America's Racist History Towards Asian Americans

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I shared in an earlier post my experience growing up in America as a half-Asian, which can be read here, but it amazed me how many people cannot or do not believe America is racist towards Asians. However, the truth is, America has always been racist towards Asians. 

The problem is history in schools is often "whitewashed," meaning it is written by white men. Asian American history is rarely taught in school or if mentioned, it's only in passing, so I'm sharing below a few major events in America highlighting racism towards Asian Americans.

I highly encourage you to do your own research and educate yourself on the true history of America, and PBS is a great place to start as they offer several documentaries that you can watch for free. I highly recommend their Asian American series and The Chinese Exclusion Act documentary. 

The Chinese Exclusion Act

On May 6, 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. Building upon a previous act in 1875 that had banned only Chinese women. 

There were also two massacres, one in 1885 that killed at least 28 Chinese and one in 1887 that killed 34 Chinese miners.

In 1924, the act restricted all Asians. The act lasted for 60 years, ending in 1943 when China became a US ally in the war, but even then only 105 Chinese were allowed to enter per year.  It would not be until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that the Chinese were able to immigrate on a larger scale.

How did such an act come to play? Fear that the Chinese were taking jobs. Sound familiar? Yup, it's the same fear Americans have now with refugees coming across the Mexico and US border. It's also the same fear Hitler had with the Jews.

The United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind

In 1923, the Supreme Court decided Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian Sikh man who identified as Aryan, was ineligible for naturalized citizenship as he did not meet the "common sense" definition of white. The court ruled that being classified as white was due to linguistics and not at all due to skin color.

Another Indian man, Vaishno Das Bagai, had his citizenship revoked after this ruling and was forced to sell his property, including his store. He could no longer own a business and he could not return to India. He committed suicide in 1928.

In 1935, Bhagat Singh Thind would finally be granted citizenship due to the Nye-Lea Act passed by Congress, which made World War I veterans eligible for naturalization regardless of race.

Japanese Concentration Camps

(Often referred to as "Japanese internment camps," but that is a euphemism just as much as Hitler's "concentration camps" are a euphemism for his extermination camps.)

From 1942 - 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt placed an executive order that all people of Japanese descent (at least 1/16th Japanese) would be placed in concentration camps. 117,000 lives, including 17,000 children under age 10, were affected.

It was not just the United States. Canada and Mexico also relocated and removed those of Japanese descent.

Conditions in the camps were not great and those who attempted to leave were killed or arrested.

That's right, during the same war Hitler was isolating the Jews, North America was isolating the Japanese. Now the US did not go as far as to exterminate the Japanese, but what they did was still a huge human rights violation.

It would not be until 1988 that the United States Congress would issue a formal apology and pass the Civil Liberties Act awarding $20,000 each to over 80,000 Japanese Americans as reparations for their treatment in the 1940s.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, I can't cover all of history in one blog post, so I chose ones that I am more familiar with. (One event I did not mention but do recommend learning about is the Vietnam War as many US Veterans of Vietnamese descent faced discrimination among their fellow comrades.) However, hopefully, these historical events I shared bring to light how racism has always been present, spreading like a virus throughout our country. 

As George Santayana famously said: 

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

But tragically, 

"Those who understand history are condemned to watch other idiots repeat it." 

- Peter Lamborn Wilson