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Since its birth, America has been declared a nation of immigrants, an asylum for those who must to abandon their country, be it because of famine, religious or political oppression, the aspiration of owning land or the opportunity for a job. However, the acceptance of newcomers, has always been a discriminatory process. The history of Asian immigration in the United States is the outcome of race-cognizant Citizenship and Naturalization policies exercised by the U.S government. To be an Asian Pacific American means that you and those before you have had to fight for equality and justice.While the idea of race was never actually attributed to immigration laws and policies, the replicated patterns of dismissal, refusal of U.S citizenship and unbalanced rules applied to Asian immigrants have made it very clear that their ethnic distinctiveness from the white American dominant was the reasoning behind these discriminations. For Asian Pacific Americans, immigration has been ethnicized.
The first wave of Asian people immigrating to the U.S was in the 18th century. (Ancheta, 2006). However, when they reached American soil distorted depictions and stereotypes of Asians were already well established. Both European and Americans had these misrepresentations deeply ingrained in their heads. This was mostly due to military encounters with those of Asian descent as well as mythical tales which contributed to the stereotypes. During all of these encounters, Asian people were seen with less power, ominous, all alike regarding each other, but all very different from white people.The development of Asian people as the “other,” or as the secondary to the bulk of white Americans has had an effect on the ideas circling Asian immigration. This relates to the idea of “orientalism.” Meaning the development of Asians as anthropologically dissimilar, from the “normal” that both is and was white people. (Williams-Leon, 2017). This plays a part in the making of American ideals: Asians and Asian Pacific Americans are sometimes seen as foreigners
In 1790, the United States had evolved into a highly diverse country. However, America’s earliest passed laws regarding immigration echo the bigoted ideas of those days. (Nakanishi, 2003). At that time Congress passed “A uniform standard for Naturalization” which permitted only foreign white men the privilege to become American citizens. (Williams-Leon, 2017). While this law was altered various times, the prejudicial omission of non-white people stayed active until African Americans gained citizenship following the Civil War. However, Asian Americans as well as all Asian immigrants were still seen as migrants, not qualified for citizenship.In spite of that, though, the Constitution’s 15th Amendment pronounced a remarkable accomplishment in the face of racial inequality in America since it allowed citizenship to everyone born inside the United States, despite geographic origin of one’s parents or race. (U.S. Const. amend. XV).
American born children birthed by Asian immigrants were able to take advantage of the 15th Amendment. At this time, the children had accomplished by birth what their parents were not allowed their entire life.Asian immigrants didn’t automatically put up with their rejection of citizenship. In fact, in the early years of Asian immigration, various appellants were able to acquire citizenship in spite of laws that were already in place. However, when the the number of citizenship-seeking Asians expanded, Congress refused them. Then, the Supreme Court assuredly ruled that Asian people were not qualified for citizenship. In the notable case, Ozawa v. U.S. the petitioner presented to the court that he had lived in the U.S for most of his life, spoke perfect English and was in no way accustom to the Japanese way of life or language. (Williams-Leon, 2017).
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court determined that Takao Ozawa was not qualified because “The intention of the naturalization acts from 1790 on was to confer the privilege of citizenship upon that class of persons whom the fathers knew as white, and to deny it to all who could not be so classified.” (Takao Ozawa v. U S, 1922).The Supreme Court also stated that the term “white” was to be defined as “Caucasian,” and that Ozawa was Japanese, and “is clearly of a race which is not Caucasian.” (Takao Ozawa v. U S, 1922).
In 1882, Congress brought the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was the very first law in the U.S that refused immigrants from a clear-cut ethnic group. The act forbid Chinese laborers from coming into the U.S at all. However, tourists, students, and merchants were admitted to stay for a brief amount of time. The Chinese people who already lived in America were not hurt by the Exclusion Act, they were also allowed to travel to and from China without trouble. But six years later, the Scott Act came into play and denied re-entry to those who had left the U.S. Chinese people who had lived in the United States for years were not allowed to come back home at the drop of a dime.
The most significant shift in the immigration policy, was in 1965 with the Immigration and Nationality Act. This amendment completely scrapped the current system and organized a new system. It entirely altered the composure of the Asian Pacific American communities, since Asians could gain most from this Act. Separated families could be brought back together after years of being apart and many skillful workers and their families were able to immigrate to the U.S. Discrimination regarding immigration legislation is only one case of prejudicial behavior against Asian Pacific Americans throughout history. While the concept of racial bias in laws concerning the lasting settlement of immigrants in the U.S has been terminated, the long lasting effects of these laws are broad and will be remembered particularly among those inside the Asian Pacific American communities.
1. Ancheta, Angelo. 2006. Race, Rights and the Asian American Experience. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press
2. Nakanishi, Don T. & James S. Lai. 2003. Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, & Policy. Lanham, MD: Littlefield and Rowman Publishers Inc.
3. Takao Ozawa v. U S, (1922), 104 [260 U.S. 178, 186] (U.S.S.C 1922). U.S. Constitution. Amend. XV.
4. Williams-Leon, T. (2017). Lecture Part I (The “Assimilation” Paradigm).
5. Williams-Leon, T. (2017). Lecture Part II: Internal Colonialism Paradigm.
6. Williams-Leon, T. (2017). Lecture: “Perpetual Foreigners” and Foreigner Racialization.
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