Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Resources

A Guide to Getting Started
Finding APIDAs in the Library of Virginia Digital Collections
APIDA Archival Resources at the Library of Virginia
APIDA Selected Secondary Resources
APIDA Genealogical Resources
Other APIDA Digital Resources & Archives

A Guide to Getting Started

Pryalal (Prio) Karmarkar immigrated from Bangladesh and served in the United States Marine Corps. He was photographed with his family in Woodbridge, Virginia on 2/23/18.
Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities.

The history of Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDAs) is an important part of the American experience. Works dedicated to APIDAs contribute to a fuller understanding of the history of the United States. Their stories encompass a rich legacy of achievement, along with hardships and sacrifices, that deserve to be explored. 

There are a number of terms that are used to denote Asian and Pacific Islander populations, including Asian Pacific American (APA), Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), and Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI). We use the term APIDA, which stands for Asian Pacific Islander Desi American, as a pan-ethnic classification that intentionally includes South Asians (Desi) as part of the community. There is a great diversity of identities and ethnicities encompassed under the APIDA umbrella, including East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander. This term ultimately includes all people of Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions.

Historically, APIDAs were grouped together by government classifications. There are conflicting views on the appropriateness of any classification or reference. While these communities use various names to describe themselves; these groupings are ultimately political and part of a dynamic, continuing process of self-determination and self-identification.

In the 2000 United States Census, the Federal Government defines “Asian American” to include persons having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” includes Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian or Chamorro, Fijian, Tongan, or Marshallese peoples and encompasses the people within the United States jurisdictions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The previous “Asian and Pacific Islander” (API) category was separated into “Asian Americans” and “Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders”  In our references, Desi countries of origin include Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

APIDAs are generally grouped by regions, although it is important to note that some of these can be politically controversial. There is tremendous diversity, with Asia having more than 40 countries, and there are more ethnicities than countries (for example, the Hmong are an ethnic group from Laos). Asian diasporas are extremely large and ethnic identity oversimplifications do not apply. For example, people of Japanese origin in Brazil culturally identify as Brazilians, those of Chinese origin in Guatemala identify as Guatemalans; whereas hyphenated identities are more common in the United States as evidenced by terms like Asian American, or Korean American.

Notions of ethnic and national identity carry political, social and familial meanings too complex to analyze here. See for more on identity and statistics.

  • Central Asians Afghani, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgians, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongolian, Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek
  • East Asians Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, Taiwanese, Tibetan
  • Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (in the United States Jurisdictions & Territories) Carolinian, Chamorro, Chuukese, Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Kosraean, Marshallesse, Native Hawaiian, Niuean, Palauan, Pohnpeian, Samoan, Tokelauan, Tongan, Yapese
  • Southeast Asians Bruneian, Burmese, Cambodian, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Laotian, Malaysian, Mien, Papua New Guinean, Singaporean, Timorese, Thai, Vietnamese
  • South Asians Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Indian, Maldivians, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan
  • West Asians This is a contested term, most people from the region do not self-identify as such. West Asia is typically referred to as the Middle East; and geographically includes the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey (straddles Europe and Asia) United Arab Emirates and Yemen

The guides below will help you to navigate a number of APIDA resources and tools, both from the Library of Virginia and from other great resources.

Finding Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDAs) in the Library of Virginia Digital Collections

Local History & Genealogy Room @ The Library of Virginia

In the Library of Virginia, the Local History and Genealogy Room features a rotating case which highlights collection materials and stories. Below is our temporary digital version of the text and images used in May 2020’s Local History and Genealogy case in celebration of Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month.

To help contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Library is currently closed to the public until further notice. Please check our website at regularly for the most up-to-date information on our operating status.

(Pictured above) Kuy So (1920—1995) fled to Thailand during the Khmer Rouge’s oppressive rule over Cambodia. In 1983, he arrived at Richmond International Airport as a refugee. He later joined the large Cambodian community in Long Beach, California. The documents displayed here were left behind during his stay in Richmond. They came into the Library of Virginia’s collections as unclaimed property from the Virginia Department of the Treasury. They include photographs and paperwork concerning his travel to Richmond. Read more about Kuy So in the Library’s blog, the UnCommonWealth.

