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Asian American Oppression: Has it Gone Away?

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Asian American Oppression

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, there has been an influx of aggressive attacks against Asian-Americans. In light of the Chinese-originating Covid-19 pandemic, it seems that Asians have become the scapegoat.

You would think that in the modern day, public aggression against any race wouldn’t exist anymore. But racism, especially in America, has been deeply ingrained into its roots, for Asian-Americans and other racial minorities alike.

Today, I will be focusing on Asian-American oppression; however, in no way does this disqualify the inexcusable and often more extreme acts of oppression against other minorities, such as African-Americans and people of Middle Eastern descent. I just hope that with knowledge of history, we can be better equipped to fight off any acts of racial discrimination and social inequality in the present and the future.

From the Gold Rush to Coronavirus, Asian American oppression isn't new, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.


The Origins of Asian Oppression: The Gold Rush and Yellow Peril

When the Gold Rush in California was underway in 1848, many Americans moved from the cities in the East in hopes of striking it rich in the West. But the gold didn’t just attract Americans; there was also an influx of people from the Chinese mainland. So many people came over that at one point, Chinese people made up a third of all of California’s population. And naturally, “native” Americans weren’t pleased about this new race of people competing against them for wealth.

Thus, Yellow Peril in the United States was born, the idea that the “yellow man”--Eastern Asians--are primitive and uncivilized, and thus should be treated at a lesser status than the “white man”. While Yellow Peril existed for generations beforehand, this massive immigration was the main catalyst for its emergence in the states. These beliefs about the newcomers, as well as the implicit xenophobia against them, led Asian Americans to be cast into second-class status.

Railroads and Exclusion Acts

As a result of the Gold Rush, American politicians wanted to connect the Eastern and Western parts of the country together via a railroad. With the passing of the Transcontinental Railroad in Congress in the mid 1850s, America began using the influx of the newcomers as a means for cheap labor. These new jobs, among other factors, were the main reason for more immigration from China to the US.

Many Americans, whose families had been in the US for generations, were not pleased with these new foreigners. As tensions began to rise between these two groups about fears of Chinese people taking American jobs (a fear that had no evidence backing it), California attempted to remove these newcomers from their land. At last, with the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese were effectively banned from entering/moving to the United States.

Japanese and Koreans citizens faced similar discriminative actions. With the Gentlemen’s Agreement, the Japanese government blocked many of its citizens from immigrating to the US on the condition that current Japanese-American citizens wouldn’t experience school segregation. In the early 1900s, many Korean immigrants escaped to American-territory Hawaii, only to face extreme racial alienation from the rest of the island. Eventually, with the passing of the Immigration Act in 1924, a severe quote placed on all American immigrants limited the amount of Asians in the United States to virtually nothing.

Politically, Asian Americans became outsiders in the country, and it wouldn’t be until the lifting of the Exclusion Act in 1943 that new Asian immigrants would even be able to set foot in the land of the free again.

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More On: The Chinese Exclusion Act

The Civil Rights Movement, Protests, and Asian Rights

With the reentering of Asian-Americans into the United States, they faced a lot of inequality in both the political and cultural sphere.

The Civil Rights Movement, while most famously known for the social and political equality of African Americans in the United States, was also a massive player in the fight for Asian American rights as well.

This sentiment to social injustice can be seen in the protests and demonstrations by Asian-Americans between 1960-1980. Many Asian American activists, inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, took to the streets as a way to fight against their poor treatment as second class-citizens in America, much like their African American peers. In the 1980s, they also fought against Anti-Asian sentiment in the US (Vincent Chin was the catalyst for the outrage. He was an Asian man beaten to death after he was mistaken as Japanese, because there were tensions at the time between Japan and US manufacturers. The men who committed the crime received a 3000 dollar fine and no jail time.)

These social outcries eventually impacted Asian Americans political status in society. In 1965, right after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson also signed a bill, the Naturalization Acts, that allowed for the removal of quotas that limited the amount of Chinese and Asian migration in the states. With Brown vs The Board of Education, segregation in schools was outlawed. And, over time, Asian Americans have become more and more widely accepted by the society around them as they have assimilated into modern day America. American culture now recognizes Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Fillipino, etc. culture as a set of unique ways of life, as opposed to the exclusive idea of a singular Pan-Asian community.

Vincent Chan: The Catalyst to Outrage


Racism Today: Does it Still Exist for Asian-Americans?

Shockingly, yet somewhat unsurprisingly: yes.

Of course, the situation for Asian-Americans has improved dramatically. They can now legally participate in interracial marriage, are an active part of the United States workforce, and experience the same unalienable rights of any other citizen.

However, social discrimination of Asian-Americans is far from over. The Covid-19 pandemic may be the most excellent example of the anti-Asian sentiment still left in America, as the China-originating virus has led to numerous instances of physical and verbal harassment of Asians by their fellow citizens. Some have been told to “go back to their country”, and others even suffering brutal beatdowns and destruction of property because of their Asian descent, even if they were not originally Chinese.

This anti-Asian sentiment is the result of the deep-rooted xenophobia in American society, one that has not yet wholly extinguished. Some people still may have unattended implicit biases towards Asians that can flare up in tense environmental situations, such as the Covid-19 crisis.

So while the massive progress for Asian-Americans cannot be overlooked, this shift towards social and political equality for Asians, people of color, and other minorities alike takes energy, time, and leadership. Thus, it is in all these people’s best interest, whether they are Asian, African-American, Hispanic, or any other minority group in the US to band together and fight for this societal equality hand in hand.

Because, as history has shown us, when people band together for the same universal cause, eventually those around them will begin to listen and enact permanent and positive change.

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