AA101: A series presenting the quick bullet points of Asian American Studies


Why should we care about the past now?

  • Many of the same perceptions that caused these things to happen are still present!
      • All Asian Americans are the same” —still heard in pop culture and political discourse.
          • We continue to be seen as “model minorities” who are so good at what we do, that we take away jobs from others.
      • We are “perpetual foreigners” —allied with a foreign country.
          • China, Korea, Japan, India is going to invade and take over America.
            We’re so exceptional at what we do, we must be foreign agents/spies—the best of the best!

“Caucasian laborers could not compete with the Chinese … who, with their yellow skin and debasing habits of life, seemed to them hardly fellow men at all, but evil spirits rather.”
Woodrow Wilson, A History of the American People (1902)


How bad was it really?

These same perceptions have lead to:
(This list is a sampling.  It is far from comprehensive.)



“…To Chinatown! Was now the cry, and off they ran up Leavenworth street, several hundred of them yelling like soldiers of Satan. On the south side of Tyler street, above Leavenworth, stood some Chinese laundries; there the rabble bombarded, smashing doors and windows with bricks and stones. Thence they were driven by the police, but only to attack the unfortunate Asiatics in other quarters. The fiend-prince Maker appeared to be in their urging to theft and demolition. Breaking into a corner grocery the mobites supplied themselves with bottles of liquor and canned eatables, after which they demolished a Chinese tenement on Geary street, leaving it in flames. Fifteen other like places in that vicinity soon fell before them. Otis Gibson, of the Chinese mission, was stoned. Meanwhile the police several times met and dispersed them with their clubs, until finally the rioters retired, leaving the city quiet for the night.”
First-hand account by William Tell Coleman of anti-Chinese violence in San Francisco, 1877


Asians driven out of town:

Poster instructing Japanese relocation


Legislation that made it hard…

  • to live and work
      • 1850 Foreign Miner’s Tax, enforced mainly against Chinese miners
      • 1862 California imposes a police tax of $2.50/month on every Chinese person
      • 1879 California prevents cities and corporations from employing Chinese
      • Chinatowns allowed them to live and make a living doing jobs that were the less desired by white workers restaurants, laundry shops, gardeners and produce stands.
  • to have a family
      • Laws limited immigration on women, so there were very few around.
          • 1875 Page Law bars entry of Chinese Japanese and “Mongolian” prostitutes
          • 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act
      • Laws made it difficult to marry anyone else.
          • 1880 California prohibits interracial marriage
          • 1922 Cable Act: any American female citizen who marries an “alien ineligible for citizenship” will revoke her citizenship.
      • Chinatowns were bachelor societies.
  • to be a citizen
      • 1878 Chinese ineligible for naturalized citizenship; 1894 Japanese ineligible; 1923 Indians ineligible[1918 World War I servicemen receive right to naturalize; 1943 105 Chinese/year allowed to naturalize; 1946 all Filipinos offered citizenship; 1952 Japanese can now naturalize.]
  • to build a home and wealth
      • forbidden property ownership
          • Alien Land Acts prevent non-citizens from buying or leasing land in these states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming[Ruled unconstitutional in 1952]
  • to enter the countryNo admittance to Chinamen
      • Immigration laws increasingly limited immigration to various Asian groups until 1965 Immigration Act.
          • 1875 Page Law bars entry of Chinese, Japanese and “Mongolian” prostitutes, felons and contract laborers
          • 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, renewed 1892, 1902, 1904
          • 1917  and 1924 Immigration Acts tightens restrictions further
          • 1934 Tydings McDuffie Act determines path for Philippine independence and reduces Filipino immigration to 50/year.




Further reading:

Sucheng Chan, Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (1991)

Ron Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore (1989, revised 1998)

The history of Asian Americans is fraught with processes of orientalization, which have disadvantaged Asian Americans even as they have attempted to participate in American society. Historically, Asian Americans have also responded to it by forming new solidarities. As we understand these processes throughout Asian American history, we should recognize our solidarity with fellow Asian Americans in contesting orientalization in contemporary society.

There's a difference between European immigration through Ellis Island (NY) and Asian immigration through Angel Island (CA). While both are "strangers" to America, both are from different shores. Their treatment in America has been different in that Europeans were not treated as "Orientals."

. . .

ASIANAMERICANCHRISTIAN.ORG primarily asks how we are to be, think and respond to being Asian, American and Christian in Christ. Towards this end, we are extremely interested to learn from others and hear viewpoints different from our own. Please note that the views represented here are not necessarily those of ASIANAMERICANCHRISTIAN.ORG.

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