Early Asian Discrimination

Oyama v. California:

Confronting Alien Land Laws

Early Asian Discrimination

During the late 1800s-1900s, Asian immigrants came to the U.S. looking for better opportunities. The barriers they faced while immigrating were influenced by "yellow peril", a racial discriminatory slur used against Asians. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited citizenship grants to white persons, later extending to people of African descent and Native Americans but still excluding Asian immigrants. The term “aliens ineligible for citizenship” would be used so laws could legally limit the rights of Asian immigrants without racially targeting them.

The Coming Man: Allee sammee Melican Man Monopoleeee.. 1881, Rutgers University Library

“They Are Pretty Safe There : When Politicians Do Agree, Their Unanimity Is Wonderful”, 1882, The New York Public Library

The only one barred out Enlightened American statesman - "We must draw the line somewhere, you know.", 1882, Library of Congress

“Throwing Down The Ladder By Which They Rose”, 1870, The New York Public Library

These images show anti-Asian sentiment from the time and examples of how yellow peril was depicted to the public.

Laundry Blues, 1930, YouTube

There were also discriminatory immigration laws against Asian immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigration and denied Chinese residents the right to citizenship. Angel Island Immigration Station detained Asian immigrants for generally two weeks to six months before allowing them to enter the United States. Laws in 1917 and 1924 placed literacy tests on immigrants and established the Asiatic Barred Zone restricting immigration from parts of Asia, nearly excluding all Asians from entering the U.S.

“The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia.

“... also included a provision excluding from entry any alien who by virtue of race or nationality was ineligible for citizenship. Existing nationality laws dating from 1790 and 1870 excluded people of Asian lineage from naturalizing. ”
~ The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act), Office of the Historian

Asian residents were subjected to personal and social humiliation, physical brutality, and murder. These barriers severely limited the potential for Asian immigrants to fulfill their dreams of better opportunities in America.