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Reconstruction legislators faced the uncomfortable yet broadly acknowledged fact that the U.S. Constitution had countenanced slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment set out to guarantee and secure civil freedom through the reassertion of the U.S. Constitution, yet its expansive possibilities proved short-lived. Anti-Chinese ideologues and nativists challenged birthright citizenship and advanced new legislation restricting legal entry into the United States. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the nation’s first raced immigration and naturalization ban, helped stabilize the meaning and value of citizenship as the federal judiciary began narrowing the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment. By the end of the century, the Chinese Exclusion Acts and federal rulings on Chinese immigration cases completed the redefinition of the Asiatic as the categorically excluded. Among the earliest Asian American writers to publish in English, Wong Chin Foo and Edith Maude Eaton (Sui Sin Far) produced a wide-ranging body of journalism and short fiction that addressed public anxieties over “contraband Chinese.” The criminalized “illegal immigrant” remains a ready foil for the citizen, shoring up fantasies of national belonging as our civil liberties face increasing erosion. The writers discussed in this chapter offer us a unique vantage on this conflicted and evolving history of U.S. citizenship.
This is a case about racial exclusion from the border. Specifically, this case concerns the constitutionality of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (CCA) and subsequent amendments to that provision enacted by Congress,2 which ban the return of a noncitizen permanent resident of this country on the basis of his race – because he is Chinese. As we explain below, this immigration racial ban violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and, thus, must be deemed unconstitutional. We therefore invalidate the CCA and hold that the Constitution prohibits Congress from passing laws that exclude noncitizens on the basis of race.
This chapter argues that form, materiality, and environment are fundamental in considering the significance of the Angel Island poems, which were carved into the walls of the Immigration Station by Chinese laborers attempting to enter the United States. The poems, their production, and dissemination call into question some of the foundational assumptions about what constitutes Asian American literature and offers an alternative for thinking about the field.
Saum Song Bo, a Chinese man in the United States, published an open letter in 1885 to express consternation about being asked to donate to the construction of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. The solicitation came three years after the Chinese Exclusion Act. Saum was not subjected to exclusion himself, because he entered the United States as a student, an exempted class. Yet he was able to effect cross-class solidarities on the basis of the United States’ race-based immigration restrictions. Additionally, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States, and France had imperial leverage over Vietnam. Saum’s letter effected a comparative condemnation of US and French inequities -exposing the ironies behind the vision of liberty the statue represents. This chapter argues that in bringing together US racism and French imperialism, Saum produced an early form of Asian Americanist critique most closely associated with movements that took place much later in the 1960s and 1970s.
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