February 22, 2023: American Bar Foundation Spring Speaker Series: “From Citizens to Aliens: Asian Americans and the Racial Limits of American Citizenship”

Please join me for a public talk sponsored by the American Bar Foundation this Wednesday, February 22 at 12 Noon. I will be discussing the long-term consequences of the Asian exclusion movement that culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court case Ozawa v. United States (1922) on the lives of U.S.-born Asian Americans. The seminar will take place via Zoom. To register, contact Sophie Kofman at skofman@abfn.org.

From Citizens to Aliens: Asian Americans and the Racial Limits of American Citizenship

Michael R. Jin

The landmark 1922 Supreme Course case Ozawa v. United States stamped the legal status of immigrants from Japan as “aliens ineligible for citizenship,” bolstering the intense exclusion movement based on the powerful Orientalist representation of Asians as unassimilable foreigners. This movement to police the racial boundaries of citizenship not only excluded Asian immigrants from American citizenry, but also threatened the citizenship rights of U.S.-born Asian Americans. In their concerted effort to strip Asian Americans’ birthright citizenship, leading anti-immigrant agitators deployed the same xenophobic rhetoric to argue that U.S.-born Japanese Americans should be treated as Japanese nationals. Japanese Americans’ struggles to protect the integrity of their birthright citizenship demonstrate that exclusionary legal measures designed to stop the influx of Asians did not simply affect the immigrant generation. Focusing on the experiences of Japanese Americans throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, this talk explores the complex and bizarre consequences of the pervasive anti-Asian xenophobia in the American West that rendered many Americans of Japanese ancestry stateless and subject to legal exclusion as “aliens ineligible for citizens.” 

February 19, 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, which followed Ozawa v. United States. This talk honors the history of Asian Americans and their struggle for US citizenship amid pervasive anti-Asian xenophobia in the early twentieth century.

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