Who Belongs In America?

Who Belongs In America?

Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 11.47.36 PM

Originally published by The New York Times

The last few weeks have been hard on many Asian-Americans. Blamed for the coronavirus, they have been attacked, spit on, told they don’t belong.

These stories have been difficult to read, but they are also not new — something I learned while researching my new book, “One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965.” And the subject feels more urgent now than when I started writing about it four years ago.

For most of my life, the story of how my Chinese family became American seemed straightforward enough: My parents came to the United States for their education in the late 1960s and early 1970s, stayed to build their careers and then started a family in Northern Virginia.

Led to believe this country had always welcomed immigrants, I could not envision a different America in which my family had been turned away. There was no point in pondering alternatives — a great blessing had been granted, and our central task was to fit in. Or so I thought.

Then, in early 2016 during a trip to the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, I learned about the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, described at the museum as the reason there were so many Asian-Americans in this country. I wondered: Could my family be among the many beneficiaries of this law?

They were, and for the next four years I tried to understand the law’s origins — a project that turned into my book.

Then, in early 2016 during a trip to the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, I learned about the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, described at the museum as the reason there were so many Asian-Americans in this country. I wondered: Could my family be among the many beneficiaries of this law?

They were, and for the next four years I tried to understand the law’s origins — a project that turned into my book.

Through my research, I discovered that those who fought for the Immigration and Nationality Act, which banned immigration quotas, were encouraging us to rethink the very idea of what makes a person American.

For most of this country’s history, being an American was firmly tied to European ancestry. But the Immigration and Nationality Act obliterated that notion, daring to outline a vision of belonging that transcended race and ethnic origin, in effect saying to the world that everyone had access to the American project.

Those who fought for the law sincerely wanted racial equality in U.S. immigration law. But they did not expect their efforts to give rise to the largest influx of non-European immigrants in this country’s history, putting white Americans on track to lose their majority status within decades.

I have been thinking about this history even more with the recent rise of racist attacks against Asian-Americans. For many, the harassment has been a stunning reminder that, regardless of how long you have been in this country or whether you were born here, your face can still mark you as foreign.

This tells me that while my family has the status of being legal, our political standing remains tenuous, and that the fight over American identity remains unsettled. After all, the same country that passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, barring Chinese laborers, also passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, giving my family and so many others a chance to be part of this country.

Read more:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/25/us/coronavirus-immigration-china-book-yang.html?searchResultPosition=3

unitedwestay

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close
Close

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.

Close

Close
%d bloggers like this: