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Photo: Please Don't sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay; cropped.

Statement on Anti-Asian Violence

The UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration condemns the latest wave of racist violence in this country, this time directed at Asian communities, and specifically the murder of six Asian workers in Georgia. We express our solidarity with Asian American students and faculty at UCLA and with all Asian Americans living in this country. We condemn the insults that have been hurled by politicians, adding insult to grievous injury, and we call for an end to the violence in both words and deeds.

As scholars of immigration, we note that this wave of violence is the latest manifestation of a sad and almost 200-year history of violence against Asian Americans and of racist opposition to immigration from Asia. Our own city of Los Angeles was the site of one of the most terrible such outbursts: in an 1871 riot, residents of the then small city of barely 6,000 persons, lynched 18 Chinese immigrants.

Ten years later, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which, in imposing very severe limitations on Chinese immigration, inaugurated the long regime of immigration restriction, which has lasted to this day. In the early 20th century, Chinese exclusion was followed by an agreement between the United States and Japan to limit emigration from Japan. In 1924, the Johnson-Reed Act made immigration from East and South Asia all but impossible, imposing restrictions that were not fully lifted until the Hart-Celler Act of 1965.

Opposition to Asian immigration was coupled with opposition to the acquisition of U.S. citizenship by Asian immigrants. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress amended naturalization laws, which until then had restricted naturalization to white immigrants. But when naturalization rights were extended to Black immigrants, the Reconstruction Congress deliberately chose to withhold naturalization from Asian-born immigrants. Some Asian immigrants were nonetheless able to obtain U.S. citizenship, but two important Supreme Court decisions (Ozawa v United States, 1922 and Thind v United States, 1923) unfortunately affirmed that immigrants from East and South Asia were ineligible to naturalize on account of their race.

Exclusion from citizenship in turn set the grounds for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, as the entire first-generation population lacked citizenship and was thus uniquely vulnerable. Internment represents one of the most deplorable moments in American history. As internment occurred in the context of international tension between the United States and another country, we also see a disturbing parallel to today’s situation, and we sound a warning: Never again.

There has been much discussion as to whether the Georgia killings were motivated by racism or sexism. We reject this binary, noting the long history of racialized and gendered stereotypes about Asians and Asian Americans. These were reinforced by policies such as the Page Act of 1875, which was predicated on the idea that Chinese women were prostitutes, and are magnified by xenophobia in the context of globalized capitalism that propels many Asian women into service work.

Layered on this history, the racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric that was promoted over the last six years by the former resident of the White House was profoundly disturbing, as were his anti-immigrant policies. We again express outrage over interlinked racist, misogynistic and xenophobic violence and discourse. We hope that legislation being prepared by the House of Representatives to provide a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers” as well as undocumented farmworkers will help us all at last embrace an understanding of a thoroughly inclusive “we” that is fully accepting of immigrants and immigration and is ready to provide refuge to people seeking protection from around the world.

Image by Please Don't sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay; cropped.

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Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2021

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