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Asian American Studies: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Jul 3rd, 2022

At the beginning of the 20th century, American society was preoccupied with the development of cultural cohesion across the state, thus undermining the cultural peculiarities existing among US citizens. As a result, a policy of the so-called “alien citizenship” was introduced, where the nonwhite citizens of the US were excluded from the population quota (Ngai 26). According to this decision, all nonwhite residents who were born in the state were not considered as full-scale citizens due to their immigrant ancestry and potential negative influence on the cultural identification within the country.

In the mid-century, the commence of WWII initiated various sociological changes in terms of the perception of immigrants. The vast majority of nonwhite American residents were enlisted in the army, and their overall number was significantly higher than that of white citizens. Prior to the war, various nations were excluded from the population as a threat to cultural integrity. However, in the midst of WWII, Chinese, Filipinos, and Mexican residents were promised legitimate US citizenship due to the state’s urge to find military alliance. For example, when speaking of the Chinese alien population in the US, local authorities were willing to nullify the legislation on the immigration ban by introducing quotas for immigration. The same approach was applied to the Filipinos, but the quotas were relatively smaller. Moreover, when speaking of military involvement, nonwhite American residents were motivated to join the US army in order to become full-scale citizens. As a result, only a part of the promise was brought into life, as some war veterans were eventually deprived of the supposed benefits.

Another significant aspect of the Asian and Mexican Americans in the mid-century was the labor policy applied to the residents. During the time, Filipino and Mexican workers played an extraordinary role in the development of US agriculture across the West Coast. Although such a contribution to the state development was perceived beneficial for the economy, the approach itself was rather discriminative in terms of payment and perception of the labor force. Moreover, associating this process with the Chinese immigration to California in the 19th century, local authorities and white residents were preoccupied with the fact the immigrants constituted the majority of the workforce. Hence, the overall process of cultural integration after WWII rapidly experienced decay due to the governmental and social worries concerning immigrant descent in the US.

Considering the aforementioned information, it may be noted that the overall patterns of attitude towards various ethnic groups in the US have always been controversial due to their dependence on precedents. An example of such behavior would be the modern perception of Asian Americans after the COVID-19 outbreak. While presenting itself as a cosmopolitan state, the US remains implicitly prejudiced against nonwhite social groups within the state. Another example would be the modern attitude towards immigration into the state, claiming the threat to the state integrity and economy. All these instances lead to an implication that the state itself remains extremely fragile as far as cosmopolitism is concerned.

According to Matthew Frye Jacobson, the end of WWII resulted in the reevaluation of the notion of race and its role. That is, with the introduction of ethnic groups as social groups differing in cultural affiliation, the race had become somehow marginalized from the process of cultural assimilation and overall acceptance (Lecture 2, February 2nd). When claiming that the concept of ethnicity had transformed the perception of race, Jacobson meant that the notion of the race had eventually become perceived as something that could not be assimilated and, thus, accepted properly within society. Moreover, while associating ethnicity with whiteness, white peoples became excluded from the overall paradigm of race. As a result, after the introduction of ethnicity, the race became a deviant concept indicating the juxtaposition of Black and White.

Primarily, it is necessary to indicate the overall perception of Asian Americans in terms of the proposed paradigm. It is placed somewhere outside, as there is no indication of Asian population both in the binary opposition of race (blackness) and ethnicity (whiteness) (Lecture 2, February 2nd). Thus, such transformation has a significant impact on the overall formation of Asian Americans and their perception within the state.

The overall formational of racial identity is highly dependent on the social context. However, when explicitly “othered” in terms of racial binary opposition, Asian Americans were struggling with the process of self-identification in the social context where they felt rejected and unable to fit any of the outlined racial categories (Lecture 2, February 2nd). Another example of the influence the transformation had on Asian Americans was the fact of differentiation between the perception of so-called white “ethical” groups and racial minorities. For example, when controlling the overall number of alien citizens inhabiting the state, ethnic groups from Canada and Europe were likely to assimilate into the area without being extradited (Ngai 63). However, as far as Asian Americans were concerned, the policy of deportation was rather explicit due to the Asian population’s inability to “merge” with the already assimilated European or Canadian immigrants.

When speaking of race and ethnicity as a complex social construct, it is vital to analyze the ways in which an individual is capable of reinforcing one’s racial identity. Estelle Ishigo, an originally white woman who made a decision to marry an Asian American man, is a vivid example of how a person may enforce racial categories in both formal and informal ways. Formally, Estelle made a decision to go for a banned interracial marriage and take her husband’s last name, which legally served as proclaiming racial self-identification (Lecture 2, February 4th). Informally, the idea of enforcing the category is manifested in different forms, such as distancing oneself from a racial category for the sake of becoming a part of another community. Another example would be making a decision to go to a concentration camp by revoking “the white privilege” entitlement.

Over centuries, the extent to which “alien” racial and ethnic groups should adjust to the community has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Still, some of the most widespread attempts to address the issue in the American context was to make those groups assimilate to the American culture by embracing its major principles and traditions. While such an approach might sound reasonable considering there is a need to abide by the rules of the community one is trying to enter, the idea of assimilation as interpreted by Americans is considered rather contradictory. Assimilation in the American context often meant embracing local culture while leaving behind the specifics of a certain community. Since racism fundamentally presupposes discrimination and prejudice concerning other racial or ethnic groups, it would be safe to assume that the perception of a different culture as a potential disruptive factor is regarded as racist.

One of the examples of such inappropriate assimilation is the introduction of “Americanizing projects” aimed at educating Japanese Americans. During the project, they were learning how to exist in a democratic society, explicitly presupposing that they were unable to employ democracy without meticulous education (Ngai 179). Another instance of questionable assimilation is the modern issue revolving around Americans’ dissatisfaction with legal aliens speaking their native languages. While assuming that people should culturally assimilate to the use of proper English, they ignore the fact that the US as a cosmopolitan country should respectfully embrace other languages as a part of social and cultural manifestation.

Work Cited

Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America – Updated Edition. Princeton University Press, 2014.

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IvyPanda. "Asian American Studies: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America." July 3, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/asian-american-studies-illegal-aliens-and-the-making-of-modern-america/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Asian American Studies: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America." July 3, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/asian-american-studies-illegal-aliens-and-the-making-of-modern-america/.

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