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World War II and Its Impact on Asian Americans Essay

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Updated: May 14th, 2021

The war produced a profound impact on America’s attitude to Asians in terms of racial perceptions and actual treatment of all Asian minority groups. However, it did not affect all Asians equally. In general, most Asian Americans benefited from war as the Filipino, the Chinese, and Indians were wartime allies of the United States. Since the government was afraid of strategic losses to their enemies, they decided to combat racial ideologies at home and abroad. A new, positive attitude to representatives of these nations was mainly explained by their heroic participation in battles and their willingness to be enlisted to fight against the Japanese (although they were actually promised the citizenship). Nevertheless, even this improvement in perception did not give any considerable advantages.

On the contrary, the Japanese suffered greatly in the aftermath of war. Japan was an enemy and therefore Japanese Americans were perceived as “enemy aliens” and singled out for “group punishment” by Executive Order 9066. This was majorly due to the attack at Pearl Harbor, after which all Japanese American communities started to be viewed as sources of potential threats. The fear of “Yellow Peril” achieved its peak, which led to an unprecedented violation of constitutional rights as Japanese immigrants were forced to live in detention camps. Furthermore, the government never made any efforts to help them restore their position in the society.

Another great impact was produced by the Cold War with Russians as the nation realized the hazard of the so-called “domino effect”, which implied that the neighboring countries could turn to communism following Russia’s example. This was exactly what happened to the Korean peninsula and China. Chinese immigrants were prosecuted for the fear of communism spreading in the country. Yet, the United States was still forced to change its racially-biased immigration policy since it evidently exerted negative influence on its relations with Asian countries.

The Asian American Movement, which emerged in the late 1960s and lasted until the middle of 1970s, had a lot of underlying historical, ideological, and political reasons. Among the most influential ones were: neo-imperialism of the country, racism towards minority groups, lack of social services to immigrants, and militarism. Asian Americans together with the African, Latino, and Native Americans fought for rights of the poor and protested unceasingly against the Vietnam War.

However, from the political point of view, none of the radical movements that appeared initially–including Free Speech Movement, Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, and Anti-Vietnam War movement–specifically addressed Asian problems, which also created a need in such kind of activism that would struggle against Asian-related issues (Asian ghettoes, unemployment, access to social services, etc.). Ideologically, this movement borrowed a lot from the Black Power and Anti-Vietnam War movements in its racial positioning and anti-militarism.

The post-war expansion of civil rights was another factor that contributed to the movement. Several acts were passes to improve the position of Asians (War Brides Act, McCarran Act), they usually benefited only one specific group of Asians while neglecting or harming others. Furthermore, although Chinese engineers helped the United States to catch up with the USSR’s space program, witch hunt for “suspects” of treason never ceased.

One more important factor was the “model minority” stereotype, which the movement was aimed to destroy. Since the United States needed Japan as an ally against Communist China, the Japanese started to be promoted as those having inherent cultural advantages in contrast to other minorities. They were believed to be peaceful, self-reliant, intelligent, and successful even against the background of other Asians (leaving along African and Latin Americans). This created a gap that the movement was indented to bridge.

The Immigration Act introduced in 1965 was not supposed to produce such a great effect on the Asian American community. It gave an immigration advantage to spouses and children of American citizen as it was believed that Asians did not have many relatives in the United States and not many of them would use the benefit. Yet, these expectations proved to be wrong: On the contrary, the number of Asian immigrants increased exponentially and exceeded 2.5 millions in two decades.

The Act produced a diversifying effect: Alongside with the Japanese, a lot of Koreans and Asian Indians came to the country. This influx was of paramount economic importance to the community as it maintained the preference system, which implied that immigrants were mostly educated people and could contribute a lot to both social and economic development. The phenomenon became known as a “brain drain”.

In the 1970s, Asians affected by the Vietnam War were also encouraged to migrate to the United States, which had significant political consequences as most of these refugees were strongly connected to the government and could not stay in Vietnam for the fear of retribution. They could not find refuge in Asian countries and the United States felt its political responsibility for the crisis. As a result, the Refugee Act was passed in 1980 that helped more than one-half million Asians get permanent residence and considerably improved the image of the country after the unpopular war.

In 1987, the Homecoming Act allowed children born in Asia from American soldiers to immigrate. Consequently, the Asian community that was practically non-existent before gradually turned into a flourishing one. However, the attitude to these newcomers was far from positive since soldiers were not happy to discover them as their neighbors. This created social tensions.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "World War II and Its Impact on Asian Americans." May 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/world-war-ii-and-its-impact-on-asian-americans/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'World War II and Its Impact on Asian Americans'. 14 May.

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