(Pictured above) In 1960, South–Korean-born Duk Hyun Kim married Billy F. Hunt, a native of Tennessee, in Seoul while Hunt was serving in the United States military. A South Korean passport permitted her to travel to the United States in 1961. By 1963, she had a United States passport under the name Barbara Ann Hunt that she used to travel to and from Japan and South Korea. In 1966, the couple purchased property in Fairfax County, Virginia. They divorced in Cochise County, Arizona, in 1977, and Barbara Ann Hunt returned to South Korea. These papers came to the Library of Virginia as unclaimed property from the Virginia Department of the Treasury.

Prints & Photographs

Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), page 6, February 18, 1904.
See article, “Ashland is for Japan” on Virginia Chronicle

The Library of Virginia’s Prints and Photographs Collection houses more than 240,000 prints, photographs, postcards, posters, and ephemera items. Over the years, we have digitized not only parts of our own collections, but also some local photograph collections housed at public libraries across the commonwealth. As with all of our digital collections, the digital photograph collections are searchable by keyword, creator, and title. 

  • APIDA soldiers can be found in the U.S. Army Signal Corps Photograph Collection, which includes photographs from the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation series, 1942-1946, taken by Army Signal Corps photographers assigned to the port historian’s office. The nearly 3,500 photographs depict the arrival and departure of United States military personnel and equipment, the preparation and loading of war materials, civilian employees, Red Cross workers, wounded personnel, and German and Italian prisoners of war.
  • APIDAs can be found in the Adolph B. Rice Photograph Collection, which constitutes a unique photographic record of life in Richmond from 1949 to 1961. The Library offers digital versions of over 400 of the 16,000 images from Rice’s commercial studio, including covering studio portraits, aerial views, advertising shots for local department stores, and local religious and educational events. This collection is also available on Flickr. If you’re familiar with the people, places, and events depicted in the Rice Collection, you can add comments and metadata that will help us identify more of this content.

Newspapers & Virginia Chronicle

From the Abingdon Virginian to The Zeitgeist, the Library of Virginia collects newspapers across the commonwealth that describe everything from community happenings to notable moments in American history. Many are available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia and researchers can use the “Newspaper Research at the Library of Virginia” to navigate through newspapers in the Library’s collection.

  • The Library of Virginia holds microfilm and hard copy versions of Asian Fortune, a periodical from Vienna, Virginia. 

Virginia Chronicle provides free access to over one million newspaper pages from the commonwealth and beyond. These full-text searchable and digitized images give glimpses into the lives of Virginians from 1787 to 2013, outlining everything from community happenings to notable moments in American history. Volunteers help correct the text of articles. 

  • Articles on APIDAs in Virginia can be found by searching in this database. Register for a free account.

The UncommonWealth

Check out Library of Virginia’s blog, The UncommonWealth, to learn about what we do, why we do it, and how our efforts relate to current issues and events. In addition to our intriguing collections and groundbreaking projects, we spotlight public libraries, staff members, and specialized professions. Below are entries that spotlight APIDAs in our collection.

Virginia Digital Yearbook Collection

Virginia’s public libraries have banded together to collect digital scans of public high school yearbooks from across the Commonwealth hosted on Internet Archive. Look up family members by using the full-text search.

Civic Conversations

The civic conversations series involves small group discussions on a variety of topics, normally conducted in-person at the Library. We’ve compiled questions and resources around some of these topics so that a wider audience can participate. Feel free to utilize these resources to have your own family or community discussions or to aid in educational research.

Take a look at our Civic Conversation A CONVERSATION ABOUT XENOPHOBIA. View a segment from the documentary film The Orange Story before a conversation about xenophobia and who has the power to define what it means to be American.

New Virginians: 1619–2019 & Beyond Exhibition

Nhi Le photographed at Hoi Nha Viet Nam, a Vietnamese cultural center in Falls Church, Virginia on 2/23/18. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities.

