Asian Americans have played a pivotal role in the development of this country, yet when you flip through history books, the photos you tend to see of them are limited at best: sepia-colored pictures of Chinese laborers building railroads in the mid-1800s, or images that document the harsh, disquieting realities of Japanese Americans forced into internment camps during World War II.
But what about the happier, more domestic lives they lived? It’s rare to see photos of them carefree and just existing in the United States. (Let’s face it: When we conjure up images of the typical American family in, say, the 1950s, most of us immediately think of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and families like the one depicted in “Leave It To Beaver.”)
Because representation matters, and because it’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we asked our readers to share photos of their Asian American ancestors ― specifically, their parents and grandparents ― at rest and in love.
See what they had to share and say below.
Note: Submitted captions have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Courtesy of Xiao-Wei
“My dad, Joe, emigrated from Taiwan to study architecture at Berkeley. My mom, June, grew up in Washington, D.C. (her father was a diplomat). She was a high school teacher for 30 years before she passed away in 1999. June was and is the love of Joe’s life! At age 87, Joe continues to find ways to memorialize June’s legacy through NPR sponsorships, park bench dedications, high school scholarships and, a few years ago, he made the journey to rural China to bring her ashes to her birthplace. There’s a saying in Chinese he taught us: 落葉歸根. (Fallen leaves return to their roots.)” — Xiao-Wei
Courtesy of Paul Lee
“The photo is from when my parents, Charles and Ok Hee Lee, were en route to their honeymoon in Jeju Island off the coast of Korea in 1969. They moved to Chicago in 1980 and are still there today.
I love how cool they look. Both are two of the most mom-and-dad people in the world. I couldn’t ever imagine either of them dressing to impress, and they look like Asian versions of a young Al Pacino and Diane Keaton here.” — Paul Lee
Courtesy of Monica Luhar
“This is a photo of my parents’ arranged marriage wedding in Karamsad, Gujarat, India, on Jan. 5, 1986. My dad ended up going on a two-week vacation to India, only to return back to America as a married man
. I love reflecting on the tender moments in this picture, particularly the garland my mother placed over my dad. It symbolizes new beginnings and their journey to America together.” — Monica Luhar
Courtesy of Michael Shintaku
“This photo was taken in Hawaii (most likely on the Big Island) in the 1920s. Pictured are my grandfather Kenichi Shintaku, my grandmother Hideyo (Kono) Shintaku, and the baby is my uncle Toshiaki Shintaku. They didn’t smile for pictures.
Kenichi’s parents were Matajiro and Mayo (Kodama) Shintaku, and they immigrated to Hawaii from Hiroshima. They were on Kauai at first, went back to Japan and returned to Hawaii — this time to Kau on the Big Island, where they settled. My grandfather was born in Hawaii in 1891. Kenichi was a veteran of World War I and is buried at the veteran’s cemetery.
My grandmother grew up in Jigozen, in Hiroshima. She was orphaned at an early age and lived with relatives until she became a picture bride, arriving in Hawaii when she was 21. I still marvel at my grandmother’s journey.” — Michael Shintaku
Courtesy of Linda Sachiko Morris
“My grandparents, May Asaki Ishimoto and Paul Ishimoto
, met while incarcerated at the Jerome camp in Arkansas and were married in camp in April of 1944. This photo always fills me with wonder and pride. They look so bright and healthy and happy, and it’s easy to forget that they had just spent several years of their lives behind barbed wire, forced from their homes and their lives, separated from their family and loved ones. I can’t see any of that pain or trauma here. All I see is hope for what’s ahead.” — Linda Sachiko Morris
Courtesy of Chris Kwon
“My name is Chris and I’m the 3-year-old in this photo. My parents are Hyesook (mom) and Intae (dad). We took these pictures in front of our apartment building and the hospital where my mom worked and still works to this day as a nurse (Bronx-Lebanon Hospital). She’s been working there since we moved to the States. The Bronx was our first move because of my mom’s nursing job.
