Last week I posted some of my research on the Asiatic “Barred Zone” including a map of the zone.To follow up, here are a few brief notes about the Asia-Pacific Triangle, which replaced the barred zone.
As I’ve occasionally posted, I’m researching the “Asiatic Barred Zone” created by Congress in 1917 for an article and book project on race, geography, and territoriality. Recently I’ve been going over the Congressional Record and other government documents to retrace the specific details of its origin and formulation and found some interesting material.
Much of the media coverage in the wake of President Obama’s reelection on Tuesday has focused on the United States’ changing racial demographics, their impact on the election, and their implications for the future. These results, however, shouldn’t surprise people who have been observing and writing about these demographic shifts for years.
Reviewing hearings before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization from 1920, I was surprised—although not terribly so—to read that Senator James Phelan of California had introduced to Congress a revision of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The issue was that American-born Asians, specifically children of Japanese immigrants, had access to citizenship.
“No American should be so credulous as to believe that any of the ‘get’ of Japanese picture brides will ever be Americanized,” a lengthy report attached to the proceedings declared. “Yet because of their birth upon our soil they are automatically endowed with the highest civic privilege that can be given man—the vote of a freeman. Because of his birth he becomes a unit of government in any State of the Union, yet remains just what nature made him—an oriental, without one attribute of American citizenship.”
Senator Phelan’s proposal to “cure the evil” of double allegiance and raise the “standard of American citizenship” was to change the first line of Section One, defining citizenship, of the 14th Amendment. His revision amended the original “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside” to the more complicated and cumbersome “All persons born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof whose parents are white persons, Africans, American Indians, or their descendants, and all persons naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the States wherein they reside.” Stipulating what races were eligible for citizenship, the revision also excluded by implication, those who were not, which the House Committee hearings made clear were Japanese and more generally Asians. While the proposed revision never passed, the sentiments it expressed extended, even as Phelan’s term did not, to the 1921 and 1924 Immigration Acts that declared Japanese and other Asian immigrants “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” Significantly, however, they did not preclude native-born Asians, or others, from citizenship and its claim to civil rights and equal protection under the law.
I watched President Obama’s speech to Congress presenting his jobs plan last week and have watched and read some of the commentary on it, most of which as been favorable. While the plan may indeed create jobs and improve the nation’s economic situation, it still struck me as having the wrong tone. It wasn’t a jobs plan so much as another stimulus package.
In the difference lies the President’s slight, but still significant failure to address and communicate the issue politically. Clearly the nation’s economic situation requires attention and intervention, which many of the ideas in Obama’s plan seek to affect. But as with the administration’s response to the financial crisis of 2008, the presentation and justification for the plan was couched in the language of macro-economics, not moral sentiment. It aimed more to convince members of Congress to enact specific legislative policy than to address and affirm the concerns of the American public. While the one narrow aim was necessary–if probably also doomed to failure in the face of recalcitrant Republicans–its priority overrode an rhetorical opportunity for the President. The specific details he outlined, reducing payroll taxes, providing incentives for businesses to hire more employees, etc., would, if passed, help individuals and families in need and, indirectly, create jobs, but their very variety–as well as that indirection–diluted any focus his plan could have brought to bear on what is the one urgent issue for the public. In this case, it’s not the economy, it’s jobs.
I used to think of myself as a liberal and a progressive. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but these days, I would rather not be called either. My political views and principles haven’t changed—as far as I’m willing to admit to myself—but I often find myself put off by the things that are said and written by many self-professed liberals and progressives.