Written by Cameron E. Jones

Civil Rights a topic that one automatically thinks of the Civil Rights Movement in regards to African Americans and their movement that happened in the 1960s. This movement was one that was not strictly for African Americans, other minorities experienced the same discrimination from the American public and government during the period of the Cold War. Asian Americans were a minority during this time that were targeted more because of the encounters the American Forces had with Asian Countries that happened during World War II. Asian Americans experienced a continuation of encounters, such as discrimination, setbacks, and laws that were happening before and during the War into the after years post War. The encounters that Asian Americans faced included laws, activism, and a want for social acceptance in American society. 

The Cold War (1947-1991) is a period of time where the whole world was involved and has many layers to the time period. Communism was at the forefront of the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. President Truman and Congress during this time ultimately decided that it would be involved with a long-term containment of Russia and its expansive tendencies. Atomic weapons continue to develop during this era especially since these weapons ended World War II. The Cold War was a competition of who was the superior country that led to space exploration and the landing on the moon by Neil Armstrong in 1969. 

The Red Scare brought the fears of the Cold War to the Homefront in America. The House Un-American Activities Committee did a series of hearings to show that communism was present in the United States. Many of the Cold War events happened abroad, in which the United States got  involved with. War broke out in Korea when the Soviet Union backed North Korea in invading their neighbor to the south. Through this invasion, it led American officials to believe that this invasion would be the starting point of a communist reign that would take over the world. As time went on the Soviet Union began to fall apart and the Cold War came to a close in 1991. 

These few events of the Cold War affected many people throughout the world and in the United States. Asian Americans after World War II and into the era of the Cold War experienced many challenges in being accepted in the American culture as American citizens. Japanese Americans of this time period were dealing with the aftermath of their internment. Their internment showed that violence can only be done against people of an enemy nation as well as the limits to Cold War “productions of knowledge of who belongs to and will act as the ‘enemy race’.” 

Naturalized citizenship is what many Asian immigrants were yearning for after the war. Many Asian Americans fought in the war and hoped that their service would show their “Americanness” or commitment to America. With this evidence of “Americanness”, Asian Americans had wanted some sort of reward for their service which was in the form of civil rights and recognition.  Citizenship was not only a problem for those who fought in the war for the Allies but also for the “war brides”. Many of the soldiers who were overseas brought over women and children to the United States that led to an increase of the Asian immigrants. These few aspects to the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War shape how Asian Americans were treated and how they were able to get their mark in American history. 

Asian Americans and the American Government have had a long and difficult relationship. A 1917 act required a literacy test for immigrants sixteen years and older, which was not enough to prevent immigrants from entering which led to the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was an act that limited the number of immigrants that could enter into the United States and excluded immigrants coming from Asia. Quotas were introduced through this legislation which stated how many people could obtain visas to enter into the country each year. In the beginning this quota only counted those who were born outside or residing in the United States. Aliens, under this act, were unable to be eligible to obtain Untied States Citizenship. 

As the Cold War came about, there was various debates over revising the immigration laws that the United States had from the Immigration Act of 1924 to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. These debates were concerned with the relationship between foreign policy, immigration, and the two’s connection to national security. Democrat Congressman Emanuel Cellar felt that “…the law created the sense that Americans thought people from Asia were inferior to those of European descent”. Yet, on the other side Senator Pat McCarran expressed that “…the United States could face communist infiltration through immigration…”

This law repealed the exclusion of Asian immigration by allowing Asian nations to quota 100 visas each year. In doing this, it helped America to improve their relations with Asian counties, yet this law also based the quotas on race and not nationality. One part of this act that is still in use today is that those with special skills or families residing in the United States receive priority. President Truman’s thoughts on this law was discriminatory in which he vetoes the bill, yet Congress had enough votes to override the veto. The Immigration Act of 1924 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 both in a way affected immigrants coming from Asian countries and Asian Americans living in the United States which led to many problems for those living in the United States throughout the Cold War.

