This year (2023) marks the 44th anniversary of celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage.
The original observation was seven days beginning on May 4, 1979, as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978.
President George H.W. Bush extended the celebration for the entire month on May 7, 1990, and designated it Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in Proclamation № 6130.
It is difficult to identify the "first" Asian in frontier Illinois since the history of Asians in Illinois' footprint dates back several centuries and is complex. However, it is known that Asians, particularly the region's indigenous peoples, have lived in what is now Illinois for thousands of years.
Illinois is the sixth largest state with 828,847 (2020 Census) Asians. California is home to 6,764,118 Asians, followed by New York with 1,884,346, and Texas comes in third with 1,656,166 Asian residents.
The first recorded Asian immigrants to Illinois were likely Chinese workers who helped build the transcontinental railroad between 1863 and 1869. It is also important to note that many Asians, mainly of South Asian descent, were brought to Illinois as indentured servants or slaves during the colonial era.
The first group of Japanese in Chicago arrived in 1892 with jobs and skills to build the Ho-o-den Pavilion at the World's Columbian Exposition.
Kamenosuke Nishi was the first known (documented) Japanese individual in Chicago. He relocated from San Francisco, California, in 1893 and opened a Gift Shop at 27th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. Nishi parlayed his vision and honed his sales and management skills into $700,000 in profit.
Today, Cottage Grove Avenue's north terminus is at 33rd Street, which heads only eastbound.
In the early 1900s, about 400 Japanese immigrants lived in Chicago. After WWII, the U.S. Government resettled 20,000 Japanese families or individuals to Chicago from World War II internment camps.
Because the Japanese did not emigrant to Chicago on their own, that alone denied them the opportunity to develop their unique neighborhood and identity, as Chinatown, Little Italy, Greek Town and other Chicago ethnic neighborhoods did.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.