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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
2/11 Silver Cariaso and two other men lean on a car in a neighborhood in Watts in 1959. | Shades of L.A.: Filipino American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Two Chinese American girls pose with a woman dressed up as Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland
3/11 Two Chinese American girls pose with a woman dressed up as Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland, circa 1955. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a Japanese American woman painting a picket fence in the backyard of a home in West Los Angeles, circa 1950
4/11 A Japanese American woman paints a picket fence in the backyard of a home in West Los Angeles, circa 1950. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a large group of people sitting at long tables
5/11 A group of people honor the formation of India as a Republic at the Armenian Center, located at 1501 Venice Blvd, Jan. 26, 1950. The event was sponsored by the Student's Assn. of India, the India Cultural Society and the American Wives of India. | Shades of L.A.: Indian American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of three men sitting together on a beach
6/11 Mino, a Japanese friend, Katoh, and an unidentified friend rest on the sand in Playa del Rey, circa 1952 | Shades of L.A.: Sri Lankan American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a little girl standing holding a doll.
7/11 A little girl holding her doll stands outside her house, located in the Los Angeles area, 1951. | Shades of L.A.: Filipino American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a small Chinese American boy riding on a simulated bronco.
8/11 Edward Wong on bronco (simulated) at Knott's Berry Farm, 1958. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a Korean American child in mouse ears sitting on a couch with her grandmother
9/11 Pamela Lee, who is wearing mouse ears, sits with her grandmother, Eunkee Lee, 1958. | Shades of L.A.: Korean American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a man in a suit riding a carousel with two women, one in a sari.
10/11 A man, Mino, rides a carousel with friends, circa 1952. | Shades of L.A.: Sri Lankan American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of Setsuko, Taeko, Kou and Keiko Hasegawa posing together under palm trees, 1954
11/11 Setsuko, Taeko, Kou and Keiko Hasegawa pose together under palm trees, 1954. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

1960s-1970s

Black and white photograph of Takashi Kato, Bill Chomori, Jennifer and Roy Kato as they make mochi, 1964.
1/8 Takashi Kato, Bill Chomori, Jennifer and Roy Kato make mochi, 1964. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A woman in an apron flips pastries on a griddle
2/8 Rosalina “Bemba” Dolorfino, co-owner of the first Filipino-owned bakeshop in Los Angeles, at her shop, circa 1978. | USC Filipino American Library
Black and white photo of Mrs. Yoshida as she begins preparing batayaki for Mr. and Mrs. Joe Ikuta and their children, Ronnie, Douglas and Yoshida, 1963
3/8 Mrs. Yoshida begins preparing batayaki for Mr. and Mrs. Joe Ikuta and their children, Ronnie, Douglas and Yoshida, 1963. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Two Japanese American girls dressed in kimonos stand side by side, 1962
4/8 Two Japanese American girls dressed in kimonos stand side by side, 1962. | Shades of L.A.: Japanese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A woman writes on a blackboard
5/8 Educator and civic leader Milagros Romaquin Aquino writes on a blackboard at CSU Dominguez Hills, circa 1978. | USC Filipino American Library
Black and white photo of two men standing in a doorway and a woman standing inside a room, smiling
6/8 Rev. Edward J. Caldwell of First Presbyteran Church introduces Indonesian refugee newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Gustav Dugas, to their new home at 11652 Addison St., in North Hollywood on Sept. 26, 1960. | George Brich, Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Children sleep and talk on a bus
7/8 A few students doze on a train while others talk after a field trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento to visit the State Capitol in 1973. | Shades of L.A.: Chinese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of Korean Americans sweeping the street
8/8 Korean Town Development Association holds street cleaning campaign. Association president Hank K. Yim is at right, 1979. | Mike Mullen, Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

