The ugly truth about colonization and immigration

By Katelyn Skye Bennett and Joanna Chin | Editor-in-chief and Staff Writer, respectively

As we welcome Asian American Heritage Month this May, Intersected Project is reflecting upon the history of AAPI folks in and before the establishment of the U.S. (Shoutout to our Pacific Islander friends!)

The recent movement to #StopAsianHate and our series “The Preferably Unheard” have given voice to some of the injustices AAPI folks face. Today we’ll give a brief historical overview of some of the ways certain Asian communities have been impacted and address current issues we can be proactive about engaging, including immigration. 

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Examples from the Past

While in official government discourse the “e” word is rarely used, the U.S. has historically wielded the practices of an empire to annex non-Western territories, called colonies through 1914, using military intervention and corporate exploitation. 

The case of Hawai’i provides one example as the U.S. government supported American sugar planters in their successful efforts to overthrow the Hawai’ian monarchy in order to extend their economic influence over the land and access its natural resources.  

This approach was reproduced in varying degrees with other Polynesian and Pacific Islander territories such as Samoa, the Philippines, and Guam, though several territories were able to later secure self-governance in later years. Nevertheless, to this day these lands are shaped by a history of U.S. intervention as well as the ever-increasing rise of tourism-based industries that relegate Indigenous peoples to marginalized status in their own homeland and threaten local ecosystems.  

China

  • 1882 – The Chinese Exclusion Act played a major role in restricting immigration for Chinese peoples when American citizens became dismayed at the increasing numbers of Chinese migrant workers, many of whom helped build the western half of the colonized country

  • 1980s and 90s – The U.S. saw a wave of migrants from China’s Fuzhou province requesting asylum, primarily with this claim, though many lost their lives at sea before having the chance to request asylum. 

  • 2010s – For decades, the courts have gone back and forth on whether the one-child policy is grounds for asylum, rejecting many applicants along the way. For example, the Seventh Circuit ruled in 2012 that opposing China’s one-child policy does not count as a political nexus for asylum, potentially putting Chinese lives in danger of persecution. While not all immigration courts are aligned on this, human lives have been lost during the debate.

Japan

  • 1924 – The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the National Origins Act or Johnson-Reed Act, excluded nearly everyone who was not from Northeast Europe, specifically impacting Asians. Even Japanese people, who had not previously been excluded, were now violated in this way. 

  • 1942-45Forced relocation and internment camps also operated as forms of ethnically motivated persecution against Japanese people already in the U.S. during World War II, even toward those who were American citizens. People of Japanese descent in other North and Central American countries were also forcibly relocated into prison camps.

These examples not only represent our past, but they are also our present as the effects of intergenerational trauma, xenophobia, and exclusion continue to shape the lived experiences as well as the treatment of AAPI communities in the U.S.

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While Asians as a broad racial group are perceived by mainstream American culture as economically successful and mobile, the inequities within this racial grouping are massive. For instance, Hmong Americans have higher poverty rates than other Asians and than the mean of all Americans!

Vietnamese Americans, whose immigration stories span only the past five decades, also face high poverty rates, have low English levels, and often lack health insurance.

Current Issues: Religion and Nationality

Anti-Asian sentiments continue today in the form of immigration policy.

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Thousands of Rohingya, a stateless people from Myanmar (Burma) that is under genocide, have been resettled and found a home in the United States in recent years.

Other Asian refugees have migrated from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Yet the immigration policies in place to restrict the amount of refugees and limit transitional assistance once resettled have caused both loss of life and loss of opportunity, as have increased deportations of Asians in America. 

The previous Muslim ban played a part in this as well, keeping families apart and causing tens of thousands of refugees — some who already had their flights booked through the International Organization for Migration — to remain in danger.

Many Sikhs and Muslims, often Asian immigrants or children of immigrants, face religious discrimination once here in this country. That discrimination can affect employment and access to safe places of worship in some parts of the country, among other things.

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Helping or Harming?

Lumping all Asians together or considering them as “basically white” silences the traumas that many communities face and the microaggressions that continue on a regular basis, despite certain communities being economically successful.

If you’re an equity seeker who’s not AAPI, take the time to educate yourself on the rich history of Asians in America. This article is just the start. 

Additionally, when considering hate crimes and other forms of violence, do the heavy lifting of checking up on the news without relying on your Asian friends who may already feel overwhelmed or even fearful. Ask how you can support them rather than how they can teach you. 

Readers can also access mental health resources, both for use and for advocacy.

Photo by ShotPot on Pexels.com

Coming Up Next

As we expand to YouTube and other platforms (our socials are launching soon!), we will move to an every other week schedule for our publication

In a couple weeks, we’ll share Part 3 of “The Preferably Unheard” series, where we interview a handful of Asian Americans from different ethnic backgrounds and generations and introduce celebration into the mix. We’ll round out Asian American Heritage Month by interviewing a couple Rohingya Chicagoans.

To stay involved, subscribe below!

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