Brandeis Asian American Task Force posted timeline in library

November 29, 2018

In most cases, Asian American history is touched upon in high school history classes as a small unit or topic to educate students on the timeline in which Asian Americans immigrated to the United States. However, many people are, in fact, unaware of the racism and prejudice that Asian Americans dealt with during their immigration. Furthermore, most individuals are uninformed of the difficulties that the Pacific Islands, such as Hawaii, faced as larger nations attempted to colonize them.

It is worth taking the time to understand and empathize with the hardships that these groups have faced. The Brandeis Asian American Task Force (BAATF) has created a timeline titled “Hidden Histories: Asian America & The Pacific Islands” which illustrates many of the difficulties that Asian Americans and individuals in the Pacific Islands have been confronted with. It is worth taking a look at this timeline to educate oneself on the challenges that individuals have undergone.

The timeline begins with a description of “Coolies,” Asian workers who took over jobs that were previously occupied by slaves until the abolishment of slavery. Yet these workers were still treated as slaves. Often times, they were kidnapped or ostracized in public. Furthermore, many workers were blamed for murders, which led to the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the biggest massacre in the history of the United States in which seventeen Chinese men were killed.

The racism and prejudice reached a climax with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, in which Chinese immigrants were not allowed to immigrate to the United States unless they were educated. A quote is specifically included in which Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan states, “[They are] a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country, I allude to the Chinese race.” Harlan simply states that Chinese individuals are “different” from other Americans, yet he provides no reason why.

In addition, the United States was founded by immigrants who came from Europe and colonized land that was not their own, therefore Harlan was completely illogical in excluding Chinese immigrants from the United States because this country was founded by immigrants. Exclusion of specific immigrants continued with the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, in which Japanese immigration was ended. In 1924, then President Calvin Coolidge created immigration quotas in an attempt to preserve “whiteness” in the United States. Racism and prejudice continued in 1942, during WWII, when Japanese, German and Italian internment camps were created.

However, in the pivotal year of 1965, the Immigration Act abolished the immigration quotas created in 1924, allowing Asian American families to be reunited. The Voting Rights Act also allowed Asian Americans to have a say in who represented them. The passage of these two acts led to future success in fighting for the representation of Asian Americans. In 1968, Yuji Ichioka created the term “Asian American” in hopes of uniting people. In the late 1960s to early ’70s, the Asian American Studies Movement began, as more individuals wanted to educate themselves and others on the significance of Asian American studies. In 1990, the first Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) heritage month was created, and in 2012, Asians became the largest immigrant group in the U.S.

Along the topic of Indian-American immigration, the timeline contains small events such as Bhikaji Balsara becoming the first Indian-American to gain citizenship in 1909 due to the fact that the Circuit Courts of Appeals recognized Parsis as part of the white race. In 1936, Bhagat Singh Thind was given citizenship and then denied it based on differing definitions of whether Indians were considered white. He was eventually granted citizenship in New York. This example highlights how the definition of “white” is subjective. In 1956, Dalip Singh Saund became the first Asian American and follower of a non-Abrahamic religion to be elected to Congress.

In the case of the Pacific Islands, the timeline contains small descriptions of the annexations of Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines. Hawaii and Guam were annexed in 1898 while the Philippines was annexed in 1902. In 1993, the United States government finally apologized for the annexation of Hawaii. It took more than 90 years for the United States to recognize their faults, highlighting how the United States is still attempting to make amends for the prejudice created against marginalized groups.

Taking a look at this timeline in one’s spare time allows us to become more mindful of the challenges that individuals in the past faced. It was only in 2016, when, thanks to the efforts of BAATF, “The Asian American Experience,” taught by Patrick Chung (Ph.D., Brown University) became the first AAPI class at Brandeis. According to the timeline, BAATF President Max Tang wrote, “I hoped that this class would be a place where students (Asian-American students especially) can have a space to come learn about our histories, bounce ideas off each other, share our experiences. The end goal, for me, is to have the knowledge and conversations we need to form our own opinions about who we are and what we want as AAPIs and to share that with non-AAPI students.”

This timeline displays how our ancestors paved the way for the beautiful life that we currently live, and we should therefore never take for granted our ability to be represented, have freedom of speech and pursue what makes us happy.

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