Legislation was continuously being changed during the Cold War, after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 came the Refugee Act of 1953. This act came from the 1948 Displaced Persons Act which “authorize for a limited period of time the admission into the United States of certain European displaced person or permanent residence, and for other purposes” The 1948 act came to and expiration date in 1952 which led to the United States government to make changes and create a new law. The Refugee Act of 1953 was drafted and had two different sections that involved its applicants for visas.

The first part of the act would pertain to Asian immigrants because many of them would be orphans coming from abroad. It stated that these orphans must present an assurance from an American citizen in order to be able to qualify for a visa. Alien children in order to be eligible they would have to be lawfully adopted abroad by a United States citizen and spouse. This part of the act would best pertain to those who were adopting Asian children during this time and bringing them back home. Legislation such as this one and the others before it affected Asian Americans more deeply as time went on and continued to affect them as individual nationalities. 

Citizenship for any immigrant has always been a difficult task to obtain because governments make it difficult for them to obtain. Asian Americans, especially Japanese Americans, were experiencing this in the Cold War. These immigrants were seen as ineligible aliens in which their origin of nationality or race prevented them from obtaining U.S. citizenship. Historically, Asian Americans have been ineligible from gaining naturalization after the Civil War because the legislation that was passed at this time did not include Asians in the documents. As time passed, the 1924 Immigration Act confined the ban to the aliens being ineligible for citizenship which resulted in the ban of entry to the U.S. 

The Japanese American Citizens League was an activist group that helped in gaining Japanese Americans the right to obtain citizenship. The group was not targeted towards first generations, or Issei, but rather it was targeted to second generations, Nisei, who had citizenship by birth. Although the group had mostly Nisei, it was able to fight for Asian veterans’ citizenship especially those who fought in World War I.  Years later after World War II, the same situation came up when many Asian immigrants had joined in fighting for the war effort. Edward Hong fought for their rights because he stated that many of them fought in the war and that they had the “natural” right just as every American citizen. Asian Americans going into the Cold War trying to find their place where not only society would accept them but also the government would recognize them as a part of the American people. 

Immigration to the United States is a topic that many people do not usually talk about especially the generations that immigrated here during the Cold War. Carlos Bulosan is a Filipino man who came to America before the Second World War and wrote a book called “America is in the Heart”. This book talks about his journey from the Philippines to the United States and his experience in the United States as an immigrant. When Carlos arrived in Seattle, he was sold to a fishery in Alaska to work yet was required to pay for luxuries the fishery required. Throughout his journey in the states, Carlos travels to many different places on the West Coast to find his place in society. Yet he learns that it is hard than he thinks when he realizes living in California that it was seen as a crime to be a Filipino. He learns this notion through how he and other Filipino’s were not accepted on the streets and that many of them were stopped while driving their cars.  

Carlos had been in the United States for some time when he came to think about the paradox of America. He writes “Why was America so kind and yet so cruel? Was there no way to simplifying things in this continent so that suffering would be minimized? Was there no common denominator on which we could all meet?” Him questioning this paradox is what many other Asian Americans did during this time. They thought coming to America would be a better life for them until they showed up. The questions he presented are some that others had yet were very logical in regard to how they were treated by the American public and government.

The treatment of Filipinos and other Asian minorities in America may have been different yet this paradox is one they all could relate too in one way or another. Carlos and his experiences came to surface again during this period where Asian Americans were trying to find their place in society. They used his expeirnces to show how coming to America to get citizenship and how life was still either the same or similar to his life when he came to an America just some short years prior. 

The years following World War II were times in which the American government had a difficult time rebuilding their image as the superior power. The legislations that were changed throughout the time period were done because the Federal authorities wanted to avoid any hate that they were racist especially towards Asian Americans. The Soviet Union targeted the United States through this by using rhetoric that the U.S. was a racist nation. Civil rights were a big issue that the government was being faced with after the war.

There was this black and white binary in which the government used a single race, in this case African Americans, to apply the rights and issues to other races. Asian Americans were typically over looked in these situations because the Federal Government saw them as outsiders. Another problem was that the government had this fear that many Asian Americans were connected to their country of origin and were working with that government. Not all Asian Americans were questioned, Japanese Americans were questioned very little since America was building naval bases in Japan. The U.S. government experienced a sense of identity crisis after World War II which led to them to treat Asian Americans in a way that had not changed since the moment they arrived in America. 

