I have written several articles Racism and Slavery. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on Racism and Slavery.
Asian immigration to the United States refers to immigration to the United States from part of the continent of Asia, which includes East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Historically, immigrants from other parts of Asia, such as West Asia were once considered “Asian”, but are considered immigrants from the Middle East. Asian-origin populations have historically been in the territory that would eventually become the United States since the 16th century. The first major wave of Asian immigration occurred in the late 19th century, primarily in Hawaii and the West Coast. Asian Americans experienced exclusion, and limitations to immigration, by the United States law between 1875 and 1965, and were largely prohibited from naturalization until the 1940s. Since the elimination of Asian exclusion laws and the reform of the immigration system in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, there has been a large increase in the number of immigrants to the United States from Asia.
Early immigration (pre-1830s)
Images from a Harper’s Magazine article on “the Lacustrine village” of Saint Malo, Louisiana, where Filipino migrants settled in the 18th century.
The first Asian-origin people known to arrive in North America after the beginning of the European colonization were a group of Filipinos known as “Luzonians” or Luzon Indians. These Luzonians were part of the crew and landing party of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza. The ship set sail from Manila and landed in Morro Bay in what is now the California Coast on 17 October 1587 as part of the Galleon Trade between the Spanish East Indies (the colonial name for what would become the Philippines) and New Spain (Spain’s colonies in North America). More Filipino sailors arrived along the California Coast when both places were part of the Spanish Empire. By 1763, “Manila men” or “Tagalas” had established a settlement called St. Malo on the outskirts of New Orleans, Louisiana. Indians have been documented in Colonial America as early as 1775. With the establishment of the Old China Trade in the late 18th century, a handful of Chinese merchants were recorded as residing in the United States by 1815.
First major wave of Asian immigration (1850–1917)
Early Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
By the 1830s, East Asian groups had begun immigrating to Hawaii, where American capitalists and missionaries had established plantations and settlements. Originating primarily from China, Japan, Korea, India, Russia, and the Philippines, these early migrants were predominantly contracted workers who labored on plantations. With the annexation of Hawaii by the United States in 1893, a large population of Asians lived in US territory and more would continue to immigrate. As Americans established sugar cane plantations in Hawaii in the 19th century, they turned, through organizations such as the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society, to the Chinese as a source of cheap labor as early as the 1830s, with the first formal contract laborers arriving in 1852. Resistance from plantation laborers protesting low wages and tensions between various native and immigrant groups encouraged plantation owners to import more labor from different Asian countries to keep wages low. Between 1885 and 1924, “some 30,000 Japanese had gone to [Hawaii] as kan’yaku imin, or government-sponsored contract laborers.” Between 1894 and 1924, roughly 170,000 Japanese immigrants went to Hawaii as private contract laborers, family members of existing immigrants, and merchants. Taking refuge from Japanese imperialism and growing poverty and famine in Korea, and encouraged by Christian missionaries, thousands of Koreans migrated to Hawaii in the early 1900s. Filipinos, who were American colonial subjects after 1898, migrated by the “tens of thousands” to Hawaii in the early 1900s.
The first major wave of Asian immigration to the continental United States occurred primarily on the West Coast during the California Gold Rush, starting in the 1850s. Whereas, Chinese immigrants numbered less than 400 in 1848 and 25,000 by 1852. Most Chinese immigrants in California, which they called Gam Saan (“Gold Mountain”), were also from the Guangdong province; they sought opportunity in the young United States, and hoped to earn wealth to send back to their families in China. Asian immigrants were sought not only in California but across the US (including as far as North Adams, Massachusetts), to fill the high demand for cheap labor in mines, factories, and on the Transcontinental Railroad. Some plantation owners in the South sought Chinese labor as a cheap means to replace the free labor of slavery. Chinese laborers generally arrived in California with the help of brokers in Hong Kong and other ports under the credit-ticket system, where they would pay back money loaned from brokers with their wages upon arrival. In addition to laborers, merchants also migrated from China, opening businesses and stores, including those that would form the beginnings of China towns. Makeshift shelter for Indian farm laborers (referred to as a “Hindu bed”) in California.
Japanese, Korean, and South Asian immigrants also arrived in the continental United States starting from the late 1800s and onwards to fill demands for labor. Japanese immigrants were primarily farmers facing economic upheaval during the Meiji Restoration; they began to migrate in large numbers to the continental United States (having already been migrating to Hawaii since 1885) in the 1890s, after the Chinese exclusion (see below). By 1924, 180,000 Japanese immigrants had gone to the mainland. Filipino migration to North America continued in this period with reports of “Manila men” in early gold camps in Mariposa County, California in the late 1840s. The 1880 census counted 105,465 Chinese and 145 Japanese, indicating that Asian immigration to the continent by this point consisted primarily of Chinese immigrants, overwhelmingly present in California. An 1894 painting entitled “Not a Chinaman’s Chance” by white American artist Charles Marion Russell, which depicted violence in the American West against Chinese immigrants.
In the 1860s and 1870s, nativist hostility to the presence of Asian laborers in the continental United States grew and intensified, with the formation of organizations such as the Asiatic Exclusion League. East Asian immigrants, particularly Chinese Americans who composed the majority of the population on the mainland, were seen as the “yellow peril” and suffered violence and discrimination. Lynchings of Chinese were common and a large-scale of attacks also occurred. The most prominent act of violence at the time was the Rock Springs massacre, in which a mob of white miners killed nearly 30 Chinese immigrants because they were accused of taking the white miners’ jobs. In 1875, Congress passed the Page Act, the first restrictive immigration law. This law recognized forced laborers from Asia as well as Asian women who would potentially engage in prostitution as “undesirable” people, who would henceforth be barred from entering the United States. In practice, the law was enforced to institute a near-complete exclusion of Chinese women from the United States, preventing male laborers from bringing their families with or after them.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited virtually all immigration from China, the first immigration law to do so on the basis of race or national origin. Minor exceptions were made for select merchants, diplomats, and students. The law also prevented Chinese immigrants from naturalizing as U.S. citizens. The Geary Act of 1892 further “required Chinese to register and secure a certificate as proof of their right to be in the United States” if they sought to leave and reenter the United States, with imprisonment or deportation as potential penalties. Although racial discrimination intensified in the exclusion era, Chinese immigrants fought to defend their existing rights and continued to pursue voting rights and citizenship. The children of Chinese immigrants began to develop “a sense of themselves as having a distinct identity as Chinese Americans.” In United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a person born in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents was a U.S. citizen at birth. This decision established an important precedent in its interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Initially, Japanese and South Asian laborers filled the demand that could not be met by new Chinese immigrants. The 1900 census counted 24,326 Japanese residents, a sharp increase, and 89,863 Chinese residents. The first South Asian immigrants landed in the United States in 1907, and were predominantly Punjabi Sikh farmers. As immigration restrictions specific to South Asians would begin two years later and against Asians generally eight years after that, “altogether only sixty-four hundred came to America” during this period. Like the Chinese and Japanese immigrants of the time, these South Asians were predominantly men. South Asian migrants also arrived on the East Coast, although to a lesser extent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, predominantly Bengali Muslims who worked as craftsmen and merchants, selling ‘exotic’ goods such as embroidered silks and rugs. The 1910 census, the first to count South Asians, recorded that there were 2,545 “Hindus” in the United States.
Anti-Asian hostility against these both older and newer Asian immigrant groups continued, becoming explosive in events such as the Pacific Coast race riots of 1907 in San Francisco, California; Bellingham, Washington; and Vancouver, Canada. The San Francisco riot was led by anti-Japanese activist, rebelling with violence in order to receive segregated schools for Caucasian and Japanese students. In the Bellingham riots, a mob of 400-500 white men attacked the homes of hundreds of South Asian immigrants, beating them and driving them out of town, with over 400 South Asians held in “protective custody” by local authorities. Along with geopolitical factors, these events encourage the United States to pursue the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan, wherein the Japanese government agreed to prohibit emigration to the United States and the latter’s government agreed to impose less restrictions on Japanese immigrants. In practice, this meant that Japanese immigrants were barred unless they had previously acquired property or were immediate relatives of existing immigrants. While overall Japanese immigration was sharply curtailed, the family reunification provision allowed for the gender gap among Japanese Americans to be reduced significantly (including through “picture brides“). As Koreans were Japanese colonial subjects at the time and could be issued Japanese passports, many Korean women also immigrated as family members and “picture brides”.
After the Spanish–American War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the United States replaced Spain as the colonial ruler of the Philippines. As Filipinos become colonial subjects of the United States, they also became US nationals. As American colonial subjects, Filipinos were considered US nationals and thus were not initially subject to exclusion laws. Many Filipinos came as agricultural laborers to fill demands once answered by Chinese and Japanese immigration, with migration patterns to Hawaii extending to the mainland starting from the 1920s. The US government also initially sponsored select Filipino students, known as pensionados, to attend US colleges and universities. However, in 1934, the Tydings–McDuffie Act, which promised independence to the Philippines by 1945, also sharply curtailed Filipino immigration with a quota of 50 immigrants per year.
A dormitory at the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay, California, where immigrants coming from China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and South Asia were monitored, interrogated, and detained.
The prohibitions of Chinese and Japanese immigration were consolidated and the exclusion was expanded to Asia as a whole in the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917, which prohibited all immigration from a zone that encompassed parts of the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. The Immigration Act of 1924 introduced national origin quotas for the entire Eastern Hemisphere, and barred the immigration of “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” This introduced a period of near complete exclusion of Asian immigration to the United States. The act also formed the United States Border Patrol to take over duties of the United States Immigration Service (Chinese Division). There were some key exceptions to this broad exclusion: in addition to continuing Filipino immigration due to their status as US nationals until 1934, Asian immigrants continued to immigrate to Hawaii, which was a US territory and therefore not subject to the same immigration laws until it achieved statehood in 1959. Many Chinese had also immigrated to Puerto Rico after 1882, which would become a US territory in 1898 and remains one today.
After exclusion, existing Chinese immigrants were further excluded from agricultural labor by racial hostility, and as jobs in railroad construction declined, they increasingly moved into self-employment as laundry workers, store and restaurant owners, traders, merchants, and wage laborers; and they congregated in Chinatowns established in California and across the country.
Of the various Asian immigrant groups present in the United States after broad exclusion was introduced in 1917 and 1924, the South Asian population had the most severe gender gap. This led to many of the Punjabi Sikhs in California at the time to marry women of Mexican descent, avoiding anti-miscegenation laws and racial prejudice that prevented them from marrying into white communities.
Two important Supreme Court cases in the exclusion era determined the citizenship status of Asian Americans. In 1922, the Court ruled in Takao Ozawa v. United States that ethnic Japanese were not Caucasian, and therefore did not meet the “free white persons” requirement to naturalize according to the Naturalization Act of 1790. A few months later in 1923, the Court ruled in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind that while Indians were considered Caucasian by contemporary racial anthropology, they were not seen as “white” in the common understanding, and were therefore ineligible for naturalization. Whereas United States vs. Wong Kim Ark had determined that all persons born in the United States, including Asian Americans, were citizens, these cases confirmed that foreign-born Asian immigrants were legally excluded from naturalized citizenship on the basis of race.
During this period, Asian immigrants continued to face racial discrimination. In addition to first-generation immigrants whose permanent ineligibility for citizenship curtailed their civil and political rights, second-generation Asian Americans (who formally had birthright citizenship) continued to face segregation in schools, employment discrimination, and prohibitions on property and business ownership. The most severe discrimination against Asian Americans occurred during the height of the World War II, when 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese Americans (primarily on the West Coast) were incarcerated in internment camps between 1942–1946. While roughly a third of those interned were issei (first-generation immigrants) who were ineligible for citizenship, the majority were nisei or sansei (second- and third-generation) who were citizens by birth.
Phasing out of exclusionary policies (1943–1965)
President Harry Truman signs the Luce–Celler Act of 1946, permitting Filipinos and Indians to naturalize and allowing a quota of 100 persons of each to immigrate annually.
After the Second World War, immigration policy in the United States began to undergo significant changes. In 1943, the Magnuson Act ended 62 years of Chinese exclusion, providing for a quota of 105 persons to immigrate each year, and permitting the Chinese present in the United States to become naturalized citizens. Despite these provisions, the Act consolidated the prohibition of property or business ownership by Chinese Americans. In 1946, the Luce–Celler Act allowed Filipino and Indian nationals to naturalize and provided for a quota of 100 persons to immigrate from each country. Many Asian Americans (including future congressman Dalip Singh Saund) had been campaigning for such a law for decades. Under the act, upon attaining citizenship, immigrants would be able to own property (a right not afforded to Chinese immigrants in the Magnuson Act) and petition for family from their nation of origin.
This wave of reform eventually led to the McCarran–Walter Act of 1952, which repealed the remnants of the “free white persons” restriction of the Naturalization Act of 1790, permitting Asian and other non-white immigrants to become naturalized citizens. However, this Act retained the quota system that effectively banned nearly all immigration from Asia, except for small annual quotas. Its primary exception to the quota system was family reunification provisions for US citizens, which allowed both relatives of longstanding Asian American families and those who had married American soldiers during World War II and the Korean War (also known as “war brides”) to immigrate. The McCarran–Walter Act also introduced some labor qualifications for the first time, and allowed the government to bar the entry of or deport immigrants suspected of engaging in “subversive activities”, such as membership in a Communist Party.
New waves of Asian immigration (1965–present)
After the enactment of the 1965 Immigration Act, Asian American demographics changed rapidly. This act replaced exclusionary immigration rules of the 1924 Immigration Act and its predecessors, which effectively excluded “undesirable” immigrants, including most Asians. The 1965 rules set across-the-board immigration quotas for each country.
Senator Hiram Fong (R-HI) answered questions concerning the possible change in our cultural pattern by an influx of Asians:
“Asians represent six-tenths of 1 percent of the population of the United States … with respect to Japan, we estimate that there will be a total for the first 5 years of some 5,391 … the people from that part of the world will never reach 1 percent of the population .. .Our cultural pattern will never be changed as far as America is concerned.” (U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Committee on the Judiciary, Washington, D.C., 10 Feb. 1965, pp.71, 119.)
Immigration of Asian Americans was also affected by U.S. war involvement from the 1940s to the 1970s. In the wake of World War II, immigration preferences favored family reunification. This may have helped attract highly skilled workers to meet American workforce deficiencies. Another instance related to World War II was the Luce–Celler Act of 1946, which helped immigrants from India and the Philippines.
The end of the Korean War and Vietnam War and the “Secret Wars” in Southeast Asia brought a new wave of Asian American immigration, as people from Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia arrived. Some of the new immigrants were war brides, who were soon joined by their families. Others, like the Southeast Asians, were either highly skilled and educated, or part of subsequent waves of refugees seeking asylum. Some factors contributing to the growth of sub-groups such as South Asians and mainland Chinese were higher family sizes, higher use of family-reunification visas, and higher numbers of technically skilled workers entering on H-1 and H-1B visas.
Ethnic Chinese immigration to the United States since 1965 has been aided by the fact that the United States maintains separate quotas for Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. During the late 1960s and early and mid-1970s, Chinese immigration into the United States came almost exclusively from Taiwan creating the Taiwanese American subgroup. A smaller number of immigrants from Hong Kong arrived as college and graduate students. Immigration from Mainland China was almost non-existent until 1977, when the PRC removed restrictions on emigration leading to immigration of college students and professionals. These recent groups of Chinese tended to cluster in suburban areas and to avoid urban Chinatowns.
One notable suburban Chinatown was Monterey Park. While it was a predominantly White middle-class community in the 1970s, the demographics quickly changed with the incoming Chinese population. The emergence of Chinese-Americans in Monterey Park could be credited to the efforts of the Chinese realtor Frederic Hsieh. He began investing in abandoned properties in Monterey Park in order to gain the interest of wealthy Chinese in Taiwan. He broadcast his plans back in Taiwan and Hong Kong. He aggressively marketed his project as the new mecca of Chinese Americans: in his own words, “Chinese Beverly Hills”. Due to political unrest in Asia, there was a lot of interest in overseas investment for Monterey Park from wealthy Chinese in Taiwan.
