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Japanese Immigrants and the History of Rice in California  

Yu Tokunaga

The cultivation of California rice began in 1909 when a Japanese agricultural engineer succeeded in growing short-grain Japonica rice varieties in Butte County. With commercial cultivation starting in 1912, rice fields rapidly expanded across Northern California. Japanese immigrants, however, continued to eat short-grain rice imported from Japan with a strong sense of affection. This situation dramatically changed in 1918, at around the end of World War I. The war led to an expansion of demand for food worldwide and a serious shortage of rice in Japan, resulting in the steep rise of rice prices and the Kome Sōdō (Rice Riots). The Japanese government decided to ban Japanese rice exports to prevent further inflation and solve the food shortage problem in Japan. This policy marked a turning point from which Japanese immigrants in the mainland United States began to mainly eat California rice. It also sparked serious debates among the Japanese who had heavily relied on Japanese-grown rice for their daily diet, forcing them to redefine their permanent residence in the United States not simply as a place to live but also as the land that provided them with their major source of nutrients. In the 1920s, California rice became a staple for ethnic Japanese residents and an export item to their homeland. This series of changes marked an important period in a history in which the Japanese immigrant experience intersected with the development of US agriculture and the circulation of food around the Pacific Ocean. The history of California rice from the 1900s to the 1930s reveals the shifting US-Japan trade relations as well as the transnational process in which food kept Japanese immigrants culturally connected to the homeland while further rooting them to life in the United States as permanent residents and consumers of California rice.

Article

South Asian Migration to the United States, 1700s–2010s  

Uzma Quraishi

Empire looms large in the history of migrations from South Asia to the United States. Although the South Asia region generally denotes the broader Indian subcontinent, historically, most of its US-bound migrations originated in the early 21st-century nation-states of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, that is, formerly British India. Beginning in the 1700s, migrant streams from South Asia included such varied categories as coerced and free labor, farmers, students, high-tech workers, and temporary, cyclical, and permanent residents—warranting the use of the term migrants rather than immigrants. In the 18th century, people from the Indian subcontinent were ensnared in British and American imperial circuits of slavery and indenture. A century later, they forged new migration pathways for trade and labor. Employers desired South Asian labor, even as ordinary Americans both spurned South Asians and fetishized their “exotic” goods and exoticized spirituality. In the early 20th century, South Asian migrants on the Pacific Coast mounted a US-based resistance effort to overthrow the British Raj, prompting close state regulation of South Asian migration into North America. Groups such as the Asiatic Exclusion League successfully pressured legislators to pass exclusionary federal immigration policies and legally mandated racial segregation at the municipal and state levels in western states. In the early 1920s, the US court system denied South Asians the right to naturalized citizenship, although ultimately, all Asians per the 1870 naturalization statutes and various Supreme Court rulings. Resident South Asians resisted these strictures for decades, finally meeting with success during World War II. The mid- to late 20th century provided fresh opportunities and challenges for skilled workers from South Asia, though these migrations derived from US global dominance and consolidation of its empire in the postwar era. Throughout, the rights of South Asian migrants, imperial subjects, and citizens were subject to the inconsistent whims of the state.

Article

Asian American Activism  

Vivian Truong

Activism is a defining element of Asian American history. Throughout most of their presence in the United States, Asian Americans have engaged in organized resistance even in the face of violent exclusion and repression. These long histories of activism challenge prevailing notions of the political silence of Asian Americans, which have persisted since the rise of the model minority narrative in the mid-20th century. Examining Asian American history through the lens of activism shows how Asian Americans were not simply acted upon, but were agents in forging their own histories. In the century after the first substantial waves of migration in the 1850s, Asian Americans protested labor conditions, fought for full citizenship rights, and led efforts to liberate their homelands from colonial rule. Activism has been a key part of determining who Asian Americans are—indeed, the term “Asian American” itself was coined in the 1960s as a radical political identity in a movement against racism and imperialism. In the decades since the Asian American movement, “Asian America” has become larger and more diverse. Contemporary Asian American activism reflects the expansiveness and heterogeneity of Asian American communities.

Article

Washington, DC  

Mary-Elizabeth B. Murphy

Since its founding as the nation’s capital in 1800, Washington, DC, has been typified by an atypical urban history—a city that was home to the federal government and a diverse population of local inhabitants. This local–federal dynamic has shaped nearly every aspect of its history. The central industry has always been the federal government, local governance has ebbed and flowed, and federal officials have exerted authority in moments of political strife. Washington is the only major US city devoted to administration rather than commerce, industry, or finance. At times, policies in the nation’s capital were envisioned as programs that could be implemented across the country, while at other moments, Washington fell behind other cities. As the nation’s capital, Washington has attracted a diverse group of residents, giving the city a distinctive, cosmopolitan presence. Washington began as a Southern city, and then shifted to become a Northern one, and by the mid-20th century, it became national and global. Since its founding, multiracial Washingtonians waged sweeping campaigns for social justice, often inspiring national movements but were tempered by the persistent lack of statehood, an ongoing struggle.

