Spaces of Mobilization: The Asian American/Pacific Islander Struggle for Social Justice

By Aguirre, Adalberto, Jr.; Lio, Shoon | Social Justice, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Spaces of Mobilization: The Asian American/Pacific Islander Struggle for Social Justice


Aguirre, Adalberto, Jr., Lio, Shoon, Social Justice


ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDERS HAVE BEEN POLITICALLY CONSTRUCTED AS AN ALIEN presence or as "forever foreigners" in U.S. culture (Lowe, 1996; Tuan, 2003; Lee, 1999). For millions of Asian and Pacific Islanders who fully identify as Americans, they are reminded repeatedly that one of their core identities is at best questioned or at worst denied (Cheryan and Monin, 2005). This image of Asians and Pacific Islanders as "forever foreigners" or as "sojourners" ideologically positions them as outsiders who do not have a stake in American society and therefore constitute the sources of moral panics and social anxieties that must be subjected to social control and regulation. Simultaneously, Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States are ideologically constructed as "model minorities" that have been well integrated into mainstream America (Osajima, 1988; Lee, 1996; Omi and Winant, 1994). This ideological construct portrays Asian and Pacific Islander Americans as passive populations that do not experience racial discrimination, violence, and social problems (Vo, 2004). However, Asians and Pacific Islanders have been deeply engaged in the struggle for social justice in America. Historically, Asians and Pacific Islanders have challenged exploitation in the workplace, unjust immigration policies, barriers to U.S. citizenship, discrimination against gays and lesbians, exclusion from labor unions, and discrimination in education and residential segregation (Chan, 1991 ; McClain, 1994; Omatsu, 1994; Takaki, 1989; Wong, 1994; Zia, 2000; Espiritu, 1992; Vo, 2004). Asians and Pacific Islanders have organized against domestic violence (Lin and Tan, 1994; Abraham, 2000; Rudrappa, 2004; Supriya, 2002). They have also formed social movements and coalitions with other groups in the struggle for immigration rights, affirmative action, and social justice (Scharlin and Villanueva, 1992; Kim, 2004; Yoshikawa, 1994; Saito, 1998; Geron et al., 2001; Zia, 2000; Pulido, 2006). Despite their long history of fighting for social justice, the image of Asians as model minorities renders this history invisible (Aguilar-San Juan, 1994; Wei, 1993). This special issue of Social Justice will contribute to the emerging literature on Asian and Pacific Islander community formation and the struggle for social justice in the United States.

International Spaces of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Struggle for Social Justice

The experiences of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States have been shaped by the larger global context, including the integration of Asia into the modern world-system, imperialist competition between the various global powers, colonialism, and wars (Bascara, 2006; Choy, 2005; Palumbo-Liu, 1999; Tyner, 2006). The transnational space for the circulation of capital, the formation of labor migration, and the commodification of migrant labor structure the contours of Asian-American community and identity formation. The relatively weak position of China in the modern world-system during the 19th century meant that Chinese immigrants were vulnerable to physical attacks, as well as economic and political exclusion in the United States. The 1882 Exclusion Act and the 61-year-long exclusion resulted in forced segregation, limited occupation choices, and an extreme sex-ratio imbalance (Li, 2007). Imperialism led to the incursion into and colonization of the Philippines, Hawaii, India, Southeast Asia, etc. The Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Cold War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War affected the perception and treatment of Asians and Pacific Islanders by the majority population of the United States. During World War II, when China and the United States were allies, Chinese Americans became a symbol of friendship between the two countries; simultaneously, however, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in internment camps. The Cold War led to a crackdown on labor organizers among Filipino farm workers and Chinese Americans (de Vera, 1994; Zhao, 2002). …

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