The contrasts between Japanese Americans and South Asian Americans are emblematic of the dramatic changes since the immigration reforms. Japanese Americans are among the most widely recognized of Asian American sub-groups during the 20th century. At its peak in 1970, there were nearly 600,000 Japanese Americans, making it the largest sub-group, but historically the greatest period of immigration was generations past. Today, given relatively low rates of births and immigration, Japanese Americans are only the sixth-largest Asian American group. In 2000, there were between 800,000 and 1.2 million Japanese Americans (depending on whether multi-ethnic responses are included). The Japanese Americans have the highest rates of native-born, citizenship, and assimilation into American values and customs.
Before 1990, there were slightly fewer South Asians in the U.S. than Japanese Americans. By 2000, Indian Americans nearly doubled in population to become the third largest group of Asian Americans, with increasing visibility in high-tech communities such as the Silicon Valley and the Seattle area. Indian Americans have some of the highest rates of academic achievement among American ethnic groups. Most immigrants speak English and are highly educated. South Asians are increasingly accepted by most Asian organizations as another significant Asian group. Currently, Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos are the three largest Asian ethnic groups immigrating to the United States. Asians in the United States are a highly diverse group that is growing fast. Asian immigrants comprise 6% of the United States population and are estimated to rise to 10% by 2050.
A history of anti-Asian racism
Up until the eve of the COVID-19 crisis, the prevailing narrative about Asian Americans was one of the model minority.
The model minority concept, developed during and after World War II, posits that Asian Americans were the ideal immigrants of color to the United States due to their economic success.
But in the United States, Asian Americans have long been considered as a threat to a nation that promoted a whites-only immigration policy. They were called a “yellow peril”: unclean and unfit for citizenship in America.
In the late 19th century, white nativists spread xenophobic propaganda about Chinese uncleanliness in San Francisco. This fueled the passage of the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act, the first law in the United States that barred immigration solely based on race. Initially, the act placed a 10-year moratorium on all Chinese migration.
In the early 20th century, American officials in the Philippines, then a formal colony of the U.S., denigrated Filipinos for their supposedly unclean and uncivilized bodies. Colonial officers and doctors identified two enemies: Filipino insurgents against American rule, and “tropical diseases” festering in native bodies. By pointing to Filipinos’ political and medical unruliness, these officials justified continued U.S. colonial rule in the islands.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to incarcerate people under suspicion as enemies to inland internment camps.
While the order also affected German- and Italian-Americans on the East Coast, the vast majority of those incarcerated in 1942 were of Japanese descent. Many of them were naturalized citizens, second- and third-generation Americans. Internees who fought in the celebrated 442nd Regiment were coerced by the United States military to prove their loyalty to a country that locked them up simply for being Japanese.
In the 21st century, even the most “multicultural” North American cities, like my hometown of Toronto, Canada, are hotbeds for virulent racism. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Toronto saw a rise of anti-Asian racism, much like that of today.
In her 2008 study, sociologist Carrianne Leung highlights the everyday racism against Chinese and Filipina health care workers in the years that followed the SARS crisis. While publicly celebrated for their work in hospitals and other health facilities, these women found themselves fearing for their lives on their way home.
No expression of patriotism – not even being front-line workers in a pandemic – makes Asian migrants immune to racism.
Making the model minority
Over the past decade, from Pulitzer Prizes to popular films, Asian Americans have slowly been gaining better representation in Hollywood and other cultural industries.
Whereas “The Joy Luck Club” had long been the most infamous depiction of Asian-ness in Hollywood, by the 2018 Golden Globes, Sandra Oh declared her now famous adage: “It’s an honor just to be Asian.” It was, at least at face value, a moment of cultural inclusion.
However, so-called Asian American inclusion has a dark side.
In reality, as cultural historian Robert G. Lee has argued, inclusion can and has been used to undermine the activism of African Americans, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups in the United States. In the words of writer Frank Chin in 1974, “Whites love us because we’re not black.”
For example, in 1943, a year after the United States incarcerated Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066, Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act. White liberals advocated for the repeal not out of altruism toward Chinese migrants, but to advocate for a transpacific alliance against Japan and the Axis powers.
By allowing for the free passage of Chinese migrants to the United States, the nation could show its supposed fitness as an interracial superpower that rivaled Japan and Germany. Meanwhile, incarcerated Japanese Americans in camps and African Americans were still held under Jim Crow segregation laws.
In her new book, “Opening the Gates to Asia: A Transpacific History of How America Repealed Asian Exclusion,” Occidental College historian Jane Hong reveals how the United States government used Asian immigration inclusion against other minority groups at a time of social upheaval.
For example, in 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration signed the much-celebrated Hart-Celler Act into law. The act primarily targeted Asian and African migrants, shifting immigration from an exclusionary quota system to an merit-based points system. However, it also imposed immigration restrictions on Latin America.
Beyond model minority politics
As history shows, Asian American communities stand to gain more working within communities and across the lines of race, rather than trying to appeal to those in power.
Japanese American activists such as the late Yuri Kochiyama worked in solidarity with other communities of color to advance the civil rights movement.
A former internee at the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas, Kochiyama’s postwar life in Harlem, and her friendship with Malcolm X, inspired her to become active in the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements. In the 1980s, she and her husband Bill, himself part of the 442nd Regiment, worked at the forefront of the reparations and apology movement for Japanese internees. As a result of their efforts, Ronald Reagan signed the resulting Civil Liberties Act into law in 1988.
Kochiyama and activists like her have inspired the cross-community work of Asian American communities after them.
In Los Angeles, where I live, the Little Tokyo Service Center is among those at the forefront of grassroots organizing for affordable housing and social services in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. While the organization’s priority area is Little Tokyo and its community members, the center’s work advocates for affordable housing among black and Latinx residents, as well as Japanese American and other Asian American groups.
To the northwest in Koreatown, the grassroots organization Ktown for All conducts outreach to unhoused residents of the neighborhood, regardless of ethnic background.
The coronavirus sees no borders. Likewise, I think that everyone must follow the example of these organizations and activists, past and present, to reach across borders and contribute to collective well-being.
Self-isolation, social distancing and healthy practices should not be in the service of proving one’s patriotism. Instead, these precautions should be done for the sake of caring for those whom we do and do not know, inside and outside our national communities.
Asian Americans and US-Asia Relations
Long before Asian Americans settled in the United States in significant numbers, images of Asia and Asians had already taken root in American popular culture and consciousness, thanks to the influence of Indian and Chinese trade in the late 1700’s and later at the turn-of-the-century with the forced annexation of the Philippines in 1898. Trade relations and colonialism have both historic significance and contemporary impact on the status of Asian Americans in relation to the United States and Asian homelands.
Moreover, foreign policy concerns and international relations between the United States and Asia have profoundly influenced the experiences of Asian Americans. For example, at the time of Chinese exclusion in the 1880’s, the Chinese government was too weak either to protest the treaty violations or to protect its overseas countrymen from indignity. In contrast, Japan as a regional power following its victory in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, commanded enough respect from the U.S. government that President Teddy Roosevelt negotiated the Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1907 to reduce the numbers of Japanese immigrants rather than excluding them entirely.
Unlike all other early Asian immigrant groups, Japanese immigrants, thanks to the picture brides who came during this period between the Gentlemen’s Agreement and exclusion in 1924, produced a significant American-born second generation who could claim U.S. citizenship as their birthright. Their strong family structure enabled Japanese American communities to thrive in the 1930’s. By 1940, the sacrifice of the immigrant generation seemed to have paid off. Life was looking pretty good for Japanese in America.
Then came Pearl Harbor, World War II, and the concentration camps. In a flash, everything was gone: property, liberty, dignity. Americans of Japanese ancestry looked like the enemy. As a result, 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds who were American-born U.S. citizens, were removed from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps for the duration of the war.
The camp experience and its aftermath raise essential questions about the constitution and civil liberties, patriotism and loyalty, the role of the press, and the meaning of being Americans – all of which continue to resonate in American life.
War has defined much of the relationship of the U.S. to Asia during the 20th century: from the colonization of the Philippines to Japan and World War II to Korea and the Cold War with China in the 1950’s to war in Southeast Asia in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Even economic competition with Japan during the 1980’s and 1990’s is defined as a “trade war.”
Images of Asians as the enemy are deeply embedded in American popular culture and consciousness – sustained by Hollywood distortions like Fu Manchu or Year of the Dragon and manipulated by political leaders from F.D.R. to today’s U.S. Congressmen who propose to solve the trade imbalance with Japan by chartering the Enola Gay—the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima – one more time.