The government was not the only ones who were rebuilding themselves, but so were the minorities all across the country. African Americans during this time were considered the largest minority group who were bringing attention on Jim Crow. With the attention on Jim Crow, it meant that legal discrimination against Asian Americans came to light as well. Coming out of World War II, Asian Americans were forced to prove their loyalty to the United States which led them to want equal rights. In the South, Asian Americans were allowed to integrate into the white life of southerners which created tensions with African Americans.

The tensions caused Asians in the south to stay quiet and not get involved in any activities. With more ethnic diversity it did not mean that Asian American newcomers were going to be accepted in the South. Newcomers, such as Vietnamese, experienced similar racism that the Chinese and Japanese experienced when they first made it to the United States and in the South. The loss of the Vietnam War led to difficulties for Asian Americans to be accepted which led to the exclusion and idea that Vietnamese were the enemies to whites. The American South was not only discriminatory to African Americans but to Asian Americans as well, yet it was just not as known or talked about as the African American’s living in the South.

Transracial adoption throughout the Cold War was very prominent because of the soldiers going to fight the Korean and Vietnam Wars were wanting to adopt children. In the end days of the Vietnam War the United States had launched a very controversial campaign called Operation Babylift. This campaign airlifted more than two thousand “orphans” from Vietnam which was a very racialized and gender process. The motivation of this process was to form new kinships and provide better lives for the children who were orphaned and abandoned.

The United States applied tactics to create a sense of anticommunism in Asia which would grant the U.S. the strategic importance of economic, military, and political terms. With the adoptions, it made it possible for American’s to “purchase” a child which would result in the protection of communism. The reasons why this act done by the U.S. government  shows how adopting these children would help in the anticommunist effort. They thought this would show not only the American people but the rest of the world that the U.S. would be able to over rule communism. 

Japanese Americans and Japanese after World War II experienced some troubles in being accepted into the American society. There have been many students from abroad who come to the United States to study at any university they choose. In an article called Japan’s Guide to Us, from the New York Times, talks about how many of these students will be subjected to the new American way of life. Foster Hailey, the author of this article, writes that there is a handbook for these students which is called “A Handbook for Japanese Students Going to America”.

In this handbook there are tips from the Japanese students who came before those who are going to America during this time. Mioko Yoshizawa writes “…that it is effective, and permissible, to slap the face of her escorting Joe College if he becomes too amorous” and “ you can get away with that conduct… in the land of the ‘Ladies First’”. This handbook shows how much America was trying to sell the greatness of America to Japanese Students. Many of the other comments in the article are very positive and give tips to those who are making their journey over. One negative to the handbook would be that it sugarcoats what the students may experience during their time in America. 

The Asian American Movement during the late 1960s and 1970s was a real event that is not particularly talked about in history. This movement came from the Black Power and anti-Vietnam War movements because of the lack of inclusion and civil rights. The goal of the movement was to improve the living and working conditions where many Asian Americans were living across the country. Seattle has been a hub for Asian American immigration and the activist worked to preserve the International district which was the home of Asian immigrants. With the cooperation between the city and activist, there was a compromise to relocate and provide funding for new housing. One major aspect that came from this movement is the sense of identity in Asian American culture in America. Art, literature, music and much more came alive through the movement.

Experiences were the main way Asian Americans expressed their art forms to tell their stories of past, present, and future Asian Americans. Theater was a great way for them to express their experiences through the various play writes that were produced across the country. Frank Chin’s Chickencoop Chinaman helped Asian American actors to act in other plays such as ones done by Shakespeare.  There is so much more that this movement did for the Asian Americans throughout the 20th century. The goal of the movement and what it did helped Asian Americans to build themselves an identity in America even if it was a minority identity. 

Activism in regard to civil rights throughout the Cold War was very prominent especially in Asian American communities. Japanese Americans were one of the few groups that made a drastic impact when it came to activism for their minority and other Asian American minorities. The Japanese American Citizens League, or JACL, is an organization “ensuring that opportunity exists for all types of people”. The opportunity that the organization fought for included employment, education, and any fair chances for individuals. In 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act was passed and the JACL supported the bill for the positive of inclusion of Japanese Americans into the narrative, but it was only successful in the short run.

