University of Connecticut
Asian Americans have served in the United States Coast Guard for over 170 years and were the first minorities to graduate from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Pacific Islander Americans are the third-longest-serving minority group in the Coast Guard. Asian and Pacific Islander men served during the Civil War and both world wars. After the Louisiana Purchase expanded the Coast Guard’s operations in the Pacific, more Chinese, Japanese, and Pacific Islander men served on U.S. cutters—small ships used to enforce customs laws. As a result of the annexation of Hawaii and the Spanish-American War, which ceded the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States, more native Pacific Islanders joined the Coast Guard. By the late 1800s, most western cutters hired Asians for food service and domestic positions. Today, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders serve in critical leadership roles across all branches of the Coast Guard. Three Asian Americans have become flag officers, earning the rank of admiral. These service members have been a significant part of the “Long Blue Line” of Coast Guard Academy alumni.
D1: Potential Compelling Question
D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
- In the past, what barriers have prevented minorities from serving in the Coast Guard and advancing in rank?
- What is the “bamboo ceiling”?
- How have imperialism and colonialism led to the increased presence of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the Coast Guard?
- How has the Coast Guard Academy created opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?
D2: TOOL KIT
D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY
1. Begin the inquiry by introducing the compelling question and the themes of patriotism and cultural identity. Review the concepts of “imperialism” and “colonialism.” Initiate this discussion by asking these questions:
What is cultural identity?
How does cultural identity relate to patriotism?
2. Students will examine Executive Order 9881 (Source #1) and discuss these questions:
How did the desegregation of the military create opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?
What might have motivated minorities who have suffered segregation to join the U.S. military?
3. Students will examine the Joint Resolution to Provide for Annexing the Hawaiian Islands to the United States (Source #2) and the Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain (Source #3). They will discuss this question:
What are the consequences of imperialist military action in the Pacific Islands?
4. As a class, students will compare and contrast the experiences of various Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut (Source #4). How has a service academy education alleviated historical barriers for AAPI service members and veterans?
5. Break the class into three groups. The groups will examine the oral histories of three AAPI veterans. Students will write observations, reflections on what they read, and questions that emerge from the oral histories. They will share with the class to compare and contrast these veterans’ experiences.
Group 1: Students will watch the oral history interview with Lieutenant Commander Christine T. Igisomar (19:00-26:31) or read pages 8-10 (Source #5) to learn about her perspective as a native Chamorro veteran stationed in Guam and how the U.S. military’s liberation of Saipan motivated her to serve in the Coast Guard. Students will reflect on how imperialism and colonialism have changed the culture of the Chamorro community.
Group 2: Students will watch the oral history interview with Admiral Andrew Sugimoto (02:45-03:32, 32:46-40:00) or read pages 11-14 (Source #6) to learn about his perspective on the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Students will reflect on how patriotism, civil rights, and dissent are related.
Group 3: Students will read pages 16-18 of the oral history interview with former instructor pilot Mara Langevin and examine the historical artifacts from her pilot career (Source #7). Students will reflect upon her perspective as a Japanese American and Cherokee veteran and the patriotism of the 442nd Infantry Regiment and Navajo Code Talkers in World War II.
6. Wrap up the inquiry by having groups share with the rest of the class, comparing and contrasting the different experiences, and discuss these questions:
How have imperialism and colonialism affected the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, especially current service members and veterans?
What motivates people whose ancestors have been colonized to join the U.S. military?
7. Students will share ideas about how cultural identity and patriotism relate to one another and revisit the compelling question.
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
- Students will research Asian American and Pacific Islander figures or military veterans in their community and choose one person to interview. They will create an oral history questionnaire and reach out to the person to request an interview.
- Students will propose a design for an exhibit about Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans for the future Coast Guard Museum in New London, Connecticut.
- Students will identify current news stories about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States OR about the struggle for equality within the U.S. military and write a short essay or create a presentation placing the story within historical context.
Place to GO
Things To DO
Listen to the Veterans History Project’s oral histories of Asian Pacific Americans who served during World War II and compare themes.
Interview a veteran using the Veterans History Project field kit.
Learn more about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. Coast Guard using these timelines:
Websites to VISIT
Articles to READ
“The Long Blue Line: A look at the Coast Guard Academy producing minority Coast Guard officers for 80 years.” By William H. Thiesen. MyCG. United States Coast Guard. Feb. 25, 2022.
“The Long Blue Line: Asian cuttermen—the first 100 years of unique service history.” By William H. Thiesen. MyCG. United States Coast Guard. May 14, 2021.
“Asian-Americans have served in the Coast Guard for 165 years.” By William H. Thiesen. We Are the Mighty. January 28, 2019.
- “Maritime History: The Founding of the United States Coast Guard Academy.” By Natalie Curtis.
- “They Also Served: Chinese, Southeast Asians, and Hawaiians in the American Civil War.” By Nancy Finlay.