Whenever the United States has been at war with Asia, Asian Americans have paid a heavy price. The Japanese internment is an obvious example, but it is also no coincidence that Japan-bashing in Congress and Rambo’s Hollywood revenge for the Vietnam War have accompanied a sharp rise in racial violence against Asian Americans locally and nationally during the past decade. In 1982 amidst the recession in Detroit, for example, a Chinese American engineer named Vincent Chin was brutally beaten to death by an unemployed auto worker who cursed him, saying “it’s because of you Japs that we’re out of work.”
Furthermore, while Japan was the enemy and Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II, the allied relationships between the United States, India, and China led to the repeal of the exclusion acts, and facilitated the entry of small numbers of new Indian and Chinese immigrants and war-brides. In the aftermath of World War II, the expanded U.S. military presence in Asia, reaching across the Philippines, South Korea, and Pacific Islands such as Guam, Samoa, and Hawai’i, generated new populations of war-brides and Amerasian children, new migrations, and new calls for independence and sovereignty.
By examining the relationship between Asian Americans and U.S.-Asia relations with a focus on the Japanese internment, students can explore how issues of race and power have defined the conduct of U.S. involvement in Asia, shaping both popular attitudes and government policies. This process also enables students to develop important critical thinking and citizenship skills, perhaps enabling them to draw contemporary parallels with 9/11 and the rise in violence against Muslims and South Asians.
The Vietnam War also offers rich material for teaching and learning in this area. However, teachers need to present not only American perspectives, but also the voices of Southeast Asian refugees who are now in the United States as part of the war’s legacy. Themes of war, survival, freedom, and responsibility are relevant to all students, and can be easily explored in the classroom through the Southeast Asian refugee experience. Children’s stories such as The Little Weaver from Thai-Yen Village and The Clay Marble and anthologies such as The Far East Comes Near are highly recommended together with student-conducted interview projects and oral history research projects with local Lao, Hmong, Kmhmu, Cambodian, and Vietnamese refugees.
It is also a great irony that the individual who has arguably done the most to facilitate the healing process for American Vietnam veterans is Maya Ying Lin, the Ohio-born Chinese American who designed the Wall—the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.—which one Vietnam veteran scholar has described as “American’s wailing wall.” Since its dedication in 1982, the healing power of the Wall for Vietnam veterans, their families, and for the nation has been movingly described in words and photographs. Yet, as if to illustrate the precarious status of Asian Americans within the context of U.S.-Asia relations, Thomas Moorer, former Commander of the Pacific Fleet and former Chairman of the U.S. Joints Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War, reflected recently on the Wall: “I’ve visited the Vietnam Memorial and I have mixed emotions about it. I would have never built a memorial like that. I don’t like the idea that it was not designed by an American.”
In Montgomery, Alabama, a second memorial designed by Maya Lin stands to commemorate martyrs of the civil rights struggle. Dedicated in 1989, the Civil Rights Memorial, in Maya Lin’s words, is a place of remembrance to “appreciate how far this country has come in its quest for equality, and to consider how far it has to go.” So, too, are the stories of Japanese American internees, Filipino immigrants, and Vietnamese refugees.
Asian American young adults are the only racial group with suicide as their leading cause of death, so why is no one talking about this?
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. When broken down by race, suicide is the first leading cause of death among Asian American young adults age 15-24. This is true of no other racial group in this age range in America.
Despite this disparity, very little attention is paid by society and by gatekeeping institutions like academe and private and public funding agencies as to what causes suicidal behavior among racial minorities like Asian Americans. There is not enough research on how to prevent suicide among Asian Americans in particular. What makes this research more challenging to do is that Asian Americans are also the least likely racial group to seek and utilize mental health services.
When an Asian American death occurs by suicide, it is not simply because that person experienced risk factors. Sure, the evidence suggests that the risk of a suicide attempt increases if there are easily accessible means such as guns in the home or if the person knows someone who died by suicide. But is that the full picture for Asian Americans, or even for other racial minorities?
The truth is, the people who study suicide are still trying to come up with a profile of who is “at risk” in order to precisely predict, and ultimately prevent, suicidal behavior and death. Today, many research dollars go into the development of computer algorithms and genetic biomarkers to precisely calculate who is at risk. Will these methods do justice to the racialized experience of being Asian American in the U.S.?
So the question now becomes: How can research scientists better understand and develop suicide prevention efforts that precisely address racial minorities like Asian Americans? To answer this question, there must first be research on Asian Americans to study.
Unfortunately, the first, only and last study that assesses national epidemiological prevalence estimates of mental disorders in the Asian American community occurred and was published in the early 2000s, nearly two decades ago. Since these data were collected, the U.S. Asian population grew 72% by 2015, making Asians the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group, surpassing Hispanics.
In my view, suicide among Asian Americans is a seriously unaddressed problem that could become endemic in a rapidly growing community with little to no direction on how to stop it.
What if there was a way to scientifically account for racism as the fundamental cause of health disparities? The answer lies in understanding stigma.
Stigmatized identity is arguably a universal phenomenon. People who are stigmatized are unwanted by society, negatively stereotyped, rejected and excluded, and ultimately othered. Asian Americans have experienced this kind of stigmatization institutionally since the early years of modern America as racial categorizations began to solidify.
As America continues to racialize Asian Americans, it continues a legacy of structural violence and historical trauma. This means that anti-Asian violence exists within the very fabric of American society. It is this societal oppression and violence that becomes internalized into self-hatred, self-harm and ultimately the self-directed violence that is suicide.
When it comes to being Asian in America, though, the story is incomplete with looking only at race. There are plenty of violently oppressive systems that Asian Americans face that pile on the risk of self-directed violence. These are intersecting in nature. It is the intersectionality, or cross-sections, of Asian American identity that must be closely investigated to uncover insights into suicide prevention for this incredibly diverse community.
Being an immigrant and experiencing xenophobia, for example, is a dominant experience for many Asian Americans. Although many have lived in the United States for several generations, Asian Americans do account for a large portion of today’s adult second generation. Second-generation immigrants are people who are native-born citizens in the United States and have at least one parent who is foreign-born.
Current trends indicate that the U.S. is explosively growing into an immigrant-rich nation. More than 36% of all Americans are projected to be of immigrant origin – that’s first- or second-generation – by 2050. By that time, the overwhelming majority – 93% – of the country’s working-age population will be of immigrant origin, too. Here’s the problem: Second-generation immigrants are considered an at-risk group for suicidal behavior and death by researchers across the world. Researchers aren’t fully sure why yet, and that’s why this research is so timely.
Research takes decades to implement. It also takes decades to figure out the problem and how to address it. The public health scientists who work on disparities research are aware of the complex problems facing minority populations like Asian Americans. If there were an intervention to end racism and xenophobia, perhaps many Asian American lives would be saved both from homicide and suicide.
The reality is that white supremacy runs so deep in America that even reversing racism would not undo the disparities in health outcomes such as suicide. This is because assimilation is “traumagenic.” That means the traumatic exposures of racist and xenophobic violence and discrimination hold the power to disrupt psychological and physiological functioning and alter genetic code for generations to come. Race-based traumatic stress holds the power to predispose entire populations, entire communities like Asian Americans, to self-directed violence.
The real reasons the U.S. became less racist toward Asian Americans: Washington Post analysis
Between 1940 and 1970, something remarkable happened to Asian Americans. Not only did they surpass African Americans in average household earnings, but they also closed the wage gap with whites.
Many people credit this upward mobility to investments in education. But according to a recent study by Brown University economist Nathaniel Hilger, schooling rates among Asian Americans didn’t change all that significantly during those three decades. Instead, Hilger’s research suggests that Asian Americans started to earn more because their fellow Americans became less racist toward them.
How did that happen? About the same time that Asian Americans were climbing the socioeconomic ladder, they also experienced a major shift in their public image. At the outset of the 20th century, Asian Americans had often been portrayed as threatening, exotic and degenerate. But by the 1950s and 1960s, the idea of the model minority had begun to take root. Newspapers often glorified Asian Americans as industrious, law-abiding citizens who kept their heads down and never complained.
