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Share this. Full Access. Subscribe Now. Most read Articles Book reviews. New APS Book. Academy of Political Science The Academy of Political Science, promotes objective, scholarly analyses of political, social, and economic issues. The intent of this chapter is to provide a basic historical context to understand the challenges involved in organizing among Asian immigrants and within Asian ethnic communities in the United States; it is not a thorough social history; rather it highlights the complexities and challenges that confronted Asian immigrants in the midst of dramatic international, homeland, and domestic upheavals between the s and s.

This chapter seeks to answer the following questions: What were the challenges confronting different Asian ethnic groups upon their arrival to the U.

The first section explores the pre—World War II period when immigrants from diverse nations arrived in the United States and were immediately marginalized, isolated, and forced into low wage jobs. Each of the immigrant groups faced similar forms of subjugation as workers and life without the rights of citizenship to fully participate in society.

At times, the dominant majority lumped together these different groups, and at other times, they singled out an Asian ethnicity. Having little in common in terms of language, culture, and homeland politics, the first waves of immigrants sought to distinguish themselves from one another. Each of the Asian immigrant groups organized to resist the attacks they confronted at the time and place of arrival.

Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino workers successfully organized around specific campaigns to win better 15 16 Chapter Two working conditions with other workers.

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Each group also resisted racial attacks directed at them by groups and governmental bodies. In the nineteenth century, Chinese and later Japanese workers resisted on their own. In the twentieth century, they continued to resist efforts to exploit their labor, oftentimes in union with workers from other races, such as when Japanese and Mexican beet workers in Oxnard in banded together to win better working conditions and for unionization.

Chinese immigrants developed sophisticated legal challenges to the enforcement of exclusionary immigration laws and procedures. A lobbyist and attorneys were hired by Chinese district association leaders to oppose these and other discriminatory laws of the era.

Chinese in Shanghai launched a boycott of American goods to protest the U. They demanded reforms from United States immigration officials for persons who were exempt from the anti-Chinese labor exclusion laws. Chinese Americans in the United States actively supported the boycott and raised funds to send to boycott leaders in China.

Group solidarity, networking, collective resources and organizations with an ideology that challenged the status quo were very limited. They mobilized different segments of their community at different times.


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The legacies of these collective acts of resistance, nevertheless, while oftentimes defensive in nature, spontaneous, and divorced from longer range goals, were the well springs from which a new generation of activists would build a new pan-Asian social movement in the s. During this era of large scale Asian labor migration, Asian workers were paid significantly less than and positioned against their White counterparts to depress wages for both groups. There were also periodic outbreaks of racial hostilities directed at Asian immigrants. Between and , numerous attacks against Chinese, including the razing of several ethnic enclaves and work camps, occurred in the western states.

Japanese immigrants were also driven out of various locations in the West. In , Whites forced Japanese cannery workers in Blaine, Washington, from their jobs so that the former could replace them. A mob drove scores of Asian Indian farm workers out of their camp and burned it down outside of Chico, California. Koreans, although small in number, were also victimized. In one incident in Riverside County in California, several hundred unemployed White workers terrorized and forced out fifteen Korean fruit pickers at a work site. Filipino farm laborers were also subjected to harsh racialized violence in the late s and s.

There was opposition and hostility to the influx of a racial group with different customs, languages, and religions. The U. Antimiscegenation laws in the West, first used to ban interracial sex and marriage between Blacks and Whites, were extended to Asians. Irish American immigrants were at the forefront of antiAsian campaigns in the nineteenth century. Among these obstacles were language and cultural distinctions, homeland politics, and East Asian regional conflicts. Internationally, the roles of Asian nations and their leaders and rulers changed dramatically.

In this context, the focus of each of the Asian immigrant groups centered on survival, homeland politics, and community building within their respective ethnic communities. Each of the major immigrant groups viewed each other with suspicion and they sought to distinguish themselves from each other at critical junctures. While Asians were lumped together for purposes of exclusion and racist treatment, they often sought to disidentify amongst themselves. One Japanese immigrant newspaper editor in the early twentieth century condoned Chinese exclusion and presented Japanese as equal to White Americans.

Subsequently, additional anti-Japanese actions by state and federal governments restricted immigrants from owning land and culminated in the passage of the Immigration Act. This act prohibited entry of immigrants who were ineligible for citizenship and established quotas for admission based on the census, when only a handful of Japanese resided in the U. Furthermore, Japanese immigrants in the United States were also disqualified from becoming naturalized U.

