As we are all aware, during the pandemic and the surge of COVID-19 cases, there was a significant rise in Asian hate crimes. This leads to the question, when did the racism against Asains start and how has the treatment of Asian Americans changed over the course of decades?
When the Asian Americans first started to immigrate to the United States during the mid 1800s, a time of industrial boom, many welcomed the Asians because they were a source of cheap labor for manufacturing in companies. However, as time progressed, there was significant rise in discrimination and prejudices, accussing them of stealing jobs of Americans. They were deemed as “yellow peril,” suggesting that they were unfit for American citizenship. During the late 19th century, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned the immigration of Chinese people to the United States. Many laws were passed during the early 1900’s, excluding the Japanese from citizenship, the right to own property, and marry foreigners. America during the 1930’s was a hateful place full of racism and segregation against African Americans, as well as the Asian Americans.
On the Sunday morning of December 7th, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack against the United States on the naval base in Pearl Harbor. This attack fueled the racism and xenophobia against the Japanese. Blinded by fear for the wellbeing of the nation, President Roosevlt signed the executive order 9066 which led to the incarceration of hundreds of thousands Japanese Americans. The Japanese Americans living on the west coast were all being suspected as enemy spies. This was a devastating experience for the Japanese Americans as they worked hard to be able to support their families and have the life they were living. In an instant, all their rights were stripped and they were transported to camps in the middle of nowhere with only a few personal belongings. They had no idea what was going to happen or where they were headed. The graphic novel, They Called Us Enemy, is a graphic memoir by George Takei. He illustrates his life growing up in an internment camp and how it has affected the lives of him, his family, as well as other Japanese Americans. In the novel, it shows how prior to being moved, the Japanese Americans were being attacked and harassed with harsh words and slurs telling them to leave America. It shows how even young children were victims to this kind of discrimination and were considered as spies despite their young age and innocence. Everyone was considered an enemy just because of the color of their skin and their ethnicity. The United States guarantees the right for due process and equal protection, but after this event, the Japanese Americans were dragged to the camps without a chance to prove their innocence.
After the two atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan had offically surrendered, marking the end of World War II. Although this meant that the Japanese Americans were no longer enemies and were freed from the camps, they were still treated with the same unjust prejudice and isolation. They had nowhere to return to, no place to call home. Without any funding or support from the government, it was incredibly difficult to be able to recover. It was not until the 1980’s that they received an apology and compensation for what they have faced. Although there was still racism and discrimination, it allowed for the Japanese American community to rebuild stronger. They were able to reestablish their community by rebuilding churches, schools, and businesses. Many were able to gain fame and success in predominantly white career fields such as politics, academics, arts, businesses, and more. George Takei, the author of They Called Us Enemy, went through higher education and was able to land many big acting roles to represent the Asian American community in Hollywood such as his lead role in Star Trek. The Play Mountain podcast also talked about an individual who had become a great designer, engineer, and architect with his genius designs. This shows how prior and during World War II, opportunities such as these would be unimaginable to Asian Americans. But with the decrease in tensions, many new opportunities arose for Asian Americans allowing them to go beyond higher education and career paths.
Although there is less racism now as there was 100 years ago, discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans are still an issue that has to be dealt with today. Due to the rise in COVID cases, people began to point fingers putting the blame on Asians, specifically the Chinese community. This is not right because a race is not a disease and people should not make assumptions about someone just based on the color of their skin. There are many things that people are able to do to fight back against this treatment. By getting educated, spreading awareness, participating in protests, and more, everyone can help make the world a better place where everyone is treated equally without prejudice.