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New Jersey AAPI History Map Profiles

People

Alex Stepanow, a soccer player of Kalmyk descent and 2011 Rowan University Hall of Fame inductee, played as a forward on the Rowan University soccer team from 1964-67. He accumulated 53 goals and 7 assists and holds the University record for most goals (5, 1966) and most points (10, 1966) in a game. In his rookie season, Stepanow scored 10 goals and was named the team’s MVP. He was the first freshman to receive the award. In 1965, Stepanow was a member of the National Soccer Coaches Association All-PA, NJ, DE team and the New Jersey State Colleges Athletic Conference All-Star first team.

Amardeep Singh, a long-time New Jersey resident and Rutgers alumnus, is a seasoned grassroots activist, attorney, and co-founder of the Sikh Coalition. Starting as a group of young Sikh professionals who came together in response to the alarming outbreak of post-9/11 hate crimes, it has now become the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States. Singh played a significant leadership role in several critical social justice victories, including creating the first federal hate-crime tracking category for Sikhs, Hindus, and Arabs, ending the ban on turbaned Sikh soldiers and police officers, and ensuring airport search rules respect the civil rights of Sikh, Muslim, and others. Continuing his unwavering commitment to social justice, Singh currently works to connect philanthropy to the frontlines of social justice at the Proteus Fund, where he says, “Every day I get to play a part in the fight for racial, gender, queer, and disability justice and representative, inclusive democracy. What an honor and responsibility.”

A long-time resident of Middletown, NJ, Connie Chung became the first woman to co-anchor CBS Evening News and the first Asian American to anchor a major American newscast. Throughout her career at five major networks, Chung is known for her numerous high-profile interviews, including President Richard Nixon, Tonya Harding, and basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson. She became an inspirational namesake for young Asian girls born in the 1980s-1990s. In 2023, New Jersey honored “Iconic New Jerseyans” and the Connie Chung Service Area was opened off the Garden State Parkway at milepost 153. 

Helen Zia is an activist, author and journalist known for her significant contributions to Asian American, women’s, and LGBTQ+ rights. Growing up in Newark, NJ, and later becoming a member of the first co-ed graduating class at Princeton University, she experienced firsthand the challenges faced by the Asian American community. “Go back to where you came from,” strangers would hurl at her in public. Following the tragic murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, Zia tirelessly pursued justice and raised awareness about anti-Asian violence. In honor of Vincent, she established the Vincent Chin Memorial and the Vincent Chin Institute. Zia continues to be a fierce advocate for all, stating, “No one is truly equal and free until everyone is equal and free.”

Kalpen Suresh Modi (known professionally as Kal Penn) is an Indian American actor, comedian, writer, and former staffer for the Obama Administration. Penn was born in Montclair, NJ and graduated from Howell High School. He is the son of Gujarati immigrant parents and grandson to Indian freedom fighters. In his autobiography, You Can’t Be Serious (2022), Penn introduced readers to his fiancé, Josh from Mississippi. As an actor,  is best known for his role in the Harold & Kumar film series, which breaks common Asian American stereotypes. Penn continues to defy the model minority stereotype by representing and sharing different ways of being Asian American.

Kim Ng is a Thai-Chinese American baseball executive who graduated from Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, NJ. In 2020, Ng became the general manager of the Miami Marlins, the first woman to serve as a general manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) and for any professional men’s team sport in North America. In 1995, when she worked for the Chicago White Sox, Ng was the first woman to present a salary arbitration case at the major league level – and she won. She went on to be the youngest assistant general manager for the Yankees in 1998, and then the highest-ranking Asian American woman in baseball when she became the MLB senior vice president of baseball operations in 2011.

Maria Ressa, a Toms River High School alumna and member of Princeton University’s class of 1986, became a 2021 TIME Person of the Year Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her efforts as an investigative journalist in “safeguarding freedom of expression, a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” Ressa’s family immigrated from the Philippines to Toms River, NJ in 1973 when she was just 10 years old. She said her experience in the public schools there taught her that “you can accomplish anything if you work hard enough.”