Article

Koreans and the Early Cold War  

Susie Woo

The Cold War turned hot in Asia. Wars in Korea and Vietnam evidenced that the Cold War, the ideological contest between democracy and communism, met violent ends in the Pacific. While considered one of America’s “forgotten wars,” what unfolded in Korea sent geopolitical ripples around the world and had devastating consequences that would forever change Korea. The war claimed over three million Korean lives, the majority civilians. The United States played an outsized role in the conflict. The United States sent 350,000 servicemen, making up 90 percent of UN forces in Korea. What began as an effort to contain communism north of the 38th parallel, a dividing line drawn up by two US colonels in 1945, shifted to remove communism from the peninsula entirely. Fighting escalated in October 1950 when the People’s Republic of China entered on the side of North Korea. Between 1950 and 1953, the United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on the peninsula, which is roughly the size of Minnesota. An August 1953 armistice brought an end to combat but not the war. Korea remained divided, only this time with more than half the population either killed, wounded, missing, or permanently separated from their families. The unended war went on to shape the geopolitical landscape of US-Korea relations, expanded the Korean diaspora, and had a disproportionate impact upon Korean civilians, especially women and children. In the United States, the violence of war was obscured by media that figured Koreans as wartime waifs, assimilating adoptees, and talented entertainers, like the Korean Children’s Choir and Kim Sisters, representations that fostered internationalist scripts of rescue and care. Images of Koreans as model Cold War citizens helped Americans move on from the war, while overwriting the actual experiences of displaced Korean women and children. Between 1953 and 1965, an estimated 7,700 Korean “war brides” and six thousand Korean and mixed-race adoptees arrived in interracial households scattered across a still-segregated United States. The migration of Korean women and children was directly tied to US militarization in South Korea. Camptowns catering to US servicemen that cropped up near bases during the war became permanent sites of prostitution. The presumption that Korean brides were former prostitutes was symptomatic of how the US military impacted the social construction of Korean women. Also resulting from US militarization was the birth of “GI babies.” The mixed-race children of US servicemen and Korean women anchored postwar missionary appeals for Americans to adopt from Korea, campaigns that opened the path to transnational adoptions. Ultimately, what transpired in Korea placed civilians at the crossroads of the Cold War navigating life in Korea, the United States, and spaces in between.

Article

American Orientalism  

Osamah F. Khalil

Orientalism is an established academic discipline as well as a discourse. In Europe and the United States, Orientalist discourse was reproduced in academic studies, literature, popular culture, and policy circles. American Orientalism shares a number of characteristics with its European progenitors. The persistent representation of the broader East as an inferior, irrational, and emotional “other” reflected and reified disparities in power that then informed the production of knowledge about these vast regions and their inhabitants. American missionaries, social scientists, and counterinsurgency experts used Orientalism to justify their attempts to reshape the broader East in the image of the United States. In his seminal work, Orientalism, Edward Said examined the vast “Orient” as a geographic imaginary of the “Occident.” While he largely focused on Britain and France, Said also discussed American Orientalism and its manifestations in the academy, political discourse, and popular culture. In the decades since Said published Orientalism, scholars have embraced, critiqued, and expanded on its assertions. Yet American Orientalism as a discourse and practice persists and has proven resilient to challenges.

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Chinese Americans and Natural Resource Extraction in the American West, 1850s–1900  

Ashanti Shih

Chinese migrants, through taking part in the extraction of natural resources, played a key role in the economic and environmental transformation of the American West in the late 19th through early 20th centuries. The desire to mine gold in California, in combination with domestic unrest within southeastern China, prompted the first mass migration of Chinese to the United States in the 1850s. While some Chinese migrants continued to mine for gold long after other independent prospectors had given up, the vast majority of Chinese migrants transitioned into wage laborers who worked for larger mining corporations or for other companies seeking to capitalize on the vast natural resources the American West had to offer. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Chinese men became important producers in logging, fishing, and canning, and mining even beyond gold. They often brought their own knowledge and technologies with them into these jobs. Despite their organization into “gang labor” and strong community and transnational ties, Chinese workers became an exploited laboring class that was soon targeted by working-class Whites and others who perceived themselves to be in competition with Chinese workers for these jobs. The resulting exclusionary policies had a significant effect, and Japanese, Korean, Mexican, and Filipino labor gradually displaced Chinese as the dominant labor force supporting environmental and economic change in the American West.