Some people think that racism toward Asians diminished because Asians “proved themselves” through their actions. But that is only a sliver of the truth. Then, as now, the stories of successful Asians were elevated, while the stories of less successful Asians were diminished. As historian Ellen Wu explains in her book, “The Color of Success,” the model minority stereotype has a fascinating origin story, one that’s tangled up in geopolitics, the Cold War and the civil rights movement.
To combat racism, minorities in the United States have often attempted to portray themselves as upstanding citizens capable of assimilating into mainstream culture. Asian Americans were no different, Wu writes. Some, like the Chinese, sought respectability by promoting stories about their obedient children and their traditional family values. The Japanese pointed to their wartime service as proof of their shared Americanness.
African Americans in the 1940s made very similar appeals. But in the postwar moment, Wu argues, it was only convenient for political leaders to hear the Asian voices.
The model minority narrative may have started with Asian Americans, but it was quickly co-opted by white politicians who saw it as a tool to win allies in the Cold War. Discrimination was not a good look on the international stage. Embracing Asian Americans “provided a powerful means for the United States to proclaim itself a racial democracy and thereby credentialed to assume the leadership of the free world,” Wu writes. Stories about Asian American success were turned into propaganda.
By the 1960s, anxieties about the civil right movement caused white Americans to further invest in positive portrayals of Asian Americans. The image of the hard-working Asian became an extremely convenient way to deny the demands of African Americans. As Wu describes in her book, both liberal and conservative politicians pumped up the image of Asian Americans as a way to shift the blame for black poverty. If Asians could find success within the system, politicians asked, why couldn’t African Americans?
“The insinuation was that hard work along with unwavering faith in the government and liberal democracy as opposed to political protest were the keys to overcoming racial barriers as well as achieving full citizenship,” she writes.
Recently, Wu and I chatted on the phone about her book and the model minority stereotype – how it was equal parts truth, propaganda and self-enforcing prophecy.
GUO: Can you tell us a little bit about the question that got you started on this book?
WU: America in general has had very limited ways of thinking about Asian Americans. There are very few ways in which we exist in the popular imagination. In the mid- to late-19th century, all the way through the late 1940s and 1950s, Asians were thought of as “brown hordes” or as the “yellow peril.” There was the sinister, weird, “Fu Manchu” stereotype.
Yet, by the middle of the 1960s, Asian Americans had undergone this really arresting racial makeover. Political leaders, journalists, social scientists – all these people in the public eye – seemed to suddenly be praising Asian Americans as so-called model minorities.
I thought that might be a very interesting question to try to unravel.
G: How did these earliest stereotypes – these very negative, nasty images – take root?
W: Asian Americans first started coming in significant numbers during the California Gold Rush. Chinese immigrants came to do mining, then they ended up working on the Transcontinental Railroad, and agriculture. When those jobs died down, a lot of them moved to the cities where they started working in manufacturing.
At that time, in the 1870s, the economy wasn’t doing that well in California. White American workers were very anxious about keeping their jobs. They looked around and they saw these newcomers who seemed very different from them.
There already had been a long tradition in the Western world of portraying the “Orient” as unknowable and mysterious. American workers started attaching these ideas to the Chinese newcomers, who were an easy target for white American anxieties about the growth of industrial capitalism and the undermining of workers’ autonomy and freedom. They believed that the Chinese threatened American independence and threatened American freedom.
These ideas were particularly popular among the white working class at the time. The momentum started to build in the American West. There was the Workingmen’s Party in California – one of their platforms was “The Chinese must go.” That’s how they rallied people. And they were very successful at it.
By 1882, Congress passed the first of a series of Chinese Exclusion Acts, which was the first time a race- and class-based group – Chinese workers – were singled out by American immigration law. The Chinese Exclusion Acts restricted their entry into the United States and said they couldn’t become naturalized citizens.
What’s really striking is that in the 1890s, the federal government even mandated a Chinese registry. That sounds a lot like this issue of the Muslim registry today, right?
G: A lot of what you’re describing sounds familiar today – the economic anxiety bleeding into racial anxiety, the targeting of outsiders . . .
W: Absolutely. There are a lot of resonances. What’s happening today didn’t spring out of nowhere – it has a very long history in the United States.
G: Can you describe some of these old stereotypes? I think that most people have some idea from old Hollywood movies, but it’s just such a contrast to how Asians Americans are portrayed today.
W: The ways in which Americans thought about these “Orientals” hinged a lot on moral differences and on issues of gender, sexuality and family.
Many great historians and scholars have done work on this. The major groups that came before World War II were the Chinese, Japanese, South Asians, Koreans and Filipinos. There were both similarities and differences in how the groups were viewed, but generally they were thought to be threatening – significantly different in a negative sense.
For the most part, a lot of Asian immigrants weren’t Christian, so that was suspect. American Chinatowns had a thriving vice economy, so gambling, prostitution and drugs became popularly associated with Asians. (Of course, some of the same white Americans who were criticizing Asians were also the ones participating in these activities.)
There was this idea of moral depravity. At the time, the Chinese and Filipinos and South Asians in America were mostly single, able-bodied young men, so that also raised a lot of eyebrows. It looked like they were sexually wayward.
If you look at old stereotypical imagery of Asians in political cartoons, the way they tend to be depicted is that they are not aligned with white, middle-class notions of respectable masculinity. There’s the long hair, the flowing clothing that didn’t quite look masculine yet didn’t quite look feminine – or maybe it was something in-between, as some scholars have argued.
The women were also thought of as morally suspect – as prostitutes, sexually promiscuous, that kind of thing.
G: An important argument in your book is that Asians were complicit in the creation of the model minority myth. The way we talk about this issue today, it’s as if the white majority imposed this stereotype on Asian communities – but your research shows that’s not the case. How did it really get started?
W: Absolutely. That is a critical point to understand. The model minority myth as we see it today was mainly an unintended outcome of earlier attempts by Asians Americans to be accepted and recognized as human beings. They wanted to be seen as American people who were worthy of respect and dignity.
At lot was at stake. At the time, Asians were living life under an exclusion regime that had many similarities to Jim Crow – not the same as Jim Crow, but certainly a cousin of Jim Crow. There was a whole matrix of laws and discriminatory practices.
By 1924, all immigration from Asia had been completely banned. Asians were considered under the law “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” There were all these racial restrictions to citizenship under the law – and the last of these didn’t fall until 1952.
Asian Americans tended to be restricted to segregated neighborhoods, segregated schools. They often did not have the kind of job prospects that white people had. They would be barred from certain kinds of employment either by law or by custom.
In 1937, a young U.S.-born Japanese-American man lamented that even if you went to college, you could only end up being a “professional carrot-washer.” That was really true for a lot of people. They had very limited options for social mobility. And of course there was also violence – lynchings.
So for Asian Americans, one survival strategy was to portray themselves as “good Americans.”
G: As you argue in your book, it became increasingly expedient for mainstream Americans to acknowledge, and even amplify, Asian attempts to gain respectability. What changed?
W: Those claims really start to stick in the 1940s, when the nation was gearing up for global war. American leaders started to worry about the consequences of their domestic racial discrimination policies. They were concerned it would get in the way of forging alliances with other people abroad. That really motivated American leaders and the American people to work on race relations.
During World War II, lawmakers thought that Chinese exclusion made for bad diplomacy. So Congress decided to overturn Chinese exclusion as a goodwill gesture to China, who was America’s Pacific ally.
With the beginning of the Cold War, American policymakers became really attentive to putting their best image out into the world. They were very interested in winning hearts and minds in Asia.
Japan is a very good example. Japan lost the war and the United States took charge of reconstructing Japan in its own image as a rising democratic, capitalist country. And because Japan became such an important ally, that was the moment when Japanese exclusion laws could finally be overturned, which happened in 1952.
Again, people in Congress worried that if we left these laws on the books, it would endanger a billion hearts and minds in the Far East.
G: It wasn’t just a geopolitical thing right? It seems that by the 1960s, there were other reasons for investing in this image of Asians as upstanding citizens, reasons that were closer to home.
W: Oh, absolutely. There were definitely domestic reasons for why the idea was appealing that Asians could be considered good American citizens capable of assimilating into American life.
In the 1950s, there were general concerns about maintaining the right kind of home life. There’s this image of the perfect American family – a suburban household with a mom, a dad, two to three kids, a white picket fence. That was the ideal, but it wasn’t always realized. There was a juvenile delinquency panic in the 1950s, a big scare over how the nation’s youth were getting themselves into trouble.