New Virginians: 1619–2019 & Beyond produced jointly by the Library of Virginia and Virginia Humanities, highlights the changing demographics of the commonwealth through a series of interviews with first-generation immigrants and refugees who arrived in Virginia after 1976. This exhibition explores the historical and continuous journey toward the ideals of America and seeks to foster an honest discussion about the immigrant and refugee experience and Virginia’s increasing diversity. The interviews reveal the complexity of the experience for people representing a wide range of personal backgrounds, experiences, ages, and countries of origin—Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. New Virginians is a Legacy Project of the American Evolution, 2019 Commemoration

APIDA interviewees in New Virginians include;

Virginia Women in History

One of the Library of Virginia’s signature programs, Virginia Women in History (celebrating Women’s History month) has honored three APIDA Virginia Changemakers, who have made a difference in their community, state, and nation.

Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Archival Resources at the Library of Virginia

Records that are relevant to APIDA research may be housed at the Library of Virginia or at an off-site facility. Please contact Archives Reference Services for further information. For information about visiting the Library of Virginia, please see our Visitors’ Guide.

A woman and a boy dressed in
kimonos at St. George’s School 
in Norfolk, Virginia.
From the Harry C. Mann
Photograph Collection

The Library of Virginia has limited but significant holdings that document APIDAs and the connections between Asian countries and Virginia’s government and citizens. The original records and manuscripts date from the Colonial Papers’ 1693/4 bond of Thomas Carpenter and Richard Nusum to items that were manufactured in Asia on board the ship Mary and Ellery (Accession 36138) to twenty-first century websites from Virginia’s governors and state agencies. The majority of the manuscripts and records date from the 1940s to the present.

There are several ways to find references to Asia, Asians, and Asian Americans in the Library’s holdings. Records may be found by searching for Asian American or the name of the countries and their people, such as by searching for China or Chinese, in the Library of Virginia’s online catalog and in the finding aids that are available through the Virginia Heritage website.  Archived websites of Virginia state agencies and other digital collections may be accessed through Archive-It.

The full, downloadable pdf guide to these archival sources can be found here.

Below are a few archival resources to get you started. These are just some examples of the types of records that can be found in the Library of Virginia’s collections.

Records of State Agencies and Boards

Business and Organization Records

Personal Papers

Records of Military Involvement

Records from Other Repositories

Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Selected Secondary Sources

APIDAs are often overlooked in Virginia’s history. Books, articles and other secondary sources specifically dedicated to APIDAs in the commonwealth are rare. In addition, very few publications address how APIDAs were viewed in the South during the era of “Jim Crow” racial segregation laws. To understand how APIDAs may have navigated life in Virginia, researchers may need to focus on national, regional, and local historiographies and secondary sources, in addition to archival and primary sources.

There are a large number of secondary source publications that can help when researching Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDAs) in Virginia. The works listed in the full guide are organized in the following categories: APIDAs Studies in Virginia, Virginia and Southern History, Race Studies, APIDA Studies in the South, and Books on APIDAs, with subcategories on some specific ethnic groups. All of these categories are important when researching APIDAs in Virginia. It is important to note that many Books on APIDAs look solely at the West Coast, however, and tend to generalize national attitudes with little attention to a southern context, particularly in regard to race.

The full, downloadable pdf guide to these secondary sources can be found here.

Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDAs) in Virginia

Below are a few resources that specifically focus on APIDAs in Virginia.

Published Books:

Articles & Webpages:

Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDA) in the South

While works dedicated to the history of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) populations in the South as a whole are scarce, some publications can help to interpret what life may have been like for APIDAs in Virginia. These can offer useful case comparisons between attitudes in Virginia and other southern states.

Here are a few secondary resources that specifically focus on APIDAs in the South:

  • Water Tossing Boulders: How a Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South by Adrienne Berard
  • Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South by Leslie Bow
  • Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America by Matthew Briones
  • Chinese in the Post-Civil War South by Lucy Cohen
  • A Different Shade of Justice: Asian American Civil Rights in the South by Stephanie Hinnershitz
  • Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow by John Howard
  • The Kikuchi Diary by Charles Kikuchi (edited by John Morell)
  • The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White by James W. Loewen
  • Far East, Down South: Asians in the American South edited by Raymond Mohl and Chizuru Saeki
  • Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South edited by Khyati Y. Joshi and Jigna Desai
  • Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers by John Jung
  • Shades of the Sunbelt: Essays on Ethnicity, Race, and the Urban South edited by Randall M. Miller and George E. Pozzetta
  • Lotus Among the Magnolias: The Mississippi Chinese by Robert Seto Quan
  • Redefining the Immigrant South: Indian and Pakistani Immigration to Houston during the Cold War by Uzma Quraishi
  • Weathering Katrina: Culture and Recovery among Vietnamese Americans by Mark VanLandingham

APIDA Genealogical Resources

The Library of Virginia houses a vast collection of materials and records documenting the lives of Virginians. Delving into those records to explore your family’s history can be an immensely satisfying and rewarding experience. To start organizing your search, here are some tips!

