Asian-American History: 10 Facts

Asian-American history doesn’t get taught much in schools (and probably even less so in Texas), but May is Asian-American Heritage Month (in case you didn’t already know). And Jenn Fang has compiled ten facts you may not know about Asian-American history. Here are the first five:

  1. The first Asians whose arrival in America was documented were Filipinos who escaped a Spanish galleon in 1763. They formed the first Asian-American settlement in U.S. history, in the swamps surrounding modern-day New Orleans.
  2. In the years between 1917 and 1965, Uncle Sam explicitly outlawed immigration to the U.S. of all Asian people. Immigration from China, for example, was banned as early as 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. It wasn’t until the Immigration Act of 1965 — which abolished national origins as a basis for immigration decisions — that nearly 50 years of race-based discrimination against Asian immigrants ended.
  3. Because of their race, Asians immigrants were denied the right to naturalize as U.S. citizens, until the 1943 Magnuson Act was passed. Consequently, for nearly a century of U.S. history, Asians were barred from owning land and testifying in court by laws that specifically targeted “aliens ineligible to citizenship.” Even after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, American-born children of Chinese immigrants were not regarded as American citizens until the landmark 1898 Supreme Court case, United States v. Wong Kim Ark, which established that the Fourteen Amendment also applied to people of Asian descent.
  4. Among the earliest Asian immigrants, virtually all ethnicities worked together as physical laborers, particularly on Hawaii’s sugar cane plantations. On these plantations, a unique hybrid language — pidgin — developed that contained elements of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and English. Today, pidgin is one of the official languages of Hawaii, a state that is itself 40% Asian.
  5. Despite the Alien Land Law, which specifically prevented Asians from owning their own land, Japanese farmers were highly successful in the West Coast where they put into practice their knowledge of cultivating nutrient-poor soil to yield profitable harvests. By the 1920s, Japanese farmers (working their own land, or land held by white landowners that they managed) were the chief agricultural producers of many West Coast crops. In fact, the success of Japanese farmers is often cited as one of the reasons white landowners in California lobbied to support Japanese-American internment following the declaration of World War II.

You can find the rest here. And here’s a fuller timeline of Asian-American history.

Thanks to Angry Asian Man for the heads-up.

I made mistakes as a kid too …

Cross-posted on Faith & Immigration.

Last week, the New York Times shone a light on the story of Qing Hong Wu, former juvenile delinquent, and Michael A. Corriero, retired federal judge. The gist of it is that almost fifteen years ago, Wu pled guilty to a string of muggings committed at age 15. At his hearing, Judge Corriero urged him to turn his life around.

Well, Wu took heed: he was released early on good behavior, worked his way up to become the vice-president at a national technology company by age 29. But in applying for citizenship, he ran into the merciless mess of our current immigration system, which offers no room for rehabilitation. He was locked up as a “criminal alien” in November, awaiting mandatory deportation to China, a country he left at age 5 when his family immigrated to America.

This episode—symptomatic of our broken immigration system—is not a reflection of the highest values we have as a country, where our magnanimity and generosity are matched by welcome and grace. The American dream says that if we work hard and pay our dues, we can and will ultimately make a better life for our families and ourselves. Qing Hong Wu worked hard, paid his dues, and turned his life around.

And now he awaits deportation for actions taken when he was a teenager. I made a lot of mistakes as a kid too—to a certain extent, isn’t that part of our prerogative as kids, and part of the learning and maturing process known as growing up?

But more personal—and more importantly—for me, this episode does not jive well with my faith and my beliefs as a Christian. The God I believe in—the God in whose image I am made, who calls me to be like him—forgave even before we recognized and acknowledged our need for forgiveness. Jesus, whom I call my Savior and Lord, forgave his killers even as he hung dying on the cross.

Here is someone who paid the penalty for his mistakes, did his time and worked to turn his life around—and is now being deported. As Judge Corriero said, “[This situation] really cries out for some kind of justice.” For me as a Christian, as an American and as an immigrant, this is just one story—one of many—that illustrates the desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform now.

UPDATE (3/7/10): Governor Paterson announced that he would pardon Wu, stopping deportation proceedings and allowing Wu to continue applying for U.S. citizenship. Governor Paterson said the case offered “the opportunity to make a forceful statement about the harsh inequity and rigidity of the immigration laws.” Thanks to everyone who participated in appealing on behalf of Qing Hong Wu!

[Qing Hong Wu with his fiancée. Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times]

Thanksgiving Immigration Update

On Immigration (courtesy of Immigration Impact):

  • Lou Dobbs, fresh off the heels of his CNN departure and perhaps looking to prime an important constituency, tries to soften his anti-immigrant tone to curry favor with the Hispanic population, and is confronted by Telemundo’s María Celeste.

    Honestly, I find it a little hard to believe that he’s “Latinos’ greatest friend,” when only a few years ago he falsely accused undocumented immigrants of bringing leprosy to the U.S.
  • Republican Senators try to frame the immigration debate their own way … by making stuff up–sorry, is that too harsh?