The outfits are traditional Korean hanboks, and we were wearing them for some type of Korean holiday while going to church. What I like about this picture is how my parents were not afraid to show their Korean cultural pride. I can’t imagine wearing a hanbok walking through the Bronx even today. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like 30 years ago. I also think about the person who took this photo and what they might have felt or thought.
I like this picture because this is a picture of America. The real America. This is my story. This is our story.” — Chris Kwon
Courtesy of Leslie Lim
“Dad’s favorite hobby is photography. Mom is his favorite muse. This photo always made us kids crack up because he missed the camera’s self-timer. They’re celebrating their 62nd anniversary this year.” — Leslie Lim
Courtesy of Karyn Cruz
“The photo was taken by an airport photographer at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines, in January 1979. Pictured are my dad, Dan, my mom, Jovy, me and my little brother. We flew on a Pan Am Airlines Boeing 747 from San Francisco to Manila.
My dad was in the U.S. Navy and we were stationed in San Diego, California, when he got orders to be stationed in Cubi Point, Philippines. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970 and later was commissioned as a naval officer. He honorably served for 30 years.
His decision to join the U.S. military granted my dad the opportunity to be a naturalized U.S. citizen and to attain the American dream. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if he didn’t make that decision to join. I am so proud of my dad for all his accomplishments and am thankful for it every day.” — Karyn Cruz
Courtesy of Oliver Wang
“My parents, Tamie and Richard Wang, came to the U.S. together from Taiwan as grad students, ending up in the Midwest where colleges were deliberately recruiting international students at the time. My mom went to Ball State and this photo was taken in Indiana, circa 1967 or ’68. It was deliberately staged by the photographer to reference ‘Bonnie and Clyde.'” — Oliver Wang
Courtesy of Trevor Goo
“My grandparents, Lily and Bill Hong (aka Popo and Goong Goong) were married for 67 years until Goong Goong’s death. According to Popo, they met at the University of Hawaii in an English speech class for ‘students who could not speak standard English.’ They sat across from each other but were so shy that they didn’t speak a word. Then World War II started and their world was turned upside down. It was not until the day before Goong Goong’s army unit was called to duty that he mustered up the courage to ask Popo out on a date. After a wartime courtship in 1942 at the age of 22, they were married amid blackouts, bombings, war rationing and martial law.
My grandparents’ relationship was a true partnership built on the beliefs of the strength of family values and the virtue of hard work. Goong Goong returned to the University of Hawaii on the GI Bill, earned his degree in engineering and worked for the government. Popo provided support, caring for their five children in their multigenerational household. When all their children were of school age, Popo returned to the University of Hawaii to complete her college degree (her education was interrupted by World War II) with the full support and encouragement of Goong Goong. Later, Goong Goong established his engineering consulting firm. Popo and Goong Goong taught us the importance of family, education and hard work by their example.” — Trevor Goo
Courtesy of Cathlin Goulding
“My best guess is that the photo was taken circa 1941, the year that my grandparents, Tsugio and Mitzi Ojiri, married. I imagine the photo was taken on the occasion of their wedding or engagement. They had a short engagement. The photo was taken in Los Angeles, California, where they both were born and lived.
The photo brings up mixed emotions: I see elegance and formality in these photos. They had modest lives. My grandfather was a gardener by profession. There is a level of care and specialness in dress and arrangement. Only a year later, they would lose everything. In 1942, by executive order, they were forcibly removed from their home near Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo and taken to a temporary detention center at the Santa Anita racetracks. Later, they would be imprisoned at camps in Arkansas and Jerome. They were among the approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans who were considered a ‘security threat’ to the state during World War II. So the photo is a bit melancholy for me: It reflects their hopes and establishment in the U.S. that, in only a short time, were stripped away. Still, they went on to have full lives: They came back to Los Angeles after World War II, raised a family and both lived until their 80s.” — Cathlin Goulding
Courtesy of Sid
“This photo was taken on May 24, 1976, in Anand, Gujarat, in India. (We moved to the United States when I was a kid.) It was the day my mom, Mira, eloped from home to be with my father, Pradyuman (people use to call him PM).