Miles Fallon, a professional snowboarder, won the Men’s Streetstyle Final at the 2020 X-Games in Norway. Fallon, born in Island Heights, NJ to a Lao refugee mother and a White father, always felt like he didn’t quite fit into either group. Instead, he found his sense of belonging on the slopes. He is close to his mother and sister, often getting manis and pedis with them at Vietnamese-owned salons and following a 3-step Korean skincare routine. At the age of 9, with the support of his parents, he developed his skills and talents at the renowned High Cascade Snowboard Camp in Mt. Hood, Oregon. His sponsors include Quiksilver, Capita, and Soy Sauce Nation.

Sana Amanat is a Pakistani American comic book editor and executive producer at Marvel Studios. Growing up Brown and Muslim in the predominantly White town of Montville, NJ, Amanat experienced dissonance within her racial, cultural, and religious identities. She had a love for all things superhero, comics, and cartoons, but never saw herself reflected in the characters on the screen and pages. So she pursued a career in comic book publishing and co-created the Marvel character, Kamala Khan, also known as Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani American Muslim girl from New Jersey—just like Sana. In 2022, Disney+ turned Ms. Marvel into a television show as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A central plot in Kamala’s family story is the 1947 Partition, the historical separation of British-ruled India into a Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India, which resulted in the largest mass migration in global history and subsequent violence killing 2 million people. Amanat’s unique storytelling superpowers have redefined the comic world.

Organizations

AAPI New Jersey is a nonprofit representing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across New Jersey through encouraging structural change, building solidarity among communities, and fighting for equity for all oppressed groups, while celebrating AAPI cultures. Founded in Montclair, NJ in 2021 following the rise of anti-Asian hate, co-founders Amber Reed, Roslyne Shiao, and other community members convened a group of AAPI-identifying residents and parents of AAPI children to address incidents within the public schools. Since then, the organization has expanded to include: advocacy at the state and local level, events to promote cultural awareness and understanding, statewide educational initiatives including Teach Asian American Stories, and resources to empower AAPI community members.

Owned by Chong Il Kim, Evergreen Orchard Farm is a popular 140-acre farm in Hamilton Township, NJ that attracts pickers by the thousands every fall. Famous for its Korean pears and grapes, the central New Jersey spot proves to be the perfect climate for the Korean pears Kim grew up watching his father cultivate.

Founded in 1985, Manavi is the first organization in the United States dedicated to ending all forms of violence against South Asian survivors. Using a survivor-centered approach, Manavi provides culturally specific and linguistically appropriate services to South Asian survivors of gender-based violence. Manavi’s staff and volunteers are bilingual, speaking over 14 different South Asian languages.

Filipinx nurses have influenced and bolstered the American health system for over a century. The connection dates back to 1898, when the U.S. went to the Philippines first with the intention of establishing an American-style healthcare system under the pretense of “benevolent assimilation.” During World War II, the U.S. faced staffing shortages, leading to the recruitment of Filipinx nurses, who, with their exposure to American pop culture and proficiency in English, became an ideal workforce. Today, 1 in every 20 nurses in the U.S. is Filipinx. Recognizing the growing needs and concerns of Filipinx nurses in the U.S., the Philippine Nurses Association of America was established, with its headquarters in North Brunswick, NJ.

Seabrook Farms, in Cumberland County, NJ, is best known for using advanced farming processing technology and producing a fifth of the nation’s produce during and after World War II. Faced with a labor shortage, founder Charles F. Seabrook hired large Japanese American families and elders from incarceration camps to replace the long-serving Black labor force. By doing so, this denied Black workers the chance to unionize and rise in the ranks. To prevent solidarity or uprising, Nikkei (people of Japanese ancestry) workers were depicted as “hard-working” and “obedient” (also known as the model minority), while Black workers were portrayed as “disobedient” and “aggressive”. Today, the Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center is dedicated to rectifying this historical narrative, shedding light on the exploitation of Nikkei workers and Black laborers with the hope of presenting a more accurate account of its workforce practices during that era.

