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Special Collections & University Archives: Asian Pacific Americans in the Valley

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Early History of Asian Pacific Americans in the RGV: Summary & Background


This research guide aims to help students interested in researching the history and legacy of Asian Pacific Americans in the Rio Grande Valley. The guide links to resources held by UTRGV Special Collections and Archives in our physical and digital repositories. Primary source materials are limited to newspapers. Secondary sources are represented chiefly by books and resources in our library catalog. Links to external resources, such as collections at other libraries and institutions, websites, and organizations, are also included to supplement research.


Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is observed annually in the U.S. during May to recognize the achievements and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Americans, or Asian Pacific Americans, in the history, culture, and achievements of our country. The legacy of the AAPI community dates back to the earliest arrival of Asian immigrants to North America and the contributions of families and individuals continue to shape the history and culture of the lower Rio Grande Valley.


Newspapers provide early documented accounts of Asian people in the lower Rio Grande Valley also reflecting anti-Asian and anti-immigrant sentiment and activity. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first significant law to restrict immigration to the U.S. The law established a 10-year ban on Chinese immigration, denied naturalization to existing residents, and limited Chinese immigrants from traveling abroad. In South Texas, rumors spread that Chinese immigrants were crossing the US-Mexico border illegally.


Decades before Chinese exclusion, alien land laws were adopted to restrict immigrants (as early as 1859 in Oregon), especially people of Asian descent, from acquiring and colonizing lands of the western frontier. In a well-documented episode in January 1921, the American Legion prevented Japanese men arriving in Harlingen from California from claiming their recent land acquisitions--within a year stricter alien land laws were adopted by Texas and other states.


The Immigration Act of 1924 further restricted U.S. immigration, limiting the number of U.S. immigrants to 2% of the total number of individuals from each nationality and capping the total immigrant quota at 150,000/year. Recognizing the correlation between tighter restrictions and increased human trafficking along the border, the Immigration Act of 1924 also formalized the U.S. Border Patrol as a new branch of the Department of Immigration & Naturalization Services. Its jurisdiction was extended from land patrol to coastal patrol in 1925.


Asian Pacific families continued to arrive and settle in the Valley between 1907 and 1933, including many farmers of Japanese descent. Heishoro Miyamoto and Shin Fujimoto purchased 1200 acres of land near Mission to establish a citrus grove and nursery. Seiichi Noguchi, Tanjiro Kawamura, H. Hatanaka, Nabuaro Kitayaa, Thomas Tomazo Kato, Frank Etsuyi Izumikawa, and Minoru Kawahata purchased 403 acres and established the Yamato Colony and the Valley's first truck-farm in San Benito. J. Minoru "Jimmy" and Toku Kawahata came to the Valley in 1917. Uichi "Hugh" Shimotsu purchased land in San Juan in 1916 but resettled in Bluetown near Brownsville. Kumazo and Asao Tanamachi settled in the Valley in 1933 and weathered an intense hurricane just months after their arrival.

World War II

Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, resulted in the forced removal and incarceration of nearly 122,000 Japanese-American men, women, and children. Families were assembled and sent to internment camps throughout the US, including five locations in Texas. 

Fearing domestic spies and foreign agitation at home, the U.S. government implemented additional restrictions on Japanese, German, and Italian nationals, including the surrender of their firearms and ammunition, cameras, radios, and more. Yet, families not only complied with these orders their children also enlisted in military service to prove their loyalty and patriotism to their chosen homeland, including many Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans.

Nisei men from the Valley, including Haruo "Harry" Shimotsu, Matsuo Kawamura, Edward Sasaki, George Oyama, Henry Hanawa, and four Tanamachi brothers Willie, Saburo, Goro, and Walter. A few of these men served with distinction in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, U.S. Army Signal Corps, rescuing their own lives to save the Texas National Guard's "Lost Battalion," which was surrounded behind enemy lines. Their heroism was immortalized in the 1951 film "Go for Broke" which was the first positive cinematic depiction of Japanese Americans.


The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 upheld the immigration quotas from the Immigration Act of 1924 but reduced restrictions against Asian immigration and allowed a path to citizenship U.S. citizenship. In 1956, WWII veteran Walter Tanamachi spoke at a dinner in Brownsville honoring the first 33 Japanese to become Americans in the Valley, which included his own family, "We have come a long way and we are going farther...for you have finally been accepted as American citizens."

In 1962, members of the 442nd RCT were also recognized as “honorary Texans” for their bravery and sacrifice in rescuing the 211 Texas National Guardsmen of the 36th Texas Infantry Division.

Content Warning

Some research materials portray racism and violence against Asian Pacific Americans and contain harmful and offensive language and imagery. This content may be emotionally challenging and triggering. While UTRGV University Library Special Collections & Archives does not endorse these depictions, we hope the evidentiary value of the materials provides evidence and context for understanding and examining the historical racism and xenophobia, exclusion, intolerance, and discrimination against people of Asian Pacific ancestry in the United States.

Primary Sources: Newspaper clippings for Asian Pacific Americans in the RGV (1890s - 1930s)

"A Chinaman's Funeral" (see bottom of page)

The Brownsville Herald 04 Jul 1892, Mon ·Page 1

"Some Applicants...[to watch the frontier and see that no Chinese are smuggled into this land of the free]"

The Brownsville Herald, Brownsville, Texas • Page 3

Chinese migrants deported

The Brownsville Herald, Brownsville, Texas • Page 2

"Story of a Japanese Spy...Nothing known"

The Brownsville Herald, Brownsville, Texas • Page 4

"Texans Again Bar Arriving Japanese"

New York Times (1857-1922) New York, NY 08 Jan 1921 Page 3

Texans to Oust and Aid Japanese

New York Times (1857-1922), Jan 9, 1921 Page 3

"Nothing can be done to oust Japanese farmers from Mercedes..."

The Brownsville Herald, Brownsville, Texas • Page 4

"The Industry of Smuggling Aliens"

The Brownsville Herald, Brownsville, Texas • Page 4

"Six more Chinese nabbed by officers here...Army of 600 waiting for 'test' cases"

The Brownsville Herald, Brownsville, Texas · Wednesday, July 13, 1932 Page 9


Kumazo Tanamchi and son, advertisement for Stokes Seeds

Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, TX 10 Jan 1936, Fri ·Page 16

Video Resources

External Resources: Asian Pacific Americans in the RGV


The research guides compiled by UTRGV staff and students are intended to assist patrons who are embarking upon new research endeavors. Our goal is to expand their knowledge of the types of resources available on a given topic, including books, archival materials, and websites. In so doing, our compilers have taken care to include collections, digital items, and resources that may be accessed not only through UTRGV but also via other institutions, repositories, and websites.

We wholeheartedly respect the research interests of others. Therefore, please contact us if you wish to submit a resource for consideration, or if you have a question about or an issue with a specific cited resource.

Books from Our Catalog

Relevant Databases for Primary & Secondary Sources: APA/AAPI History

Quick Links

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