This created differences in immigration status and political influence for a short period. Filipinos, however, were effectively excluded in by the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which granted autonomy to the Philippines but sanctioned the U. One example of the internal divisions that arose among Asian immigrants occurred in Stockton, California. Japanese immigrants had by established a minor presence as small business owners in places such as Stockton. That year, significant tensions arose between Filipinos and Japanese businesses catering to them over an incident concerning a potential marriage between an American-born Japanese woman and a Filipino laborer.

Leaders of the Japanese community viewed the relationship as unacceptable. They applied public and private pressure to end it, which sparked a community boycott by Filipino laborers.

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Issei first generation leaders were responding to efforts to group all Asians together, and their own prejudices derived from Imperial Japan. Filipinos for their part sought to establish an independent presence and form their own local businesses. In response to the boycott, Japanese business leaders began to recruit more Mexican laborers into the area to replace the Filipino workers on their farms. In addition to the desire to maintain distinct identities, regional conflicts among Asian nations limited cooperative efforts in this country among Asian 20 Chapter Two Americans. Koreans in the United States supported the Korean independence movement, providing financial aid and military training centers to resist Japanese aggression.

Many students and political activists were active in setting up support for resistance to Japanese aggression in Korea and China. The labor movement was multi-racial and included large numbers of African American workers in the North and Asian agricultural workers in the fields out West. In urban centers, Chinese workers and other left-wing elements built alliances with the labor and political organizations. At this juncture in Asian grassroots organizing, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigrant workers were often the core of incipient efforts in Asian communities and part of broad-based left-wing organizing of the labor movement.

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Community institution building by the first generation of Asian immigrants preceded the mass organizing efforts of the s. While these reflected acts of contentious politics, they were not part of a broad social movement among Asian immigrants. Efforts instead focused on building community institutions and economic and political survival in a hostile nation.

The ethnic Asian communities also used community-based religious centers for protection, economic survival, and for maintaining community and political unity. Background to the Formation of the AAM 21 By necessity some of the most significant organizing activities to achieve equality took place outside of the electoral theater. Asian immigrants could not naturalize; only those Asian Americans native to the United States held citizenship. Even the small numbers of Asians eligible to vote were mostly young and just becoming engaged in political activities.

Immigrant workers, who sought to achieve better working conditions, carried out much of the Asian organizing efforts.

Community, Vision, and Power

They joined radical and communistled trade unions that had by the s begun to accept Chinese, Filipino, and other Asian workers into their ranks. Chinese workers in urban areas joined labor unions and helped lead strikes for higher wages. In New York City, laundry owners and workers founded the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance in and worked closely with the labor movement.

Filipinos, the primary contingent labor force following the exclusion of all Asians, led several militant organizing efforts in the agricultural industry, including California farm workers and Alaska cannery workers.

Community, Vision, and Power

In addition to mutual aid associations and labor organizing, Asian Americans constructed civil rights groups to fight for citizenship rights. Secondgeneration community members led these efforts. Activists formed the Chinese American Citizens Alliance in These organizations promoted their respective communities as loyal Americans.

Second-generation Japanese Americans became active in California politics, and both the Democratic and Republican political parties, seeking to expand their base of support, courted them. Groups such as the Nisei Voters League, the Japanese American branch of the Republican Party, and the Young Democratic Club formed in California and began to participate in state level party politics in They organized primarily along ethnic lines in the Asian communities, in agriculture, and in urban workplaces where Asians worked.

There were also numerous other strikes and organizing efforts in the fields involving Japanese, Korean, and East Indian participants. The lack of pan-Asian cooperation became apparent with the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and Japan in The period before the war thus laid the groundwork for future activism through comparable grievances that were similar albeit distinctive for all Asian groups—immigration restrictions, circumscribed socioeconomic mobility, denial of legal and political rights, cultural vilification, and physical violence.

Their continual efforts to resist reached their fullest expression with the expansion of communist and other radical organizing that began with the late s depression era. Though new groups such as the Chinese Hand Laundry Association in New York City formed the first democratic mass organizations in the community,22 Asian political mobilization remained far short of generating a sustained movement directed at changing the conditions of Asians in America. This history, however, of grievances, the creation of the first cohorts of activists and organizers, the efforts at coalition building as part of larger social movement, and broadening of the community infrastructure would survive to contribute to the later emergence of the AAM.