Reorienting America: Race, Geopolitics, and the Repeal of Asian Exclusion, 1940-1952

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Reorienting America: Race, Geopolitics, and the Repeal of Asian Exclusion, 1940-1952

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Title: Reorienting America: Race, Geopolitics, and the Repeal of Asian Exclusion, 1940-1952
Author: Hong, Jane H
Citation: Hong, Jane H. 2013. Reorienting America: Race, Geopolitics, and the Repeal of Asian Exclusion, 1940-1952. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines the movement to repeal the Asian exclusion laws in the United States during World War II and the early Cold War years. It situates campaigns for repeal in the context of two interrelated developments: African American civil rights activism in the United States and shifting U.S. geopolitical interests in post-1940 Asia. As U.S. foreign policy priorities pivoted toward Asia beginning in World War II, Americans' view of the world changed in ways that, at times, allowed geopolitics to supersede restrictions based on race. Drawing from U.S., Indian, and Korean sources, the project charts how a transnational cast of American missionaries, U.S. and Asian state officials, and Asian and Asian American activists used the newly expedient language and logic of geopolitics to end the racial exclusion of Asians from immigration and naturalization eligibility. The study highlights a paradox at the heart of the repeal campaigns: beginning in World War II, the perceived foreignness that underwrote the historical exclusion of Asians as “aliens ineligible to citizenship” legitimized them as spokespersons for repeal. During a time when few Americans had knowledge of Asia, Asian American activists parlayed their presumptive expertise as Asian “insiders” to secure a foothold as lobbyists on Capitol Hill. The strategy undermined Asian Americans’ claims to inclusion in the long-term, however, by reinforcing their image as racial foreigners in America. The dissertation builds on a growing body of literature interrogating the relationship between international developments and U.S. racial reform. Comparatively little scholarship about this period has looked beyond a white-black racial binary, in spite of Japanese internment, U.S. military occupations in postwar Japan and Korea, and unprecedented American intervention across Cold War Asia. My study demonstrates how developments particular to Asia – the Pacific front of World War II, Asian decolonization, and the Korean War – both facilitated and constrained the scope of legislative reform activists achieved.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11051186
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