Producer StandWithAsians

There are key moments in American history that have played a role in shaping how the country views Asians in America. But how many of these are we really aware of today? What can we learn from them and how can we use these lessons to shape a more positive future for race relations in this country? We explore aspects of Chinese-American history that have been rarely discussed. Learn how many of the early U.S. policies against Chinese American’s integration were not only ultimately harmful to Asians and other minorities, but also America’s own development and competitiveness as a country.

This webinar was presented by StandWithAsians, a group of volunteers who mobilized Americans to spread awareness, learn, and show support for the Asian American community on March 26, 2021.

Event Date March 26, 2021

Gordon H. Chang: Vice Provost, Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities, and Professor of American History at Stanford University; 1990 Institute Advisory Council

Gabriel “Jack” Chin: Edward L. Barrett Jr. Chair of Law, Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law, and Director of Clinical Legal Education at the University of California, Davis, School of Law

Henry S. Tang: Co-Founder of the Committee of 100 and a veteran Wall Street banker

Brian Wong (Moderator): Board member of the 1990 Institute; Founder of RADII Media

Highlights of Webinar

Professor Gordon H. Chang spoke about the opportunity to learn and talk about what we as Americans haven’t confronted in the past – that discrimination against Asians is embedded in our country’s history. There have been many incidents of mass murder against Asians in addition to more well-known state acts such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American internment.

The incidents of violence against Asian Americans in 2021 are part of a precedent of bias against Asian Americans that goes beyond ethnic discrimination and is racial discrimination not focused on a particular ethnicity. Part of this is due to the perception that different Asian ethnicities look alike and all look like the “enemy.” Asians have consistently been seen as a peril or threat or offensive to some in America. At the same time, they are often seen as weak, inoffensive, and deserving of assault. This combination has contributed to the recent cowardly attacks against the most vulnerable community members, including the elderly, women, and those alone on the subway or in stores, etc. 

In addition, anti-Asian sentiment is connected to emotion-driven international relations. The former president used race as the basis for the pandemic. The sharp decline in U.S.-China relations has fueled racial hatred. Many Americans make no distinction between China and its government and Chinese people and Asians in America.

Professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin has studied Asian Pacific American legal history. Asians were denied the right to become naturalized citizens from 1790 until 1952. In 1840, only white Christians/Europeans were deemed part of the colonial political community. In 1886, although a city or state could not grant a license to everyone and exclude Chinese Americans, there were ways to get around laws by limiting them to citizens. The Homestead Act (1862) allowed for declaration of the intent to become a naturalized citizen and thus excluded Asians from land ownership. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 was partly driven by an attempt to control riots against Chinese Americans by removing the presence of Chinese people rather than trying to stop the ones causing the violence. Laws suppressed Chinese restaurants, including a 1913 law that prohibited the employment of white women and a law for special taxes. A common problem is white supremacy and trying to maintain it against people of color.

Henry Tang spoke about the latter half of the twentieth century. The groundwork laid in the McCarthy era led to Asian Americans being seen as unworthy and untrustworthy. The aftermath of internment was very challenging. Chinese were also still suffering from the Chinese Exclusion Act; this included a bachelor society and the phenomenon of “paper sons.” In addition, families were questioned by the FBI which had a destabilizing effect. In 2000, a “blue team” of high-level DC politicians maintained that there were negative contributions by Chinese people and China to American society; some think this idea has spread through the whole country today. The “bamboo ceiling” impacted young Asians and led to a brain drain where opportunities were sought overseas. Wen Ho Lee, a naturalized American, was reported by a co-worker and arrested without evidence. He spent 9 months in solitary confinement; the judge later apologized. The media sensationalized the case and similar coverage continues today. It is important to have dialogues with others to establish trust and clear up misunderstandings. The hard work and positive contributions of Asian Americans need to be emphasized.

Brian Wong provided a conclusion. It’s important to know history to recognize the realities and hardships that Asian Americans have experienced. Asians are 6% of Americans; 12% of the workforce; 20% of physicians; and 45% of the tech sector workforce. Why would anyone want to hurt them when these Americans are working hard for your country? Asian Americans have contributed to the development of America. Today is a start to come together, be aware, and build coalitions to create a more equitable society for the betterment of everyone.

 Reference Materials

The Nationality Act of 1790 –  This law produced the legal category of “aliens ineligible for citizenship” which largely affected Asian immigrants and limited their rights as noncitizens to key realms of life in the United States such as property ownership, representation in courts, public employment, and voting.

The War Against Chinese Restaurants, by Gabriel Jackson Chin and John Ormonde, Duke Law Journal

The War Against Asian Sailors and Fishers, by Gabriel Jackson Chin and Sam Chew Chin

A Nation of White Immigrants: State and Federal Racial Preferences for White Noncitizens, by Gabriel Jackson Chin, Boston University Law Review

The long, sickening history of anti-Asian violence in America, by Gordon H. Chang

The Ideology of Yellow Peril – explained by Professor Lok Siu, Ethnic Studies Department, University of California, Berkeley, in the CAA Homecoming video lecture: Anti Asian Violence in the Times of Covid-19, on Oct 17, 2020.  From  minute 16 and 58 second to minute 26 and 30 second.


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