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The Struggle for Equality: Native-Americans and Asian-Americans

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The struggle for equality has been going on since the first European settlers immigrated to the United States. Globalization and Imperialism forced the indigenous peoples of the United States, and also immigrants from other countries, to endure extreme cultural changes. Both the experiences of the Native Americans and the Asian Americans are similar in the attempts by the dominant white culture to affect a total cultural transformation of their way of life. Both groups were considered inferior, dealt with segregation, discrimination, and the rationalization of economic and social exploitations. Native Americans and Asian Americans both suffered restriction of education that was intended to change and control their beliefs and behaviors, in addition to forced internment and relocation. Both groups struggled to preserve their cultures and languages, to be accepted and to receive the liberties that are the right of citizens of the United States. The liberties Americans expect, freedom from discrimination, citizenship, the right to sit on a jury, the right to vote, to receive an equal education were for many years denied them. In both cases, fear and greed were the prevailing attitudes that guided those policies of intolerance.

From the onset, both the Native Americans and Asian Americans were viewed as inferior to whites and uncivilized. The 1700’s classification of Native Americans by Congress as “domestic foreigners” (Spring, 2010) denied citizenship based upon the Bering Strait Theory that they had crossed over from Asia on the land bridge, and therefore were not white . This was the justification for the classification that all people of Asiatic decent, called collectively by European Americans Mongolians, were not to be considered “white” and was the basis for the Naturalization Act of 1790 which denied both Native Americans and Asian Americans citizenship.

The general view of the Native Americans was a “filthy” (in the moral sense) savage who not only did not avoid personal pleasure, they enjoyed sex, allowed their women power, were lazy and did not discipline their children. Asian Americans fared no better. Spring (2010) states that in the 1870’s in California the Asians were considered an inferior race, barbarians, and any mixing of the races would be “the lowest, most vile degraded of our race, and the result of that amalgamation would be a hybrid of the most despicable, a mongrel of the most detestable that has ever afflicted the earth” (p. 72) he went on to say that California Representative Romualdo Pacheco maintained,

Chinaman [is] a lithe, sinewy creature, with muscles like iron, and almost devoid of nerves and sensibilities. His ancestors have also bequested to him the most hideous immoralities. They are as natural to him as the yellow hue of his skin and are so shocking and horrible that their character cannot even be hinted (p.73).

The mind-set of non-European cultures not being white and needing to be civilized, was part of the belief system that the English colonists brought with them that held they were culturally and racially superior. This was used as the validation for taking over the lands of the Native Americans and the forced relocation of the various tribes. Ostensibly, for their own good, the reality was that the land was desired by settlers. This is similar to the Japanese Americans losing their homes and possessions during their internment in concentration camps during World War II. Additionally it was this same “not white” argument that was used in the 1920’s to deny Asian Indians citizenship, and was combined with restrictive court rulings to deny owning land. It was over 160 years after the Naturalization Act that the United States Government acknowledged that naturalized citizenship should not be restricted to whites with the passing of the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952.

The political system headed by European-Americans believed that to preserve the survival of the country it was necessary that other groups repudiate their native religions and ways of life, and accept middle class America with its accompanying customs. The hope was to accomplish this by total deculturalization and assimilation through education. It was during the latter part of the nineteenth century that the major policy of the United States Government became one of destroying the customs of the Indians, replacing their languages with English and instilling in them an allegiance to the U.S. Government. The Japanese faced these same tribulations in Hawaii in 1914. Wanting to preserve their culture and language, the local Japanese communities had opened private schools for their children to attend after public school. Spring (2010) explains, they were criticized by local white leaders for “hindering the Americanization of Japanese American children” and a Territorial Government report from that time states, “All Americans must be taught to read and write and think in one language; this is a primary condition to the growth which all nations expect of us and which we demand of ourselves” (as sited in Hawkins, 1995, p.35).

The idea of cultural assimilation combined with the restriction of education was meant to keep other cultures and ethnic groups in line. Both Native Americans and Asian Americans were experiencing segregation or being denied an adequate education. It was not until the civil rights movement that strides were made to redress the deficiencies in schooling, have the schools provide positive images, and reverse the efforts by federal and state governments to destroy the language and cultures of different ethnic groups. The Japanese were, at this time, at a great disadvantage as they were still reeling from the effects of anti-Japanese movies made during World War II and had been villainized by all other cultural groups as a result. The outcome of that polarization of popular opinion was that the Chinese Americans were able to overcome the image of the Chinese opium den “deviant” which had energized discrimination and segregation. The American Indians wish to be in charge of their own education and re-establish their cultural heritage and languages was made difficult by the attempts in the 1940’s and 1950’s to end the official status of the tribes. This was not in line with the Indians desires as it would mean dispersal into the general population (Spring, 2010). Banding together into the Pan-Indian movement the tribes in the 1960’s led demonstrations to call attention to the plight of the Native Americans and garner political support. At this time, the image of Asian Americans had evolved to the point where they were considered the “model minority”(Spring, 2010). Regarded by the European Americans as model students who worked hard and got good grades, they were used as “poster children” to hold up against the African Americans and Hispanics for not working towards the model minority image.

Despite strides made by both groups discrimination in education has continued. With a new inflow of immigrants to the United States, multicultural education ranging from bilingual education to instruction in a variety of cultures was proposed. All ethnic groups were expected to benefit from these policies. Unfortunately, the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act which mandated standardized tests to measure achievement, tied to school funding, put an end to that hope. If instructors hoped to ensure the students would be prepared for the high stakes tests that had became mandated than the material needed to be standardized. Sadly, these government created tests “create uniformity in knowledge” and “make a single culture the norm of schooling.” (Spring, 2010, p.133)


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