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Portraits of Daily Life: Asian Americans Throughout the Years

Asian Americans have been part of building this nation for a while now. Here is a collection of snapshots of everyday life for Asian Americans across the decades, from the 1800s to the new millennium.
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Weddings, parties, graduations, meals together, trips to the beach, times of prayer — these are some of the most cherished parts of everyday life for all Americans, and seeing what those events look like from a different point of view offers all of us a window into the incredible diversity of the U.S. and the beauty of life’s little and big moments. In an effort to do just that, here is a collection of snapshots of what those parts of life look like for Asian Americans, from when the first Chinese immigrants arrived in the 1800s to the new millennium as families and individuals from all over the world have come and created flourishing communities here.

Watch "Asian Americans," a five-hour film series that delivers a bold, fresh perspective on the history of the fastest-growing demographic in the country today. Stream now.

Please note that these images are only a very small sampling of the rich variety of Asian American communities in the United States. We encourage you to go on your own exploration, in your public libraries, archives and community organizations to see what gems they can offer as well.

1890s-1910s

In this cabinet photograph, a few dozen Chinese men walk inside and next to a 500-foot long dragon
1/6 In this cabinet photograph, a few dozen Chinese men walk inside and next to a 500-foot long dragon, probably during La Fiesta de Los Angeles, circa 1898. | Published by Garden City Foto Co., Los Angeles, California, USC Libraries, Workman-Temple Homestead Museum Collection, 1830-1930
A color postcard depicts a parade in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1910
2/6 A color postcard depicts a parade in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1910. | Published by Edward H. Mitchell, Los Angeles, California, USC Libraries, Workman-Temple Homestead Museum Collection, 1830-1930
Black and white photo of a Korean American family posing during a trip to a California river, circa 1900
3/6 A Korean American family poses during a trip to a California river, circa 1900. | Shades of L.A.: Korean American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A color postcard reads "Street Scene in China Town, Los Angeles, Cal." In it, four men in black, all wearing queues, stand near a storefront at a brick building with paper lanterns.
4/6 A color postcard reads "Street Scene in China Town, Los Angeles, Cal." In it, four men in black, all wearing queues, stand near a storefront at a brick building with paper lanterns, postmarked February 1907 | Published by the Newman Postcard Company, USC Libraries, Workman-Temple Homestead Museum Collection, 1830-1930
A color postcard reads "A Chinese Family" and shows an elderly man, a woman and three children in traditional clothing.
5/6 A color postcard reads "A Chinese Family" and shows an elderly man, a woman and three children in traditional clothing, postmarked August 1905. | Published by M. Rieder, Los Angeles, California, USA, USC Libraries, Workman-Temple Homestead Museum Collection, 1830-1930
A Japanese American woman poses with a parasol for a studio portrait, circa 1900.
6/6 A Japanese American woman poses with a parasol for a studio portrait, circa 1900. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

1920s-1930s

Two Korean American women sit side by side in black and white photo, circa 1920s
1/9 Two Korean American women sit side by side, circa 1920s. | Korean American Digital Archive, USC Libraries
Black and white photo of two Korean American children sitting together. The child on the right holds a cat.
2/9 Two Korean American children sit together. Sammy Lee, at right, holds a cat, circa 1920. | Shades of L.A.: Korean American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A color postcard depicts a “Chinese fortune teller” and two other men, all in traditional clothing
3/9 A color postcard depicts a “Chinese fortune teller” and two other men, all in traditional clothing, postmarked in 1921. | Published by Edward H. Mitchell, San Francisco, California, USC Libraries, Workman-Temple Homestead Museum Collection, 1830-1930
Chinese American baby in stroller
4/9 William Chunn, Chinese American child, sits up in a stroller in 1924. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photograph of a Japanese American man in a suit posing with a car, circa 1935
5/9 A Japanese American man in a suit poses with a car, circa 1935. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A Japanese American girl in a kimono holds a small bouquet, 1934
6/9 A Japanese American girl in a kimono holds a small bouquet, 1934. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a young boy in a sombrero sitting on a pony
7/9 Sammy Lee in costume on photographer's pony, 1928. | Shades of L.A.: Korean American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Five Japanese American men pose in front of fruit and vegetable crates at Jake’s Place Market Mountain Cafe in Los Angeles, circa 1920s
8/9 Five Japanese American employees pose in front of fruit and vegetable crates at Jake's Place Market Fountain Cafe, Los Angeles, circa 1920s. | USC Digital Libraries, Workman-Temple Homestead Museum Collection, 1830-1930
Black and white photo of a Korean American couple standing behind the counter at their restaurant serving customers, 1932
9/9 Mr. S.H. Chunn and his wife stand behind the counter at their lunchroom on Kedzie Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, 1931. The restaurant was in a house owned by the Chunn family in a Jewish neighborhood. | Shades of L.A.: Korean American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

1940s

Black and white photo of several Japanese American boys sitting together in two rows, facing the camera
1/12 A group of Japanese American boys sit together in Exposition Park, 1949. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Woman poses with a car
2/12 Betty Quong sits on a car on College Street, near Broadway in Los Angeles, circa 1943. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a Korean American man posing next to a motorcycle.
3/12 Bethel Chung sits on a motorcycle, circa 1948. | Shades of L.A.: Korean American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white image of two brides and two grooms standing next to their bridal parties
4/12 Two Filipino couples pose with their entourages at a double wedding, circa 1945. The men wear hats from the Filipino Masonic group Legionarios de Trabajo | Shades of L.A.: Filipino American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A Chinese American girl dressed up as a “Southern belle” in a big dress and parasol
5/12 A Chinese American girl dressed up as a “Southern belle” for an annual Christmas play at the Catholic Chinese Center poses, circa 1945. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A Chinese American man sits at Exposition Park
6/12 A Chinese American man sits at Exposition Park, circa 1940. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Little Chinese American girl poses in a nurse costume
7/12 A Chinese American girl dressed up as a nurse for an annual Christmas play at the Catholic Chinese Center poses, circa 1945. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a Japanese American woman standing in front of the Sawtelle Food Market, circa 1947
8/12 A Japanese American woman stands in front of the Sawtelle Food Market, circa 1947. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a Chinese American soldier in uniform standing in front of a house, circa 1940.
9/12 A Chinese American soldier in uniform stands in front of a house, circa 1940. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of low wood barracks at a Japanese internment camp
10/12 Formerly racehorse stalls, these barracks housed Japanese American families in internment camps. | Dorothea Lange, War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement / National Archives
A black and white photo of a Japanese American woman with a bandana on her head painting a watercolor on a wooden table.
11/12 A student of Chiura Obata's art classes paints a free watercolor. | Dorothea Lange, War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement / National Archives
A black and white photo of Japanese American children painting at long wooden tables.
12/12 Evacuee Japanese American children remain after hours to continue their creative work. | Dorothea Lange, War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement / National Archives ABs10 MMD

1950s

Black and white image of a man on a motorcycle
1/11 Credo Bisquera on his motorcycle, April 27, 1952. | Shades of L.A.: Filipino American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of three men posing in front of a car