The Chinatown leaders were really smart. They started to peddle stories about Chinese traditional family values and Confucian ethics. They claimed that Chinese children always listened to their elders, were unquestioningly obedient and never got into trouble because after school they would just go to Chinese school.
When I started digging, I found that this idea of this model Chinese family, with the perfect children who always just loved to study and who don’t have time to get into trouble or date – started to circulate quite prominently in the 1950s. That speaks to America’s anxieties about juvenile delinquency.
Also, since these stories were taking place in Chinatowns, it allowed Americans to claim that America had these remaining repositories of traditional Chinese values at a time when the Communist Chinese had completely dismantled them. So there’s this other level where these stories are also anti-Communist – they are doing this other ideological work.
G: How true were these stories though? How much of this was racial propaganda, and how much of it was rooted in reality?
W: These are obviously very strategic stories. In 1956, the federal government started to crack down on illegal Chinese immigration, which was in part motivated by the Cold War. So partly, the conservative Chinatown leaders thought this model Chinese family story would do a lot to protect them. They thought this PR campaign would reorient the conversation away from “Communists are sneaking into our country” to “Hey, look at these squeaky-clean, well-behaved children.”
From reading community newspapers in these Chinatowns, we know they also had a lot of concerns about juvenile delinquency. In fact, behind closed doors there were heated disagreements about what to do. One woman in particular – Rose Hum Lee, a sociologist with a PhD from the University of Chicago – wrote lots of books and papers about the problems in Chinatown, and accused leaders of sweeping these problems under the rug.
There were Asian Americans then, as today, at the end of the socioeconomic spectrum. And that segment of the population tends to go unnoticed in these kinds of narratives.
G: It’s interesting to compare the efforts of the Chinatown leaders to the parallel efforts of leaders in the African American civil rights movement, who also emphasized respectability – who wore their Sunday best on these marches where they were hosed down and attacked by dogs. What’s stunning to me is the contrast. One group’s story is amplified, and the other’s is, well, almost denied.
W: I think the Japanese American experience also highlights some of this contrast. At the same time in the 1950s, you hear these stories about how the Japanese Americans dramatically recovered from the internment camps, how they accepted their fate. “After internment, many families were scattered across the country, but they took it as an opportunity to assimilate,” that sort of thing.
Japanese Americans aren’t perceived to be doing any kind of direct action, they weren’t perceived to be protesting. A bad thing happened to them, and they moved on, and they were doing okay.
These stories were ideologically useful. They became a model for political cooperation. The ideas solidify in the 1950s. Americans had recast Asians into these citizens capable of assimilating – even if they still saw Asians as somewhat different from whites. And by the 1960s, what becomes important is that these socially mobile, assimilating, politically nonthreatening people were also decidedly not black.
That’s really the key to all this. The work of the African American freedom movements had made white liberals and white conservatives very uncomfortable. Liberals were questioning whether integration could solve some the deeper problems of economic inequality. And by the late 1960s, conservatives were calling for increased law and order.
Across the political spectrum, people looked to Asian Americans – in this case, Japanese and Chinese Americans – as an example of a solution, as a template for other minority groups to follow: “Look how they ended up! They’re doing just fine. And they did it all without political protests.”
That isn’t really true, by the way. Asian Americans did get political, but sometimes their efforts didn’t get seen or recognized.
These stereotypes about Asian Americans being patriotic, having an orderly family, not having delinquency or crime – they became seen as the opposite of what “blackness” represented to many Americans at the time.
G: I would say it also costs the majority less to allow Asian Americans, who were still a very small part of the population, to let them play out this saga of upward mobility, rather than recognizing the rights and claims of African Americans during that same time.
W: I’m not saying somebody sat down and did a cost-benefit analysis. But in some ways, there seemed to be a big payoff for little risk. Even with the overturning of the exclusion laws, it’s not like large numbers of Asians were coming into the United States at the time. Asian Americans at that time were still a pretty marginal part of the population.
As harmful as Asian exclusion was, I would agree that those structures were not as deep or pervasive as anti-black racism. It wouldn’t do as much to change the overall social picture by allowing these small numbers of Asian Americans to move forward. It was easier to do, in some ways, because those exclusion structures were not as pervasive, and the consequences had not been as long-lasting as they had been for African Americans.
G: A really fascinating part of your book describes how these new Asian stereotypes shaped the Moynihan Report, which infamously blamed the plight of African Americans on “ghetto culture.” I think that is a great example of how this model minority stereotype started to get used against others in the 1960s.
W: Daniel Moynihan, the author of that report, was a liberal trying to figure out how to solve this huge problem – the status of African Americans in American life.
If you look in the report, there’s not really any mention of Asian Americans. But just a few months before the Moynihan Report came out in the summer of 1965, Moynihan was at a gathering with all these intellectuals and policymakers. They’re talking about how Japanese and Chinese Americans were “rather astonishing” because they had thrown off this racial stigma. Moynihan points out that 25 years ago, Asians had been “colored.” Then Moynihan says, “Am I wrong that they have ceased to be colored?”
G: I think a lot of people believe that the model minority stereotype came out of the huge surge of highly educated Asians who started coming to the United States after 1965. But as your book shows, I think, the causality actually runs the other way.
W: It’s mutually reinforcing. At the time that the United States did this major immigration law overhaul in 1965, policymakers decided that the nation should select its immigrants based on how they could contribute to the economy (and also to reunify families). So what we start to see is people coming to the United States with these credentials and backgrounds and training, and they seem to confirm some of the ideas that are already there – that Asian Americans are model minorities.
My book stops in the late 1960s, but what I think has happened since then is that the model minority stereotype story has really shifted away from the original ideas of patriotism and anti-communism. We now fixate more on education. There’s the image of the tiger mom focused on getting her kid into Harvard. That emphasis also speaks to a shift in the American economy, how upward mobility really depends on having a certain kind of educational training.
And the anxieties about Asians have never really gone away. Now they’re portrayed as our global competitors. So underlying the praise there’s also this fear.
G: Sometimes in America, it feels like there are only so many racial buckets that people can fall into. With increased immigration from South Asia and Southeast Asia, for instance, it seemed like lot of the newcomers were swept up into this model minority narrative.
W: What happened in 1965 is that we opened up the gates to large-scale immigration from places like Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. From Asia, you get large numbers of people coming from South Asia, the Philippines, Korea. Then by the 1970s, the United States is fighting a war in Southeast Asia, so you get this refugee migrant stream. And you’re right, they’re stepping into this predetermined racial landscape, these preconceived notions about how Asians are.
But as a historian, as someone who thinks about race in American life for a living, I also think that the “model minority” category has only a limited usefulness now in terms of our analysis. We talk about it as a common stereotype, but it doesn’t explain the whole scope of Asian American life today – especially since 9/11, when you have communities of South Asians who are Muslims or Sikhs now being racially targeted or labeled as terrorists. So that has become another stereotype of Asians these days.
G: I think that underscores maybe the meta-narrative of your book – how we in America have always viewed ethnic and racial minorities through the lens of politics and geopolitics, right? In terms of international relations, in terms of what kind of image we want to project to the world, and in terms of what our national anxieties about other countries are.
W: Absolutely, that’s the link. The model minority stereotype and the terrorist stereotype are related, I agree, in how they speak to the geopolitical anxieties of their times.
Asian American Center and Carolina Asia Center host event on improving race relations
The Asian American Center and Carolina Asia Center co-presented their most recent event of a yearlong series called “Anti-Blackness and Alliance: A Series on Asian-Black Race Relations” on March 31.
Ji-Yeon Jo, director of the Carolina Asia Center, said she hopes this series can help create a space for showing solidarity, countering racial injustice and violence and improving racial relations in the country.
The AAC intends to introduce a wide variety of speakers, academics and activists in this series to discuss the complex interracial connections and discourse between Asian American and Black communities, according to their website.
Nitasha Sharma, who hosted the event, is the director of graduate studies in the department of African American studies at Northwestern University. At the event, Sharma encouraged the responsibility that Asian Americans have in being active participants in racial discourse, through both education and the acknowledgment of problems of complicity.
“Whatever our conglomeration of identities are in our access to privilege and lack of privilege — whatever it is — circumscribes our ability to navigate institutions and what institutions are there for you,” Sharma said.
