18 March 2021   Leave a comment

The hostility against Asians and Asian-Americans in the US has been growing since China was identified as the source of the coronavirus early in 2020, hostility which has been deliberately stoked by officials in the US government and rampant speculation in social media. It would be a mistake, however, to think that such sentiments only began in 2020. Anti-Asian sentiments have been almost constant in the history of the United States.

Asian immigration on a large scale into the US began in the 19th century and Asians and Asian-Americans constitute one of the largest constituencies in the country:

“As of 2019, there were 14.1 million immigrants from Asia residing in the United States, representing a 29-fold increase from 1960. Today, people born on the continent of Asia account for 31 percent of the 44.9 million immigrants in the United States. This number refers to national origin, not race or ethnicity; while most immigrants from Asian countries identify as Asian, others describe themselves as White or as members of other racial groups.

“Asia is the second-largest region of birth for U.S. immigrants, after the Americas, and since 2013 India and China have been the leading origin countries, displacing Mexico. Looking forward, arrivals from Asia are projected to comprise a greater share of all immigrants, becoming the largest foreign-born group by 2055, according to Pew Research Center estimates.”

Asian immigrants into the US started largely because of the growth of the Pacific economies in the US and the immigration focused in the urban areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles. That growth inspired anti-Asian feelings as many in the US feared the effects of Asian immigration on employment. Those feelings erupted into violence fairly soon after the arrival of the immigrants:

“With the first wave of East Asian immigration to the United States in the 1850s, ‘there was discrimination and violence … right away,’ Chris Kwok, a board member of the Asian American Bar Association of New York, told TODAY. ‘Since the Chinese were here first in large numbers, that set the framework for the political and social treatments of almost all other Asian immigrants.’

“Many Chinese people who emigrated to the western U.S. during the gold rush were ‘driven out of town’ out of fear they were driving down wages, he added. ‘They didn’t want to accept them as American.’

“During this period, some 300 Chinese settlements were displaced, Jeung told TODAY. In 1906, a fishing village of 200 people outside Monterey, California, where his family lived at the time, was burned down, he said.

“Kwok added that there were ‘many, many recorded lynchings and killings, but obviously not on the same scale as Native Americans and African Americans.’

“In the 1871 Chinese massacre, rioters killed 10% of the Chinese population in Los Angeles, about 18 people, according to the L.A. Public Library. Eight people were convicted of manslaughter, but the convictions were overturned and no one was retried. In 1885, white mobs in Rock Springs, Wyoming, murdered 28 Chinese coal miners, wounded 15 more and burnt down the city’s Chinatown, according to the state’s historical society.”

“An 1854 California Supreme Court Case called the People v. Hall also set a dangerous precedent by ruling that an Asian person couldn’t testify against a white person in a criminal proceeding.

“‘That understanding that there would be no legal repercussions for violence against Chinese people just changed … the way that white people in America interacted with Chinese,’ Beth Lew-Williams, history professor at Princeton University and author of ‘The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America,’ told TODAY. ‘They were seen as open to attack.'”

In 1882 the US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which was the first piece of legislation regulating immigration into the US.

” This act provided an absolute 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration. For the first time, Federal law proscribed entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangered the good order of certain localities.

“The Chinese Exclusion Act required the few nonlaborers who sought entry to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate. But this group found it increasingly difficult to prove that they were not laborers because the 1882 act defined excludables as “skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining.” Thus very few Chinese could enter the country under the 1882 law.

“The 1882 exclusion act also placed new requirements on Chinese who had already entered the country. If they left the United States, they had to obtain certifications to re-enter. Congress, moreover, refused State and Federal courts the right to grant citizenship to Chinese resident aliens, although these courts could still deport them.

“When the exclusion act expired in 1892, Congress extended it for 10 years in the form of the Geary Act. This extension, made permanent in 1902, added restrictions by requiring each Chinese resident to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Without a certificate, she or he faced deportation.

“The Geary Act regulated Chinese immigration until the 1920s.”

Early in this period, sensationalist newspapers in the US hyped up what was termed the “Yellow Peril” which held that Asian culture was incompatible with US culture. The anti-immigrant sentiment continued to grow in the US and in 1924 the US Congress passed the National Origins Act which severely limited immigration into the US:

“The National Origins Act specified that quotas be based on nationalities in proportion to the original nationality of the White population of the United States in 1920. Non-European peoples residing in the country were omitted from the population universe governing the quotas, including (a) all Blacks and mulattoes; (b) residents of groups deemed ineligible for citizenship, including Chinese, Japanese, and South Asians; and (c) populations of Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico, and Alaska. In effect, the National Origins System effectively ignored and indeed excluded all non-White, non-European peoples from the future vision of the United States.”

Anti-Asian immigration also spiked in one of the more shameful episodes of American history: the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. One can more fully appreciate how egregious this act was by noting that Germans and German-Americans were not incarcerated during the war, even though their numbers were substantially larger than those of Japanese and Japanese-Americans.

So the current wave of anti-Asian sentiment, while significantly more intense than it has been in recent years, is not a new phenomenon. And it continues to present a serious challenge to those Americans who do not subscribe to the ideology of America as a white, Christian nation. The sentiment also poses a problem for the Biden Administration as it continues to formulate a policy toward China, North and South Korea, Japan, and the countries of South and Southeast Asia. Domestic policy is always part of foreign policy.

Posted March 18, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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