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Asian Americans in Philadelphia: History and Timeline


1965 to 2000

Rally held by the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation to protest the Vine Street Expressway expansion (Reproduced with permission from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

After the Hart-Celler Immigration Act was enacted, large-scale immigration from Asia resumed for the first time since 1924, leading to significant population growth throughout this period. Although the Immigration Act removed national quotas, a new visa system was put in place, giving priority to immigrants from wealthier backgrounds and highly educated people who worked in STEM fields. Philadelphia saw its first major influx of South Asian immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh around this time. To complicate matters further, tens of thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos also began resettling in the Greater Philadelphia area in the late 1970s and early 1980s. of the Southeast settled along the Asian trade corridors on Washington Avenue and South 7and Street. New immigrants from South Korea, China and Bangladesh have also started settling in neighborhoods like North 5and Street, Port Richmond and Upper Darby at this time, radically reshaping the demographics of each neighborhood.

As new immigrants and refugees struggled to find their place in the city, multigenerational descendants of the early waves of Asian immigration began to find their political voice around this time. Amid the nationwide urban renewal campaigns of the 1950s through 1970s, Philadelphia’s Chinatown found itself bisected by the Vine Street Freeway. This experience galvanized business owners and community leaders in Chinatown, as well as young organizers of a younger generation who together founded the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation to stand up to city planners and prevent future eviction attempts. Japanese Americans have increasingly spoken out about their own mistreatment during World War II, with several prominent leaders of the National Campaign for Reparation living in the area.

In the year 2000, AAPIs in Philadelphia made up nearly 5% of the city’s total population. Compared to census data from 1990 and 1980 which recorded the AAPI population at just 2.7% and 1.5% respectively, this period shows enormous population growth on a scale that was previously unheard of both locally and nationally. As waves of immigrants and refugees settled in the region, AAPI communities developed an extensive infrastructure of community service organizations, activist groups, arts movements, and arts programs. ethnic studies that continue to serve AAPI communities today.