Sharma covered three main points before opening the discussion to the audience:
- Responsibility and accountability of Asian Americans in thinking about and being participants in racial discourse in the United States
- The positions of Asian Americans in the economic, political and cultural spheres of the nation
- How the positions of Asian Americans in the nation’s spheres are informed by a global approach
Sharma then posed questions to the audience, such as, “How do you understand the racial positions of Asians in the U.S.?”
After asking questions, Sharma spoke on the position of Asian Americans in racial discussions, which is based on a hierarchical system or left out of these discussions entirely.
“One thing that makes my perspective a little different is that there are no innocent subjects,” she said. “Everybody is accountable, and that’s why I don’t only shame or berate or chastise Asian Americans for our lack of political engagement with issues of race and racism.”
Sharma ended the discussion by speaking on educating and informing more people on systemic racial issues. With proper education, she said she hopes fewer Asian Americans will feel guilty due to lacking awareness.
“I don’t want us to come from a place of guilt,” she said. “I think coming from a place of unknowing is good because we should all be students, but guilt is not always generative.”
House committee advances slavery reparations bill over GOP objections
Congressional Democrats forged ahead Wednesday night with two of their main priorities in dealing with grievances over race.
In a strictly party-line vote, Democrats on a House committee advanced a bill that would create a commission to study paying reparation for slavery to Black Americans.
It was a historic moment for proponents of reparations, marking the furthest the idea has gotten in Congress in the 30 years since it was first introduced.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, and the bill’s sponsor, ticked off several atrocities Blacks have faced through history, from slavery to lynchings and being barred from living in certain areas.
Those living today may not have been responsible for slavery, she said, but the mistakes of the past still need to be repaired.
“It was America’s sin and that’s what we’re hoping to address,” she said. “Reparation is not a handout. It is restoration. It is reconciliation. It is healing.”
The House Judiciary Committee pushed the bill forward over the vehement protests from Republicans who said the legislation itself was discriminatory and would inflame racial tensions in the U.S.
“We’re going to take money from people who never were involved in the evil of slavery and give it to people who were never subject to the evil of slavery,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, the committee’s top Republican.
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Democrats and Republicans managed to find common ground on a bill tackling anti-Asian hate crimes.
Senate Republicans initially dismissed the Democratic legislation that would encourage Asian Americans to report incidents of racial harassment as a “messaging bill” and threatened to block it. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, struck an agreement with Democratic leaders to open debate on the bill and allow for votes on amendments.
Mr. McConnell, who is married to former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, paved the way for Republican support in a floor speech on Tuesday.
“I can tell you as a proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think the discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem,” Mr. McConnell said.
The Senate voted 92-6 to let the bill be considered.
“The legislation will send a clear message that racism against Asian American citizens has no place in society,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor, said Republicans would try to remove language from the bill that blames former President Donald Trump’s use of terms like “China Virus” for inciting harassment.
“They want to take out the hatemonger stuff,” she said.
The legislation responded to recent claims of increasing attacks and harassment of Asian Americans during a coronavirus pandemic that began in Wuhan, China. Ambiguous and incomplete statistics on Asian hate crimes, however, raise questions about whether the problem is getting worse.
To conservatives, the House Judiciary Committee’s passage of the reparations bill reflects a fundamentally wrong approach by Democrats that judges people based on the color of their skin.
Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the reparations movement is part of the Biden administration’s “racial equity” agenda.
“Equity doesn’t mean fairness or equality. It means treating Americans unequally [based on race]. How do they think that’s legal?” he said.
To proponents, though, giving reparations only to Black Americans would be an acknowledgment that past discrimination has contributed to White people continuing to be wealthier than Black people long after the end of slavery.
Despite the advancement of a reparations bill in Congress, actual payments are not close at hand.
The bill would only set up a commission to discuss the idea. It also is uncertain if it will pass the full House. The bill also would face fierce Republican opposition in the Senate, which is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
While this country is the land of the free, nobody can deny that any immigrants that came into the country had an easy time of things. That includes those that were brought here against their will. In a previous article I discussed racial relations involving the Black population, I have also written an article on the history of slavery. In this article I am discussing the relations the the U.S. has had with the Asian population. Asian people till the last half of the 20th century have been treated as second class citizens. In the 1800’s they helped build the railroads. They did so under brutal conditions, though it can be argued that the Irish also worked under the same circumstances. After Pearl Harbor, many Japanese citizens were rounded up and placed in internment camps for the duration of the war. Reparations have since been paid to many of these individuals. Things have changed in the last 50 plus years. Now the Chinese and Japanese seem to be turning the tables in the U.S.. Chinese and Japanese people are the most financially prosperous ethnic groups in the U.S. The ride to prosperity has been anything but smooth. Recently, since the Covid-19 outbreak there has been episodes of hate crime against the Chinese throughout the country. It can be argued that the press has caused the racial unrest to become exacerbated throughout the U.S. The Biden team ran with the platform of unifying the country. Unfortunately since he has been in office , he has done little to improve the racial relations. There seems to be little hope that this trend will change.
spectrumlocalnews.com, “George Floyd Killing Ignites Conversations, Self-Reflection in Asian American Communities,” By Rob Wu; pbs.org, “The long history of racism against Asian Americans in the U.S.”, By Adrian De Leon; en.wikipedia.org, “Interminority racism in the United States,” By Wikipedia editors; everydayfeminism.com, “Asian Americans Aren’t ‘Basically White’ – Here Are 5 Ways Racism Hurts Us,” By Kim Tran; nationalreview.com, “Dwindling Confidence in U.S. Race Relations, By Alexandra Desanctis; open.lib.umn.edu, “10.5 Racial and Ethnic Inequality in the United States;” asiasociety.org, “Asian Americans and US-Asia Relations,” By Peter Kiang; brookings.edu, “American Racial and Ethnic Politics in the 21st Century: A cautious look ahead,” By Jennifer L. Hochschild; asiasociety.org, “Understanding Our Perceptions of Asian Americans,” By Peter N. Kiang; thoughtco.com, “History of the Asian American Civil Rights Movement,” By Nadra Kareem Nittle; en.wikipedia.org, “Asian immigration to the United States,” By Wikipedia editors; oregonlive.com, “The real reasons the U.S. became less racist toward Asian Americans: Washington Post analysis,” By Jeff Guo; thoughtco.com, “Interesting Facts about Diverse Groups in America,” By Nadra Kareem Nittle; dailytarheel.com, “Asian American Center and Carolina Asia Center host event on improving race relations,” By Kaitlyn Dang; pewresearch.org, “10 things we know about race and policing in the U.S.”, By Drew Desilver, Michael Lipka and Dalia Fahmy; washingtontimes.com, “House committee advances slavery reparations bill over GOP objections,” By Kery Murakami;
Timeline of key legislation and judicial rulings
- 1875 Page Act, the first restrictive immigration law, enabled the prohibition of the entry of forced laborers from Asia and Asian women who would potentially engage in prostitution, who were defined as “undesirable”. Enforcement of the law resulted in near-complete exclusion of Chinese women from the United States.
- 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act: prohibited immigration from China and considerably restricted movement for Chinese-Americans.
- 1898 United States v. Wong Kim Ark: A US-born son of Chinese immigrants was ruled to be a US citizen under the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment; the Chinese Exclusion Act was held not to apply to someone born in the US.
- 1915 Guinn & Beal v. United States: Ruling found that Filipinos can naturalize.
- 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act prohibited immigration to the U.S. from most of the Asian continent, including the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Middle East.
- 1922 Takao Ozawa v. United States: Japanese, despite being light-skinned, were deemed non-white as they were not considered Caucasian by contemporary racial science, and were thereby not accorded the rights and privileges of naturalization.
- 1923 United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind: Indians, despite being anthropologically Caucasian, were ruled to be non-white as they were not seen as white in the “common understanding”, thus excluding non-U.S. born South Asians from citizenship under the racial prerequisites for naturalization at the time. Indians were further ruled to instead be Asian, thereby subjecting them to pre-existing anti-Asian laws.
- 1924 Immigration Act of 1924 introduced quotas for immigration based on national origin, creating a quota of zero for Asian countries, as well as forming the United States Border Patrol.
- 1935 Nye–Lae Bill granted citizenship to veterans of World War I, including those from “Barred Zones”.