They eloped because inter-caste marriage was looked down upon in those times: My mother is a Brahmin and my father was a farmer’s son. Theirs was the first love marriage in the village.
What I love the most about this picture is how happy and innocent they look. My mother was 22 and my father was 23. Running away from home was a new concept back then. They were walking into the unknown and took a leap of faith relying on one another.” — Sid
Courtesy of Mary
“This photo of my grandparents was taken in ’40s or ’50s Vietnam. I love how they posed in this picture. Their admiration for each other really shows in their eyes, and it’s proven by their marriage of 70-plus years. It reminds me of how they managed to stay together despite the troubles and arguments. My grandparents were often called Peter and Mary in America — they moved to Pennsylvania — but they also kept their Vietnamese names.” — Mary
Courtesy of Jenny Lam
“My parents pictured here at their wedding banquet. They were both born and raised in Hong Kong and met when they were 18 when both their schools (my mom attended an all-girls school, my dad an all-boys one) hosted a ball together. They started dating and then attended the University of Hong Kong, but in the middle of it (when they were like 20) my mom’s family immigrated to the U.S., so she had to as well. My parents spent six years apart and they wrote letters to each other every single day — they still have these letters! After those six years, they got married and my dad was able to immigrate as well.” — Jenny Lam
Courtesy of Ai Lan
“My grandparents, Henry and Wendy. My family has surmised that their arrival was in the late 1940s to early 1950s, processed through Angel Island in San Francisco.
What I personally love (and also mourn) the most about old photos like this is how it offers a glimpse of the past we’ll never personally know. When my grandparents were alive, they were living relics. Now that both have passed, it’s a fragment of a story that remains incomplete.” — Ai Lan
Courtesy of Julie Jee
“My mom, Kay Kwon, and dad, Hoechill Kwon, met on a blind date in New York City at Tad’s Steaks in the 1970s. My mom came to America through a nursing program and my father first arrived in the Midwest through the 4-H Club and then settled in New York. They both just retired recently.” — Julie Jee
Courtesy of Joshua Pong
“The photo was taken Feb. 9, 1951, in Japan. My grandfather, Bo Sim Pong, was Chinese and dedicated his life to protecting our country for 30 years. A military veteran of three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam. My grandmother, Jinko Muraoka Pong, was Japanese. She made sure her children and grandchildren stayed connected to their Asian heritage.” — Joshua Pong
Courtesy of Alexis Wong
“My mom, Char, was born in Fresno, California, is third-generation Asian American, and was part of the very first Asian sorority at California State University Long Beach. My dad, John, came to the U.S. when he was a baby, grew up in Boyle Heights, and attended California State University, Los Angeles. They met at a college party and have been married since 1976.” — Alexis Wong
Courtesy of Ranjit Bindra
“Here’s a photo of my parents in 1970, arriving in the U.S. as postdocs from India. They took a break from their experiments and went to the local clerk’s office to marry and then ran back to work. … Immigrants get the job done!” — Ranjit Bindra
Courtesy of Travis Holcombe
“Here are my Japanese grandparents playing team solitaire. 🙂 ” — Travis Holcombe
Courtesy of Alexis Chou
“Here’s my grandparents, Amy and Joe, and my mom, Wendy, when she was little! This photo was taken when they first came to America from Taiwan in 1983, I believe. They opened a Chinese restaurant in 1990 called Ming’s Garden and just retired in 2019. I love them dearly.” — Alexis Chou
Courtesy of Sheena Yap Chan
“My parents have been married for over 44 years. They met in college through my dad’s best friend in the Philippines. This photo was taken at my grandfather’s house when we would go have lunch there every Sunday.” — Sheena Yap Chan
Courtesy of Mary Choe
“This photo of my parents, Mae Ja Choe and Paul Sheung Choe, was taken in 1972 at the Seoul airport. My mom had already come to the United States by herself and she was visiting my dad and brother back in Korea.
I didn’t see this photo until I was an adult, and I was so startled at how young and stylish my parents looked. I certainly didn’t think of them as stylish when I was growing up! I love this photo because it reminds me that there was so much more to my parents’ stories than just their roles as my parents.” — Mary Choe