Article

Asian American Youth and Mexican American Youth in Los Angeles before World War II  

Isabela Seong Leong Quintana

Though relatively little is known about them when compared with their adult counterparts, the experiences of Chinese American youth and Mexican American youth in Los Angeles were significantly shaped by living in the developing urban city. More independently as they became older, these ethnic youth navigated social structures that informed the racial, gendered, and class orderings of the city. As both Asian American and Mexican American adult populations in the Los Angeles area boomed before World War II, so did their youth populations, reflecting wars, changes in immigration law and policy, and the steady growth of the region’s railroad, manufacturing, and agriculture industries. With lives intimately tied to adults’ lives, both Asian American youth and Mexican American youth were a mix of recent arrivals from outside the United States and individuals who were born within its national borders. Their presences overlapped with those of their parents and other adults, in both private and public spaces where paid and unpaid labor took place. In ways that reflect the cultures of their respective communities of the era, young people utilized city spaces in different ways as they attended school, worked, socialized, and participated in community events and activities. Excluded from white-only institutions and social organizations, Asian American and Mexican American youth formed their own respective organizations and clubs. They brought dynamic life to Angeleno spaces as they navigated social and community expectations along with rapidly changing cultural and consumer trends.

Article

The Hindu Right in the United States  

Audrey Truschke

The Hindu Right is a dense network of organizations across the globe that promote Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, a political ideology that advocates for an ethnonationalist Hindu identity and to transform India into a Hindu state governed by majoritarian norms. Hindutva ideology was first articulated in India in the 1920s, and Hindu Right groups began expanding overseas in the 1940s, coming to the United States in 1970. Collectively, the Hindu Right groups that stretch across dozens of nations in the 21st century are known as the Sangh Parivar (the family of Hindutva organizations). From within the United States, Hindu Right groups exercise power within the global Hindutva movement and place pressure on American institutions and liberal values. The major interlinked Hindu Right groups in America focus on a variety of areas, especially politics, religion, outreach, and fundraising. Among other things, they attempt to control educational materials, influence policy makers, defend caste privilege, and whitewash Hindutva violence, a critical tool for many who espouse this exclusive political ideology. The U.S.-based Hindu Right is properly understood within both a transnational context of the global Sangh Parivar and as part of the American landscape, a fertile home for more than fifty years.

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Filipino Festivals in Southern California  

Mary Talusan

Filipino festivals (also “Philippine festivals”) in southern California are lively, dynamic events that draw multigenerational and multicultural crowds to enjoy food, partake in traditional games and crafts, buy Filipino pride gear, and watch a variety of acts that showcase the talent and creativity of Filipino Americans. Inclusive of those who identify as immigrant, U.S.-born, and transnational, Filipinos from across the region convene to express pride and promote visibility as an overlooked and marginalized ethnic group in the United States. The first public performances by Filipinos in the United States were in exhibits curated by colonial officials at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 to justify colonization of the Philippines. Presented as an uncivilized people in need of American tutelage, this stereotyping of Filipinos as primitives motivated pensionados or students from the Philippines to represent themselves; they organized Rizal Day starting in 1905, which valorized national Philippine hero José Rizal, in order to highlight their identity as modern, educated people. New immigrants, who were mostly rural, single men from the northern Philippines, arrived in the 1930s and frequented taxi dance halls in which Filipino jazz musicians and dancers flourished. Yet the established Filipino community criticized these venues as places of vice that were lacking in family and traditional cultural values. Philippine folk dances were not prevalent among Filipino Americans until after the Philippine Bayanihan Folk Dance Company appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. Due to their influence, Filipino American folk dance troupes were established across the nation, presenting Philippine cultures through stylistically diverse dances such as the Indigenous or Tribal suite, the Muslim or “Moro” suite, and the Maria Clara or Spanish-influenced suite. Folk dance performance became a hallmark of festivals such as the Philippine Folk Festival, which has been held annually in San Diego since 1979 (renamed the Philippine Cultural Arts Festival in 1996). In Los Angeles, the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture began in 1992, attracting thousands from around the region. These large-scale public Filipino festivals in southern California offer opportunities to gain insight into the variety of ways in which Filipino Americans creatively express a range of experiences, interests, and concerns. While folk dance troupes and traditional music ensembles such as Spanish-influenced rondalla (plucked string instruments) are most visibly tied to representations of Philippine traditions, rappers, DJs, spoken word artists, hip-hop dance crews, R&B singers, and rock bands demonstrate Filipinos’ mastery of American popular forms. With origins in community celebrations since the early 1900s, Filipino festivals of the early 21st century reflect changes and continuities in California’s Filipino communities, which have adapted to internal dynamics, larger societal forces, and engagement with the homeland of the Philippines.