The Geopolitics of Eugenics and the Exclusion of Philippine Immigrants from the United States

By Tyner, James A. | The Geographical Review, January 1999 | Go to article overview

The Geopolitics of Eugenics and the Exclusion of Philippine Immigrants from the United States


Tyner, James A., The Geographical Review


ABSTRACT. From 1898 to 1936, Philippine immigrants were routinely excluded from the United States, where incipient practices of eugenic "science" and geopolitics were informing social policy. Concomitant with emergent theories of evolution, a geopolitically informed eugenics forewarned of possible racial competition and societal degeneration. Immigration legislation emerged as an effective social policy to exclude perceived undesirable, and racially distinct, immigrant groups, ostensibly to protect race and state. Keywords: eugenics, geopolitics, immigration, Philippines, racism.

God gave the nonassimilable Asiatics a place in the sun and that place is the Orient.

I have no racial prejudices.

Representative Richard Welsh of California, 1932

Geographers and other social scientists are increasingly interested in the interlaced constructions of "race" and "nation" (Anderson 1991; Jackson and Penrose 1994). A large part of this interest turns on observations that race and nation are perceived to be natural divisions of humanity--one social, one spatial. Races are presumed to reflect inherent biological classifications of people; nations, conversely, are presumed to be natural spatial divisions, often defined by racial homogeneity. These divisions, whether racial or national, are made practicable and reified: Racist ideologies build social boundaries; nationalist ideologies contribute to spatial boundaries. Racist and nationalist ideologies are also dialectic, each reinforcing the other: Social boundaries are manifest spatially; spatial boundaries are manifest socially.

The scientific study and control of populations has been, and continues to be, central to the construction of race and nations. An armory of segregation policies, immigration legislation, antimiscegenation laws, sterilization programs, relocation schemes, and, ultimately, euthanasia programs were tangible weapons in the ideological battlegrounds of pre-World War II society. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, numerous social-reform policies throughout Germany, South Africa, Latin America, and the United States were formulated around the exclusion of undesirable populations (Burleigh and Wippermann 1991; Stepan 1991; Dubow 1995; Paul 1995; Tyner 1998). A eugenical discourse greatly informed these policies. As a putative science, eugenics sought to understand human heredity; as a reform movement, eugenics justified social policies by encouraging the reproduction of "fit" individuals while denying any reproduction--biological or social--to "unfit" individuals (Stepan 1991, 1).

In today's society, sterilization and euthanasia programs have largely been discarded, although some observers suggest that current policies, such as the denial of preventive and prenatal health care or even attempts to block undocumented immigrants' access to public school education, are designed to achieve the same goal (Roberts 1997). Various policies, programs, and laws have been instigated to preserve the purity of races and places. So would Madison Grant write in 1933 that the "vast tide of immigration [has] greatly impaired our purity of race....America's first duty is to herself and to the people already here" (pp. 5-6); and in 1995 Peter Brimelow wrote, "The American nation has always had a specific ethnic core. And that core has been white" (quoted in Kanstroom 1997, 301).

The statements of both Grant and Brimelow reveal a spatially informed notion of eugenics; truly, what is advanced is a geopolitics of eugenics. The confluence of geopolitics and eugenics posits a competitive worldview in which racial proximity and territorial expansion are presumed to contribute to both societal and racial degeneration (Tyner 1998). Geopolitically informed eugenical discourses are powerful ideological weapons in the conduct of statecraft. The decision to exclude Philippine immigrants was a defining moment in the historical evolution of an American geopolitically informed eugenical discourse. …

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