■ Trace your family history, begin with yourself and work backward, one step at a time.

■ Carefully record the important facts of your own life and what you know about your parents and grandparents.

■ Consult other members of your family and close family friends and collect the information they know or have gathered. You may find that a family member has saved family papers, newspaper clippings, obituaries, family Bibles, or other treasures.

■ Compile a genealogical chart showing the names of your immediate ancestors with their birth, marriage, and death dates, including the places where each event occurred.

■ Look for family names in books on local and family history. The Library of Virginia has a large collection of published family histories.

■ Search for family records such as census, birth, death, or marriage in online genealogical resources.

■ Go to a local library, courthouse, or state archives, or to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. In order to document the history you have heard from relatives or the claims you have found in published and online genealogies, you must search for original records.

■ Always record the source of any information found.

Check out our collection of research guides and databases that can help with genealogical research. Reminder: Effective 1 May 2020, out-of-state patrons will not be able to remotely access the commercial databases the Library offers due to licensing restrictions with those vendors.

Full access to is also available for use in the second floor reading rooms at the Library of Virginia.

Want a template for your own family tree? Check out our pinterest board or download one from the Library for illustrating your family history as your work through your genealogy at the Library of Virginia!

Here are more helpful handouts to help guide you on your genealogy journey!

We also offer an ongoing series of in-person and virtual workshops to help you with your quest. Geared to all levels of expertise, the workshops explore our collections and offer advice on how to organize your research.

Here are some specific APIDA resources that can help you with your research.

Genealogy Books:

Genealogy Web Resources:

The Digital Resources and Archives located in the “Other Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Digital Resources & Archives” section below can help with researching your genealogy research, as well as these web resources:

Finding Your Virginia Roots
The Library’s genealogy Facebook group, provides resources and information for professional genealogists and family historians.

Other Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Digital Resources & Archives

Virginia Specific:

Asian Americans Impacting Virginia: Asian Americans Impacting Virginia (AAIV) was established as a nonprofit organization in 2019 to mobilize Asian Americans to be represented at all levels of leadership in Virginia.

Asian American Society of Central Virginia: promotes unity, harmony, and diversity in the Central Virginia Region through cultural celebrations and active participation in community events and initiatives. 

Asian & Latino Solidarity Alliance of Central Virginia: established in 2018, the founding members of ALSACV are leaders and advocates from the Asian and Latino communities in Central Virginia. They have lived in Virginia for a combined total of 150+ years and have a combined history of 120+ years of community service. Many members are gubernatorial appointees who serve or have served on the Virginia Asian Advisory Board and the Virginia Latino Advisory Board to provide input to the Governor’s programs affecting the two communities.

Echoes of Little Saigon: The Arlington County Public Library and master’s degree students from Virginia Tech’s Department of Urban Affairs and Planning (National Capital Region) collaborated on a project to collect the stories of the Vietnamese community who immigrated to, shopped at or owned businesses in Arlington, Virginia’s Clarendon neighborhood when it was known as “Little Saigon” during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The organizers of this project interviewed and recorded stories and collected photos that will be archived at the Arlington County Library’s Center for Local History.

Filipino American National Historical Society – Hampton Roads Chapter: The mission of the Filipino American National Historical Society shall be to promote understanding, education, enlightenment, appreciation and enrichment through the identification, gathering, preservation and dissemination of the history and culture of Filipino Americans in the United States.

Virginia Asian Advisory Board: Board to advise the Virginia Governor on ways to improve economic and cultural links between the Commonwealth and Asian nations, with focus on the areas of commerce and trade, art and education, and general government; as well as issues affecting the AAPI community in the Commonwealth. 