- 1943 Magnuson Act: Resumption of naturalization rights to Chinese Americans and limited immigration permitted from China.
- 1945 War Brides Act temporarily lifted the ban on Asian immigration for spouses and adopted children of service members.
- 1946 The Fiancé’s Act allowed entrance of foreign-born fiancées of service members to enter as a nonimmigrant temporary visitor visa for three months, and were required to provide proof of valid marriage within that time frame.
- 1946 Luce–Celler Act: Resumption of naturalization rights to Indian Americans and Filipino Americans. Token immigration allowed, quota set at 100 per year from India and 100 per year from the Philippines.
- 1946 Filipino Naturalization Act allowed naturalization of Filipino Americans, and grants citizenship to those who arrived prior to March 1943.
- 1952 Walter–McCarran Act nullified all federal anti-Asian exclusion laws; allowed for naturalization of all Asians. Immigration quotas still remained in place.
- 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 eliminated racial/nationality-based discrimination in immigration quotas.
- 1989 American Homecoming Act: Allowed Amerasian children from Vietnam to immigrate to the United States.
Interesting Facts About Asian Americans
The United States has recognized May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month since 1992. In honor of the cultural observance, the U.S. Census Bureau has compiled a series of facts about the Asian American community. How much do you know about the diverse groups that make up this community? Test your knowledge with federal government statistics that bring the Asian American population into focus.
Asians Across America
Asian Americans make up 17.3 million, or 5.6 percent, of the U.S. population. Most Asian Americans reside in California, home to 5.6 million of this racial group. New York comes in next with 1.6 million Asian Americans. Hawaii, however, has the largest share of Asian Americans—57 percent. The Asian American growth rate was higher than any other racial group from 2000 to 2010, according to the census. During that time, the Asian American population grew by 46 percent.
Diversity in Numbers
A wide range of ethnic groups makes up the Asian-Pacific American population. Chinese Americans stand out as the largest Asian ethnic group in the U.S with a population of 3.8 million. Filipinos come in second with 3.4 million. Indians (3.2 million), Vietnamese (1.7 million), Koreans (1.7 million) and Japanese (1.3 million) round out the major Asian ethnic groups in the U.S.
Asian languages spoken in the U.S. mirror this trend. Nearly 3 million Americans speak Chinese (second to Spanish as the most popular non-English language in the U.S.). More than 1 million Americans speak Tagalog, Vietnamese and Korean, according to the census.
Wealth Among Asian-Pacific Americans
Household income among the Asian-Pacific American community varies widely. On average, those who identify as Asian American take in $67,022 yearly. But the Census Bureau found that income rates depend on the Asian group in question. While Indian Americans have a household income of $90,711, Bangladeshis bring in significantly less—$48,471 yearly. Moreover, those Americans who identify specifically as Pacific Islanders have household incomes of $52,776. Poverty rates also vary. The Asian American poverty rate is 12 percent, while the Pacific Islander poverty rate is 18.8 percent.
Educational Attainment Among the APA Population
An analysis of educational attainment among the Asian-Pacific American population reveals intra-racial disparities as well. While there’s no major difference between Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in high school graduation rates—85 percent of the former and 87 percent of the latter have high school diplomas—there’s a huge gap in college graduation rates. Fifty percent of Asian Americans age 25 and up have graduated from college, nearly double the U.S. average of 28 percent. However, just 15 percent of Pacific Islanders have bachelor’s degrees. Asian Americans also outpace the general U.S. population and Pacific Islanders where graduate degrees are concerned. Twenty percent of Asian Americans age 25 and up have graduate degrees, compared to 10 percent of the general U.S. population and just four percent of Pacific Islanders.
Advances in Business
Both Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made headway in the business sector in recent years. Asian Americans owned 1.5 million U.S. businesses in 2007, a 40.4 percent rise from 2002. The number of businesses owned by Pacific Islanders also grew. In 2007, this population owned 37,687 businesses, a jump of 30.2 percent from 2002. Hawaii boasts the largest percentage of businesses started by people of both Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. Hawaii is home to 47 percent of businesses owned by Asian Americans and nine percent of business owned by Pacific Islanders.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders both have a long history of serving in the military. Historians have noted their exemplary service during World War II, when individuals of Japanese American heritage were vilified after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Today, there are 265,200 Asian American military veterans, a third of whom are age 65 and up. There are currently 27,800 military veterans of Pacific Islander background. Approximately 20 percent of such veterans are 65 and up. These numbers reveal that while Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have historically served in the armed forces, younger generations of the APA community continue to fight for their country.
10 things we know about race and policing in the U.S.
Days of protests across the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police have brought new attention to questions about police officers’ attitudes toward black Americans, protesters and others. The public’s views of the police, in turn, are also in the spotlight. Here’s a roundup of Pew Research Center survey findings from the past few years about the intersection of race and law enforcement.
1Majorities of both black and white Americans say black people are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with the police and by the criminal justice system as a whole. In a 2019 Center survey, 84% of black adults said that, in dealing with police, blacks are generally treated less fairly than whites; 63% of whites said the same. Similarly, 87% of blacks and 61% of whites said the U.S. criminal justice system treats black people less fairly.
2Black adults are about five times as likely as whites to say they’ve been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity (44% vs. 9%), according to the same survey. Black men are especially likely to say this: 59% say they’ve been unfairly stopped, versus 31% of black women.
3White Democrats and white Republicans have vastly different views of how black people are treated by police and the wider justice system. Overwhelming majorities of white Democrats say black people are treated less fairly than whites by the police (88%) and the criminal justice system (86%), according to the 2019 poll. About four-in-ten white Republicans agree (43% and 39%, respectively).
4Nearly two-thirds of black adults (65%) say they’ve been in situations where people acted as if they were suspicious of them because of their race or ethnicity, while only a quarter of white adults say that’s happened to them. Roughly a third of both Asian and Hispanic adults (34% and 37%, respectively) say they’ve been in such situations, the 2019 survey found.
5Black Americans are far less likely than whites to give police high marks for the way they do their jobs. In a 2016 survey, only about a third of black adults said that police in their community did an “excellent” or “good” job in using the right amount of force (33%, compared with 75% of whites), treating racial and ethnic groups equally (35% vs. 75%), and holding officers accountable for misconduct (31% vs. 70%).
6In the past, police officers and the general public have tended to view fatal encounters between black people and police very differently. In a 2016 survey of nearly 8,000 policemen and women from departments with at least 100 officers, two-thirds said most such encounters are isolated incidents and not signs of broader problems between police and the black community. In a companion survey of more than 4,500 U.S. adults, 60% of the public called such incidents signs of broader problems between police and black people. But the views given by police themselves were sharply differentiated by race: A majority of black officers (57%) said that such incidents were evidence of a broader problem, but only 27% of white officers and 26% of Hispanic officers said so.
7Around two-thirds of police officers (68%) said in 2016 that the demonstrations over the deaths of black people during encounters with law enforcement were motivated to a great extent by anti-police bias; only 10% said (in a separate question) that protesters were primarily motivated by a genuine desire to hold police accountable for their actions. Here as elsewhere, police officers’ views differed by race: Only about a quarter of white officers (27%) but around six-in-ten of their black colleagues (57%) said such protests were motivated at least to some extent by a genuine desire to hold police accountable.
8White police officers and their black colleagues have starkly different views on fundamental questions regarding the situation of blacks in American society, the 2016 survey found. For example, nearly all white officers (92%) – but only 29% of their black colleagues – said the U.S. had made the changes needed to assure equal rights for blacks.
9A majority of officers said in 2016 that relations between the police in their department and black people in the community they serve were “excellent” (8%) or “good” (47%). However, far higher shares saw excellent or good community relations with whites (91%), Asians (88%) and Hispanics (70%). About a quarter of police officers (26%) said relations between police and black people in their community were “only fair,” while nearly one-in-five (18%) said they were “poor” – with black officers far more likely than others to say so. (These percentages are based on only those officers who offered a rating.)
10An overwhelming majority of police officers (86%) said in 2016 that high-profile fatal encounters between black people and police officers had made their jobs harder. Sizable majorities also said such incidents had made their colleagues more worried about safety (93%), heightened tensions between police and blacks (75%), and left many officers reluctant to use force when appropriate (76%) or to question people who seemed suspicious (72%).
Race Relations and Slavery Postings