Asian Americans have been seen as “other” since the middle 1800s, and the discrimination against Asian Americans has been a long-standing problem in United States history. For the Chinese, they were brought over as a cheap labor force to build the Transcontinental Railroad. They were depicted in newspapers as having slanted eyes, and as being emasculate and deceitful. Chinese Americans continue to be subject to hate crimes and violence even today. The Japanese came to the United States as laborers and farmers. As soon as they arrived, anti-Japanese sentiments began in print including cartoons and articles targeting the feelings of their threat to the American way of life and values. In print media, they were characterized as manipulative animals and unable to assimilate. Asian Indians first immigrated to help build the railroads and their immigration patterns have always been politically motivated by the economic needs of the United States (Valentine). In print media, they were stereotyped as turban wearers and a threat to ‘American’ identity. They too, were faced with anti-Indian groups, negative images, cartoons, and articles. Today, Asian Americans’ immigration patterns continue to allow only specific segments of their population (the educated and professional) which further continues the discrimination in print media by perpetuating the model minority stereotype.
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What You Need to Know!
Bait and Switch: The Unfortunate Relationship between American Policymakers and the Asian American Immigrant Workforce
Discrimination against Asian Americans in the United States goes back to the first times they arrived in the country to the present day. Although Asian Americans come from a diverse range of countries and cultures, the response to them by the American dominant society shows similarities in the types of discrimination the Chinese Americans, Asian Indian Americans, and Japanese Americans faced in print media.
The Chinese Americans were one of the first Asian Americans to arrive in the United States. The Chinese were among the million people who came during the California Gold Rush in 1849. The Chinese immigrant was brought in and sought after by American businessmen and politicians (Takaki Strangers 22). The Chinese laborers faced discrimination in print media from the very beginning of their arrival to the United States. As early as 1879, Chinese laborers were called “coolie” and pitted against the American workers in newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle (Takaki Iron Cages 217). The San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Alta also claimed that Chinese laborers were a sexual threat to white women (SF Alta, SF Chronicle qtd in Takaki Iron Cages 217). They were shown in print media as being threats to the type of American values that policymakers and the public wanted to uphold (Takaki Iron Cages 216). It’s so ironic that policymakers encouraged American companies to seek labor from China and almost at the same time, they were writing editorials that rebuked the use of Chinese laborers in the West.
Asian Indians were also sought after to fill labor needs and immigrated to California at the turn of the 20th century. Asian Indians first arrived in Hawaii in the 1880s and then came to the states of Washington and California. Again, industrialists worked with politicians to encourage the immigration of another Asian immigrant group to fill gaps in labor in the United States. Asian Indians were similarly cast as a threat by the print media upon their arrival in the United States. The media made distinctions between different groups of Asian American laborers. They noted the physical differences between the Chinese and the Asian Indians. In Forum Magazine, Herman Scheffauer made comparisons between the Chinese (snaky pigtails), Asian Indians (turbaned head), and Japanese (bullet-heads) and concluded that although they had different physical characteristics they all still presented a threat to American republicanism (Takaki Strangers 296-297). These kinds of sentiments in editorials galvanized many white Americans’ perception of Asian Indians as a threat.
Japanese migration to the United States followed a similar timeline as the Chinese and Asian Indians. Some of the first waves of Japanese immigrants were approved in 1880 to allow Japanese men to work as contractors for agriculture work in Hawaii. (Takaki Strangers 42-43). Unlike the Chinese and Asian Indians, the Japanese worked under contracts which lasted for three years for $9 a day plus food, lodging, and medical care (Takaki Strangers 44). The Japanese also faced targeted discrimination in print media when they immigrated to the United States. Just as they had with the other groups, print media used differences in physical characteristics of the Japanese as a way of alienating them from the rest of the population. In the Sacramento Bee, the Japanese were characterized as manipulative animals, the article states that “As soon as a Jap[anese] can produce a lease, he is entitled to a wife. He sends a copy of his lease back home and gets a picture bride and they increase like rats’”(Sacramento Bee qtd in Takaki Strangers 204). Like the media did with other Asian groups, Review of Reviews proclaimed that the Japanese would not be able to assimilate because they are “distinct as a race” and did not want to become Americans. (Review of Reviews qtd in Takaki Strangers 207).
Unlike the immigration and integration of other white European immigrant groups, the Asians have had to engage in a push-pull relationship with the United States. Laborers from Asia including workers from China, India, and Japan were actively sought after and recruited to come to help build and expand the Western United States. However, they were simultaneously made to feel like the “other,” upon their arrival into the United States. Print media played a large role in perpetuating the myths of each of these Asian groups as being physically undesirable, a threat to the larger American society, and supported the notion that the Asian laborer was the reason for lower wages for white laborers. Societal values were influencing print during the beginning of the migration of Asian laborers and values expressed by print media influenced societal values. Laws and societal forces kept the Asian immigrant from integrating and assimilating into American society. Due to the fact that many Asian Americans were focused on their subgroups issue, such as The Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese Internment, there was very little unity between the subgroups to create a large pan-Asian alliance which prevented their advocacy from becoming a movement. The depiction of Asian American immigrants in the print media supported the discrimination of Asian immigrant laborers from their first time in the United States and media continues to influence the perception of Asian American immigrants when they return later in the century.
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Melting Pot for Some: Asian Americans Banding Together Against Discrimination
The United States government expanded immigration to people from Asia beginning in the 1960s to address restrictive immigration policies from earlier in the century. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was the first federal law seeking to ban immigration based on national origin, race, or ancestry (Das 134). This law helped to address the proliferation of racial stereotypes and targeting of Asian Americans from earlier in the century. This law also opened up immigration and Asian Americans began immigrating to the United States again. In the 2010 Census , there were 3.8 million Chinese Americans, 1.3 million Japanese Americans, and 2.8 million Asian Indian Americans living in the United States (Yax). In addition, the Immigration Act of 1965 changed the racial composition of immigration to the United States (Gjelten).