Based in Montclair, NJ, Vietnamese Boat People (VBP) is a podcast and non-profit with the mission to educate, inspire and preserve the stories of the Vietnamese diaspora. Tracey Nguyen (pronounced Nu-win or Win) Mang, the creator and host, started documenting her own family’s story as a means of coping with the challenges she faced as a refugee and in navigating her Asian American identity. In the process, she discovered that there are many others like her who faced similar experiences, so together they aim to uplift marginalized voices and shine a light on untold stories.

Places and Events

Ethnoburbs are suburban neighborhoods where many people from the same ethnic or racial group live together, sharing common cultural aspects and creating a sense of community. New Jersey is known for several Asian American ethnoburbs, including:

  • Fort Lee – 41% Asian American
  • Middlesex County – 27% Asian American
  • Palisades Park – 58% Asian American
  • Edison – 54% Asian American

This portion of Union Avenue in Paterson, NJ was renamed “Bangladesh Boulevard” in 2019 to represent the contributions and impacts of the Bangladeshi community. Since the mid-1900s, Bengali immigrants, many of whom from Bangladesh, have built businesses along this street in Paterson. The renaming was marked by a celebration for community members and the unveiling of Bangladesh Boulevard’s new street signs. Mosleh Uddin, a community activist in attendance, said, “It shows that we, too, are Paterson.”

Before automatic washing machines, Chinese immigrants specialized in the intensive and industrial labor of hand laundering across North America. With the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943) and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, laborers were lured east to work at the Passaic Steam Laundry factory in Belleville when job options were limited. Many persevered, establishing their own businesses, despite facing racial prejudice and eventual dismissal from the factory. Today, the Iglesia La Senda Antigua church in Belleville serves as the final resting place for a few of the members of the first Chinese community on the East Coast.

Dating back to the mid-1880s, Hooghly merchants from West Bengal (present-day India) laid the foundation for the first significant settlement of South Asians in the U.S. They lived, worked, and moved in the shadow of two empires, navigating the influences of both the U.S. and Great Britain and overcoming anti-Asian prejudices. They built a thriving network, selling handmade cotton and silk textiles first in New Jersey’s beach resorts, then expanded south to New Orleans. Remarkably, there are multiracial (Black and South Asian) communities today who can trace their ancestry back to the Hooghly merchants, highlighting their enduring legacy in shaping not only economic landscapes but also contributing to the diverse cultural tapestry in the East Coast.

In 2023, Cherry Hill Public Schools became the first school district in New Jersey to offer an Asian American Pacific Islander studies course for high schoolers. This resulted from grassroots organizing efforts in Cherry Hill following the historic 2022 mandate requiring New Jersey schools to teach AAPI histories. Christy Lee, a teacher at Cherry Hill West High School and Teach Asian American Stories Ambassador, spearheaded the curriculum development for the course.

Bradley Beach, NJ is a small seaside town popular for summer vacationing, with a historical Chinatown on Newark Avenue. In the late 1800s, New York City’s Chinatown families living in overcrowded tenements were particularly vulnerable to the tuberculosis epidemic. Churches across the city started sending low-income Chinese American families to Bradley Beach in the summertime, where, for the first time, they were able to access an idyllic beach-town life, along with the clean air and opportunities that came with it. However, they still faced racial discrimination from many residents and had a difficult time finding landlords who would rent to them. In 1941, Lee Ng Shee and her husband Lee B. Lok, who lived and owned a store in Manhattan’s Chinatown, became the first Chinese American family to purchase a house in Bradley Beach. This opened doors for more Chinese American families to rent and buy houses along Newark Avenue. Mirroring Mott Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Newark Avenue came to be known as “Chinatown-by-the-Sea.”