Throughout the period of the Cold War, JACL had the mission of wanting to dominate the postwar politics that many Japanese Americans were involved with and to be kept into the story that would still be told to this day. Postwar for many of the Japanese Americans and JACL involved them fighting for the Nisei veterans and showing the patriotic image they had. JACL hoped to remove any of the racial inferiority that came from the war that would affect the Nisei in not getting their citizenship. These various issues are why the JACL supported and advocated for the McCarran-Walker Act. JACL’s activism in the Cold War fought for the generations before them and for the generations to come after them.

JACL was a group that was more involved on a national level but that did not mean there were more local groups that were involved with activism. The higher education system of California during the 1960s was going through some changes. An original plan for this system included the Junior college used for skill training for the next steps into the University of California which had research and the California State Universities which were teaching colleges. This system led the U.C. and the C.S.U to be more selective with their selections. The San Francisco State Strike of 1968 into 1969, was a five-month event that tested the core values, such as equity and social justice, of the University.

The reasoning behind the strike was the want for more equal access to higher education and more faculty of color. The main aspect of this strike is the want for curriculum that included history and culture of ethnic minorities. Protests, over the Chancellor gaining more power and taking courses away, broke out at San Francisco in the last 1960s. The protests included students not attending class, walking into classes, and being disruptive on campus. This protest had the support of the Asian American community because it did involve them as a minority. The Chancellor and the school wanted the public to see the students as the problem. Eventually the protests ended when the school opened the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State and other universities followed. The equality of schooling and study of ethnic groups was a turning point in both the education system and in the Civil Rights movement that was happening across the country. 

The higher education system was not the only education level that experience changes and challenges. Public schools, especially in California, were experiencing desegregation just like the South was experiencing. Yet, in California there was more to the desegregation of its schools than the race of a child. In San Francisco there as tensions between desegregation and bilingual in which there was a court case about the tensions. Chinese and Mexican students who did not speak English were involved with this situation. Educational civil rights came to light with these issues which was related closely to race-based discrimination as well as language-discrimination. Although the Federal Courts had passed a law stating there should be no desegregated schools, at the state level there were still these issues which are clearly evident in California during this time. 

Women, especially Asian American women, have experienced various different hardships during and after the war. Asian American women in a way did experience an identity crisis once the war was over because of the changing ways of American life into the 50 and 60s. Beauty and other consumer products were a major way of targeting the audience of women in the United States. To do this there was a magazine called Scene which was seen a way to “help heal the wound of war- both here at home and across the Pacific”. This magazine targeted Asian American women through displaying various ways they could fit into the American society. The suggestions that were given in the magazine included hair styles, fashion, skin-care, and activities that would show their cultural citizenship. 

The Scene did not only target those who read their magazine using just beauty but also featured politics and advertisements. It also promoted female improvement in regard to social success through the way they dressed. One interesting aspect to this is that the magazine was entirely ran by men for a magazine that was targeted at women.The magazine, although targeted at Asian American women, had no Asian American bodies in any of the advertisements throughout the magazine. Another aspect to the magazine was that it was brought to the newsstands in hope to lessen racial prejudice. It also was used as a way for Japanese Americans to show their patriotic loyalty and gift to non-Japanese Americans to gain allies through them. The Scene’s idea and reasoning behind the magazine is one that has both positive and negative aspects to it. Positively it helped many Asian Americans in guiding their way through the ever-changing American society during the postwar years. Negatively the magazine had many flaws for being an Asian American targeted magazine. 

Life postwar for Asian Americans was difficult for both the first and second generations. Laws prevented them from being able to live an easy life in America after World War II. Many of these laws were very racist and prejudice toward their minority. Yet, this did not stop them from standing up for their people through strong determination and activism to gain the rights that they needed. If it wasn’t for Asian Americans during the Cold War, then Asian Americans today would not have the rights that they do today.

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