The Immigration Act eliminated national racial quotas, but the government was still selective about the people they allowed to immigrate. Asian immigrants who were approved tended to be skilled and educated leading to the most intelligent people in a country leaving to immigrate to the United States. This phenomenon became known as “brain drain” (Asian American History). In this comic from India Currents, you see the resentment felt by Asian Indians throughout the United States (Padmanabhan).
In this time period, there was a shift in print media from characterizing Asian Americans as cultural deviants (Yellow Peril) as depicted in the cartoon, “The Yellow Terror in all His Glory,” where a Chinese man is armed with guns, knives and fire is shown stepping over a white woman who has fainted (Yellow Terror) to one where there was economic resentment.
During the late 1970s, this shift in priorities in immigration saw a large increase of Asian immigrants who were not doctors, engineers, or other workers (Lobo). This created some socio-economic and educational diversity in the Asian immigrant pool (Wei 15) but the stereotypes held by the dominant American culture were hard to shift and morphed into physical attacks and murders. Immigration laws continued to support the idea of Asian Americans as the “model minority” and stereotypes of successful Asians Americans are still persistent in print media today.
Asian Americans in the workforce and in small towns throughout the United States were targeted and stereotyped. One of the stereotypes that emerged was the “model minority,” a term started by a sociologist named William Peterson. This stereotype viewed Asian American immigrants as fulfilling the American dream of going from “rags to riches” and pulling themselves from meager beginnings to success (Asian American History). Instead of this being seen as a positive, it was used to pit Asian Americans against other minorities in the United States and against the white, dominant group. Other types of stereotypes faced by Asian Americans were based on social and political factors related to the country they immigrated from. For example, buying Japanese products led to “Japan Bashing” (Asian American History). In New Jersey, the “Dotbusters,” an anti-Indian group were responsible for hate crimes and murders of Asian Indians (Dotbusters). Only as the numbers of all the different groups of Asian Americans grew, increases in the number of second generation immigrant children, and greater awareness of the extent of the physical violence against all Asian Americans did the notion of developing a pan-Asian coalition start becoming part of the dialogue to curb discrimination especially in print media.
Through organizations, Asian Americans are able to hold the government accountable for mistreatment and representation. As their numbers increased each group began to demand that their civil rights were protected. Most commonly, each ethnic group worked within their own subgroup to address racial inequality and justice. However, the small numbers often meant their issues were not heard or effective in creating change (Wei 1). Additionally, when larger groups of Asian Americans started to come together, they worked on different issues. Some were influenced by the civil rights and Black power movements and represented an end of the spectrum.
Asian Americans have also started to get involved in local, state, and federal government which has increased the power of political advocacy in their communities. In fact, this year, there are quite a few Asian American mayors including Allan Fung of Cranston, Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken, and Sadaf Jaffer of Montgomery Township (Mayor)(Bhattacharjee)(Kuruvilla). Allan Fung is the only Asian American mayor in the state of Rhode Island. In an interview with Brown University Political Review, Fung says, “I bring a different perspective…. I am representing a different set of the population who in the past never had that voice”(Wofford). While Congress has the highest numbers of Asian American representatives thus far, neither the House or Senate are representative of the total Asian American population. Even though at the state and federal level, there is less representation of Asian Americans, Andrew Yang did run as the first Asian American to compete for the Democratic presidential candidate this year. Throughout, he generated support amongst a wide range of Americans and empowered Asian Americans to believe in the power of coming together as a larger pan-Asian American community (Yam).
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Let’s Unite: The Move to Debunk Stereotypes and Discrimination by Increasing Asian American Political Agency
The next steps in fighting discrimination against Asian Americans needs to include more people reporting hate crimes, a continued shifts in federal immigration laws, an increase of funding for Asian American nonprofit and advocacy groups, increased representation in government, and a cultural shift of stereotypes in print and media.
An everyday person can help combat discrimination against Asian Americans by reporting hate crimes they see or experience to police, congress, and the media.
In order to debunk Asian American stereotypes and discrimination, we need to stress the importance of untangling the economic needs of the United States from the immigration of Asian countries. In the past, Asian immigrants who have been selected to immigrate have been the well-educated or skilled members of their country. If we only allow immigrants from Asia who are the most skilled or from certain occupations, it will continue to perpetuate the stereotype of the Asian American as a model minority which has pitted Asian Americans against other races. In order to address this, immigration from Asian countries needs to be open to all individuals from their country, not only educated or skilled workers.
Another way to debunk Asian American stereotypes in print media and lessen discrimination would be to increase donations to Asian nonprofits and organizations who work within specific communities and at the federal level to address a range of discrimination faced by Asian Americans including in print media. In the future, substantially more of foundation funding needs to go towards Asian American Organizations, including an increase of state and federal funding.
Finally, another important step to take is to increase the Asian American presence in government. Minimally, each of government should have at least 6% Asian American representation in order to mirror the 6% Asian population in the United States, and should include greater percentages in states and areas where Asian Americans constitute higher proportions of the population.
Solutions like reporting hate crimes, a change in federal law, an increase in funding, and proportional representation in government can help lessen discrimination against Asian Americans. If we do this, we may be able to lessen the discrimination that Asian Americans feel every day.
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Full Essay and Works Cited
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I hope you enjoyed learning about Asian American discrimination through print media and what we can do to lessen it. I am excited to hear from you! Did you resonate with anything here? Please feel free to comment your thoughts or feedback below!