Asian-American Struggles for Equality in the Late 20th Century

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Plato's philosophy towards citizenship, in simplest terms, is an implicit decision between state and resident to obey all institutions inherent in a society. "Decisively did you choose us and agree to be a citizen under us." And such is the way that Asian Pacific Americans, a term coined not more than forty years ago, choose to tackle prejudice, ignorance, and greed throughout their four hundred year history. Citizenship is defined as broadly as: "Democracy" by Manuel Buaken, "loyalty" per Mike Masaoka, and "equality" according to Amy Uyematsu. Asian Americans always resort to accepted means within American society to pursue favorable ends. Despite a stacked deck, Alien Land laws prohibited alien ownership of land, the Immigration Act of 1924 all but cut off the flow of Asian immigration, cases like the 1854 trial of The People v. Hall which prohibited Asian testimony in court, and blatant racism, Asian Americans in the mid-20th century to the present persist, using techniques employed by their predecessors: public interest and education, organization, and the legal system, to challenge inequality in an attempt to balance the scale and reclaim what is rightfully theirs – the right to equal citizenship.

Organization, whether forced into "racial enclaves" or into labor alliances, movement in numbers is a force used to combat inequality. Labor organizations have been a mainstay method of shifting inequality. During the 30's, labor leaders such as Carlos Bulosan worked organized parties such as the Filipino Workers' Association that organized successful strikes such as the Salinas Lettuce Strike of 1933; it was "something powerful growing inside me. IT was a new heroism: a feeling of growing with a huge life." Other labor leaders such as Karl Yoneda from the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee of Southern California "signed over a thousand workers among Mexican, Filipino and Japanese strawberry, tomato and bean pickers and conducted strikes for 25 to 35 cents pay and union recognition" creating a consolidated power base. Labor unions like these served to solidify Asian American rights, as citizens, to equal wages and working conditions. By organizing and creating leverage through numbers and consolidation, Asian Americans greatly increased their bargaining power. Taishi Matsumoto mourns his situation in 1937. He feels trapped in his current employ as a carrot washer with no chance of upward mobility. There are "no inspired Messias, no strong organizations to whom I can appeal not only for myself, but for others like me." As an individual he merely remains stagnant. Organization and the coming together of individuals create a strong voice, which he lacks, and therefore is unable to combat inequality or to instill change. Whereas labor unions improved wages, working conditions, and hours, the single effort of Matsumoto changes nothing. Therefore, labor organization is a key factor in Asian American history in attempting to assert the rights of citizenship.

Other organizations, social organizations, such as the Chinese Six Companies (also known as the CCBA) or the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA), provided a familiar environment while consolidating capabilities as well. Whether it be a supporting causes in China, bringing Chinese news, or creating public opinions and a fundraising base, social organizations such as these were instrumental in providing a solid constituency for overcoming obstacles. During the early stages of the Cold War when China became Communist, the Chinese Six Companies set up an Anti-Communist League to influence American popular opinion. "The primary aim of the league was to let the American people know that the Chinese are not communists" (Liu). Indeed, the Six Companies had enough influence to not only create but also to support the League. The League was created to combat a negative stereotype. This stereotype was the root of many racially motivated policies,...
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