti-Asian racism in the country, telling the Associated Press, “Look, I am Asian American. I’m proud to be Asian American. And seeing what’s happening, with another just outright form of racism and hatred, it really is sickening. It breaks my heart. It is despicable.”
First Chinese American drafted into NFL
Ed Wang is drafted by the Buffalo Bills, becoming the first Chinese American to be drafted into the NFL.
Jeremy Lin plays makes NBA history, then uses platform to stop Asian hate
Lin overcomes racism on the basketball court from a young age, recalling incidents of discrimination while playing as early as the sixth grade. It doesn’t stop Lin from pursuing his dream, however, and he becomes the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA when he takes the court for the Warriors in 2010. But “Linsanity” doesn’t truly begin until the following year as a New York Knick when on Feb. 4, 2012, Lin scores 25 points against the Nets, sparking a seven-game winning streak. Less than a week later, Lin squares off against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, scoring 38 points and launching himself into superstar status. Lin would become an NBA roster mainstay for the next decade, and in 2019 he becomes the first Asian American player to win an NBA title. As Lin begins reaching the end of his career, he begins using his platform more and more to combat racism. Lin says early in his life and career he was naïve to the racism, including systemic and subtle, or chose to ignore it. Lin truly embraces his position as an athlete with the influence to create social change starting in 2020 as hate against Asian Americans and the AAPI community rises during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most decorated figure skater of all time
Michelle Kwan, the most decorated figure skater of all time, is inducted into U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. She retired as a two-time Olympic medalist, five-time World champion and nine-time U.S. champion.
First Polynesian wins Heisman Trophy
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, a Samoan, becomes the first Polynesian to with the Heisman Trophy in 2014.
Kyler Murray is the No. 1 NFL draft pick
A first-round pick in baseball, Murray opts to follow his heart and pursue football, eventually becoming the No. 1 overall pick, a Pro Bowler and Rookie of the Year winner. Murray’s maternal grandmother is South Korean, and in 2021 Murray said he continues to pursue learning more about his Asian heritage. As a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Oklahoma, Murray and his mother made the calculated choice to wear a black, dragon-print kimono jacket before and after a game. “When we saw the jacket it was like, ‘Gotta have it,’” Missy Murray, Kyler’s mother, told The Oklahoman. “Cause we’re all about representing our Asian culture. I know a lot of people are like, ‘What is he?’ I get asked that a lot myself. So we do subtle things to represent that. That subtle statement he made on Saturday came across as kind of a strong statement, but it’s awesome.”
Asian American athletes condemn racism stemming from COVID-19 pandemic
Pandemic-driven rises in anti-Asian racism are so pronounced that in an American Journal of Public Health article, psychiatrist Justin A. Chen, MD, MPH, and his coauthors describe it as a “secondary contagion” threatening this population. By year’s end, the FBI announces there was a 73-percent increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in 2020. Early on in the outbreak, Asian American athletes like Natalie Chou, Katelyn Ohashi, Jeremy Lin and Taylor Rapp condemn the rising racism. Said Lin, “For me, I felt like I had to come out and say something. To not feel welcome, or feel safe physically, is just a different level. That’s something that I really want to make sure I took a stance on.”
Jason Wright, Danita Johnson, Kim Ng and Dany Garcia break barriers across leagues
The Washington Football Team hired Wright, a former NFL running back, as team president, making him the first Black person to hold that position in the NFL’s 100-year history. Wright was named Sports Business Journal’s “Best Hire of 2020.” In December, Johnson became the first Black woman or man to be hired as an MLS team president when D.C. United hired her as president of business operations. She previously was president and COO of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. In November, the Marlins hired Ng as the team’s general manager, making her the first woman to hold that position. Ng was MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations for the past nine years and the highest-ranking Asian American female baseball executive. In August, Garcia became the first woman to own a professional sports league. Garcia, entertainer Dwayne Johnson and a private equity firm puchased the XFL, and Johnson wrote that Garcia was the “architect” behind the deal.
Naomi Osaka wins US Open while honoring Black victims of police brutality or racist violence
Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father is Haitian, won all seven of her 2020 US Open matches to capture her third grand slam title. As part of each match, she wears a mask with the name of a Black man, woman or child who died from police brutality or violence rooted in racism. The names: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.
Jackson He achieves college football first
On Dec. 11, Arizona State football player Jackson He scored a touchdown, which Arizona State said was the first touchdown by a Chinese-born player in FBS history. The Sun Devils have celebrated his heritage by putting He’s name in Chinese on the back of his jersey.
Athletes rally to stop Asian hate after Atlanta shootings
On March 16, a white gunman commits a series of mass shootings at three Atlanta-area spas and massage parlors, killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women. The shooting reflects a long history of racism and sexism toward Asians and specifically Asian women, as well as reflecting the rapid rise in violent hate crimes rooted in racism from the COVID-19 pandemic. The day following the shooting, there’s an outpouring of support from athletes and teams across the country. LeBron James, Chiney Ogwumike, the Portland Trailblazers, Jeremy Lin, Steve Kerr, Trae Young were among the many within the NBA to speak out against the shooting and rise in racism. Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, a South Korean American, writes on his social media: “As an Asian American, I have heard the jokes and name calling. I often dealt with it by ignoring what was said and minding my own business. I don’t have all the answers, but I realize now more than ever that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and that ignoring it won’t help us do that. I know this one post won’t solve the problem, but I hope to help raise awareness on hate crimes against all. #stophate”
Shohei Ohtani accomplishes rare MLB feat last seen 100 years ago
When Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ star pitcher and power hitter, takes the mound on April 27, he does so accomplishing something last done in 1921. Ohtani leads MLB in home runs entering the day, and no player has entered a game as the starting pitcher while leading the league in home runs since Babe Ruth. Two years earlier, the flame-throwing pitcher was the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle, and during his 2018 AL Rookie of the Year season, he becomes the first player since Ruth with 50 innings pitched and at least 15 home runs.
Pitcher Yu Darvish, victim of racist gesture in World Series, speaks out against discrimination
In the spring of 2021, in an article Darvish says of rising anti-Asian racism, “In my opinion, underneath the skin we’re all the same. It doesn’t sit well with me. … [M]any people are suffering from (discrimination).” Darvish joined MLB in 2012 and has pitched in the league ever since. However, Darvish pointed out in an earlier conversation that successful Yankees pitcher and two-time All Star Masahiro Tanaka left MLB to return to play in Japan in part because of rising racism he and his family experienced. Darvish, the son of a Japanese mother and Iranian father, was the victim of a racist gesture during the 2017 World Series. As a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a player on the Houston Astros made an offensive and racist gesture toward Darvish.
Hideki Matsuyama becomes first Japanese man to win golf major at event honoring Lee Elder, first Black golfer to play in Masters
At the start of the 85th edition of the prestigious Masters tournament, Augusta National Golf Club celebrates Lee Elder as an honorary starter. Elder, who dealt with a spate of racism throughout his career, in 1975 became the first Black golfer to play in the tournament, which began in 1934 but did not allow Black golfers until Elder. (Augusta National did not admit a Black member until 1990 and did not admit women members until 2012.) At the end of the tournament, the Japanese-born Matsuyama finds himself in position to win the Masters. Matsuyama ends the tournament atop the leaderboard, becoming the first Japanese man to win the Masters and the second Asian American to win a golf major (Y.E. Yang in 2009).