“None of what we’re seeing is new”: America’s long history of anti-Asian violence and policy

ORLANDO, Fla. — The mass shooting in the Atlanta area brought violence against Asian-Americans into the spotlight, but it isn’t a new problem.

Even before the well-documented Japanese internment camps of World War II, there were court rulings and laws a hundred years earlier that discriminated against Asians in the United States.

“None of what we’re seeing is new,” says Philip Nguyen, Vietnamese-American and Professor of Asian Studies at San Francisco State University.

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Nguyen says many Chinese immigrants first came to the United States in the 1850s and were quickly exploited for their labor.

“To build things like the transcontinental railroad,” Nguyen says. “You have this idea that Asians are now coming in to steal the jobs from the white folks.”

By 1854, the California Supreme Court ruled that people of Asian descent couldn’t testify against a white person in court. This was also true for Native and African-Americans at the time.

In 1871, a mob stormed Chinatown in Los Angeles and murdered at least 17 people.

Then in 1875, the Page Act became law, which barred Chinese women immigrants from coming into the United States, “...because they’re deemed immoral,” Nguyen says.

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The Page Act was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, banning all Chinese laborers from entering the United States.

Then, most people are familiar with what transpired during World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The United States Government responded by forcing approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent into internment camps. An estimated 60 percent of them were American citizens.

Then, in 1982, Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese-American man, was beaten to death by two Detroit autoworkers who thought he was Japanese.

The attack took place during a recession that was partly blamed on the rise of the Japanese auto industry. The two autoworkers were fined, and never served any time in prison.

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“It’s always so tied to economic anxieties that become the kind of displaced scapegoats for that,” UCF Associate Professor Christian Ravela explains.

And like most minority groups in the United States, their histories are largely absent from the history books.

“I think now is a time for us to speak up right?” Nguyen says. “Now’s the time to also listen.”