1980s

Black and white photo of four women in Hawaiian dresses performing a Hawaiian dance, 1987.
1/11 Na Opio Walune performs at a presentation on Hawaiian culture at the Huntington Beach Center. From left, Bernice, Charlene, Kanani and Keololea, 1987. | Shades of L.A.: Pacific Islander American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Close-up, black and white photo of a group of Vietnamese American children.
2/11 A group of Vietnamese American children at Vietnamese New Year celebrations, February 8, 1981. | Dean Musgrove, Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A Vietnamese American mother and her daughters pose for the camera in front of a tree with yellow flowers.
3/11 A mother and her daughters pose at Cerritos Park on Christmas, 1983. | Shades of L.A.: Vietnamese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A group of young Vietnamese Americans ride in a brightly decorated car.
4/11 Members of the Vietnamese Club ride in a truck decorated for Hollywood High School’s homecoming, 1984. | Shades of L.A.: Vietnamese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Two men in sunglasses pose next to the ocean.
5/11 Friends from Hollywood Community Adult School at Hollywood High School, Khiej, left, and Kiet, pose by the water on Catalina Island, circa 1984. | Shades of L.A.: Vietnamese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Two young women in white dresses pose in Griffith Park, with the Hollywood sign visible behind them.
6/11 Friends Van, left, and Diem, pose in Griffith Park with a view of the Hollywood sign in the background, 1985. | Shades of L.A.: Vietnamese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Bride to be Chan Yong Candice Park sits in her wedding dress with voluminous sleeves as wedding coordinator, Lori Jones, adjusts her veil in this black and white photo
7/11 Bride to be Chan Yong Candice Park sits in her wedding dress as wedding coordinator, Lori Jones, adjusts her veil, August 20, 1988. | Steve Grayson, Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A woman and a man stand together, smiling, next to a sign that reads “Today, I am an American.”
8/11 New United States citizens, John and Sisowath Arvndrasmy from Cambodia, at the Coliseum on June 22, 1981. | Michael Haering, Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of the open mouth of a lion in during lion dance for the Tet New Year.
9/11 Vietnamese Americans celebrate Tet New Year with the Lion Dance, February 8, 1981. | Dean Musgrove, Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Three children sitting on a lawn perform traditional Hawaiian music using pu'ili (the long bamboo instruments), 'uliuli (the feather gourd rattles), and the ipu (the large gourd) in this black and white photo, circa 1985
10/11 Three children perform traditional Hawaiian music using pu'ili (the long bamboo instruments), 'uliuli (the feather gourd rattles), and the ipu (the large gourd), circa 1985. | Shades of L.A.: Pacific Islander American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a family sitting together and smiling at the camera.
11/11 Trang Lai poses with his wife, Thuan, and their children, Van, Tri and Thy. He fled the country with his family when Vietnam fell to communist forces. Behind them is artwork depicting his home village of Phat Diem, May 15, 1988. | Paul Chinn, Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

1990s-2000s

Black and white photo of food servers as they pause in their work to smile at the camera at the Hawaiian Civic Club Festival, 1992
1/10 Food servers pause in their work to smile at the camera at the Hawaiian Civic Club Festival, 1992. | Shades of L.A.: Pacific Islander American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of a woman reaching over a pot in a steamy kitchen
2/10 A busy cook works in the kitchen of Setha Thai Restaurant in Los Angeles, 1995. | Gary Leonard, Gary Leonard Collection, Los Angeles Photographers Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A girl and her father stand in front of an RV together
3/10 A girl and her father, residents of Pacific Palisades, pose in front of an RV on a family trip to Monterey Bay, circa 1995. | Shades of L.A.: Thai American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Black and white photo of four men praying at a Buddhist temple
4/10 Wat Thai Monks, left to right: Phra Rajdharmavides, abbot, Phramaha Fai Sumedhi, Phramaha Vichanoa Chemsawat and (on floor) Mr. Dao Palanchai, pray at Wat Thai Buddhist Temple, 2000. | Gerard Burkhart, Los Angeles Neighborhoods Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A woman poses in a terrace in front of a tall building and two trees.
5/10 Lan poses in front of the Central Library of the Los Angeles Public Library in Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1996. | Shades of L.A.: Vietnamese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Two couples pose in front of a sign in Vietnamese that reads "Happy Engagement."
6/10 Family members gather for an engagement party at a restaurant in El Sereno, circa 1996. The sign reads, "Happy Engagement." | Shades of L.A.: Vietnamese American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A bride and groom in traditional Indian dress pose with a man and a woman.
7/10 Bride and groom, Pinel and Sanjay, pose with friends John Ulmen and Isabel Tum, 1996. | Shades of L.A.: Indian American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A little boy smiles at his family at his birthday party, circa 1994
8/10 Yusef celebrates his third birthday with a Batman themed birthday party with family and friends in Downey, circa 1994. | Shades of L.A.: Pakistani American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Friends and family pose in front of a ride at Disneyland, 1994
9/10 Friends and family celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan with a trip to Disneyland, 1994. Here, they pose in front of It’s a Small World. | Shades of L.A.: Pakistani American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Two young girls pose in modern Pakistani dress, circa 1991
10/10 Sisters Shirin and Yasmin pose in modern Pakistani dress, circa 1991. | Shades of L.A.: Pakistani American Community, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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