This monument in Fort Lee, NJ is a poignant tribute to the forgotten comfort women of World War II. Created by high school students from the Youth Council of Fort Lee, the statue represents the resilience of girls and women from Korea, China, and the Philippines who endured gender-based violence and wartime crimes under the Japanese Imperial Army. Designed by Euwan Kim, the metal figure of a girl in traditional Korean dress is deliberately cut out, symbolizing the profound human and emotional toll of war. Etched on the stone base is Gabriella Son’s poem, Stories My Grandmother Tells Me. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

Then there are the things Halmoni cannot remember: 
Her name, the Korean one 
Her family, the one in Korea 

Hearing an apology.

In 2022, New Jersey became the second state in the country to pass a law requiring AAPI histories be taught in public schools, following Illinois. Since the 2022-2023 school year, NJ S4021 has required the state’s 600 “school districts to provide instruction on the history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as part of implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies.” The passage of this bill was made possible by the grassroots organizing efforts of students, caregivers, and educators across New Jersey.


Freewood Acres in Howell Township hosts one of the largest concentrations of Kalmyk Americans in the United States. In late 1940s, the Kalmyks, descendants of nomadic Mongolian people, settled in New Jersey, having fled the Soviet Union during the Bolshevik Revolution. Many Russian emigrants sponsored their settlement, who had coexisted with the Kalmyks in the Russian steppes for centuries. Kalmyks have assimilated into American society by serving in the Vietnam War, playing on professional soccer teams, and establishing respectable careers in law and engineering. Today, community members face the challenge of balancing their religious and cultural ties while acknowledging Americanization among the younger generations.

During the Indian festival of Navratri, Journal Square in Jersey City hosts the largest Dandiya Raas gathering in New Jersey. Dandiya Raas is a dance where partners pair within a circle, striking bamboo sticks in a rhythmic pattern. The Jersey City Navratri celebration attracts tens of thousands each year; festivalgoers take to the streets in bright attire dancing to traditional music all through the night for 4-6 nights.

In Edison, NJ, there is a district filled with South Asian shops, businesses, and restaurants, often called “Little India,” that is known as Oak Tree Road. This 1.5 mile stretch holds nostalgia for many South Asian youth growing up in Middlesex County and across New Jersey, where people come to eat, watch movies at the theater, visit the tailor, or shop for their weddings. With a rich history of South Asian businesses, festivals, and events, Oak Tree Road continues to be a cultural hub of New Jersey.

As early as the 1700s during the American Revolutionary War, servicemen of Asian descent have enlisted in the military. Historians theorize that these brave veterans adopted English names provided by their headmasters. Here are the names of some of these Asian American veterans that have been documented:

American Revolutionary War (Apr 19, 1775 – Sept 3, 1783)

  1. John Newton (South Asian) – Perth Amboy, NJ – First New Jersey Regiment – Barber

Civil War (Apr 12, 1861 – Apr 9, 1865)

  1. John Anderson (Singaporean) – born in Singapore & lived in Burlington, NJ – US Navy Mariner
  2. John Ase (Chinese)- born in China & lived in Frelinghuysen, NJ – US Navy Landsman
  3. Joseph Bernard (Filipino) – born in Manila, Philippines & lived in Monmouth, NJ – US Navy Landsman
  4. John Burnes (Indian) – born in Madras, India & lived in Newark, NJ – US Navy Seaman
  5. John Harry (Chinese) – born in China & lived in Newark, NJ – US Navy Landsman
  6. Antonio Ducasten (Filipino) – born in Manila, Philippines & lived in Somerset, NJ – US Navy Seaman
  7. George Dupont (Thai American) – born in Siam (modern day Thailand) & lived in Jersey City, NJ – Private
  8. Charles Mine (Singaporean Filipino) – born in Singapore & lived in Jersey City, NJ – US Navy Seaman
  9. John Lucas (Guam) – born in Guam & lived in Hoboken, NJ – US Navy Seaman
  10. Robert Robinson (Chinese) – born in China & lived in Elizabeth, NJ – Private
  11. John A. Wing (Chinese) – born in Canton, China & lived in Warren, NJ – US Navy Officers’ Steward & Landsman