The 1882 Foundation seeks to broaden public awareness of the history and continuing significance of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. They do so by building collaborations and collecting oral histories, but also work to strengthen public education about the Chinese and Asian American experience in looking at curriculum content and resources, teacher workshops, and making materials easily accessible. Among other resources, their site provides lesson plans and digital media

Asian Americans Advancing Justice: Rooted in the dreams of immigrants and inspired by the promise of opportunity, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) advocates for an America in which all Americans can benefit equally from, and contribute to, the American dream. Our mission is to advance the civil and human rights for Asian Americans and to build and promote a fair and equitable society for all. Advancing Justice | AAJC is a national 501 (c)(3) nonprofit founded in 1991 in Washington, D.C. AAJC also has a number of accounts of Asian Americans experiencing discrimination during COVID-19.

Asian American Drama: contains 252 plays by 42 playwrights, together with detailed, field information on related productions, theaters, production companies, and more. 

Asian Voices: Documents relating the Asian American experience from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s.

Camp Harmony Exhibit: Large numbers of the Japanese American community were sent to American incarceration camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This exhibit tells the story of Seattle’s Japanese American community and one of those camps.

The Chinese in California, 1850-1925: This site illustrates nineteenth and early twentieth century Chinese immigration to California through about 8,000 images and pages of primary source materials.

The Columbia River Basin Ethnic History Archive (CRBEHA): A project of Washington State University Vancouver, the Idaho State Historical Society, Oregon Historical Society, Washington State Historical Society, and Washington State University Pullman, is a database to engage online researchers. The 1,200-mile long Columbia River drains a 259,000-square-mile basin that includes territory in seven states and one Canadian province and a variety of peoples have migrated to this part of the Pacific Northwest over the past two hundred years. This site identifies both Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans in the Columbia River Basin. 

Densho works to preserve and share the history of the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans to promote equity and justice today. The digital archives page documents the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II and offers irreplaceable firsthand accounts, coupled with historical images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy, and promote equal justice for all.

The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive: Daily journals, field reports, life histories, and secondary research materials. There is also extensive correspondence between staff, evacuees, and others. 

Japanese American National Museum: The mission of the Japanese American National Museum is to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by preserving, interpreting, and sharing the experiences of Japanese Americans. 

Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive: Documents the experience of Japanese Americans in WWII incarceration camps. Primary source materials include photographs, documents, manuscripts, paintings, drawings, letters, and oral histories. 

Korean American Digital Archive (KADA): Created by the University of Southern California, the KADA brings together documents, photographs, and sound files that document the Korean American community during the period of resistance to Japanese rule in Korea and reveal the organizational and private experience of Koreans in American between 1903 and 1965.

Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum: Their primary goal is to collect objects, photographs and any other memorabilia which would help tell the story of Chinese legacy in the Mississippi Delta

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA): Dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture, and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States. MOCA has a number of digital collections and educational resources available online.

The Nikkei Newspapers Digital Archive: Provides access to two significant newspapers which tell the story of Japanese immigration and Japanese American community life in Seattle and beyond, from 1902 to 1950, and continuing to the present day. 

The Orange Story is a digital humanities project that uses narrative film and primary sources to create an empathetic educational experience to teach the history of Japanese and Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Created specifically for high school and college classes, this experience can serve as a launching point for more in-depth discussion. Suggested questions and links to more resources and curricula are provided in the Teacher’s Resources section. Citations for the archival materials are also provided, and are available both by chapter or type of material.

Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archive: Documents the history of South Asian immigrants from the Punjab region in north India to California, 1899-present. 

South Asian American Digital Archive: Documents, preserves, and shares stories that represent the unique and diverse experiences of South Asian Americans.

Southeast Asian Archive: This Archive collects materials relating to the resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants in the United States, and the culture and history of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. 

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center brings community-focused Asian Pacific American history, art, and culture through innovative virtual museum experiences. They also offer a number of educational resources to support educators, students, families, and lifelong learners. 

University of Southern California Asian American Studies Guide: This guide has a number of excellent primary and secondary resources linked. With a Library of Virginia card, you can access a many of the academic databases listed.