How Have Asians and Asian-Americans Been Discriminated against in the United States?

(Dorothea Lange)


Since Asians began to immigrate to the United States in the mid 1800s, racism and xenophobia have manifested in forms of  legal exclusion and mass hysteria. When researching discrimination of Asian and Asian-Americans in the past, I explored exclusion acts and America’s reaction to the Pearl-Harbor bombing in 1941. Today, hatred towards Asians and Asian-Americans has resurfaced with the existence of the novel Coronavirus and our president’s choice of words.

Personal Interest:

Instead of researching and exploring the discrimination against Asians in America, I initially began learning about how travel from Asia to the United States has been limited or suspended. Growing up in America as a second-generation Indian-American I have noticed that most other Indians my age are also second-generation or occasionally first-generation. I decided to take this opportunity to discover why our roots do not run as deep as other races. However, I shifted my topic to focus on general discrimination and racism towards Asians and Asian-Americans in light of the current global epidemic and the surge of hate crimes.

See my full interest essay:

History of Problem:

Soon after Asians started immigrating to the United States in the mid 19th century, opposition and resentment arose among the white Americans. The California Gold Rush in 1849 and the opportunity for a life of riches attracted those immigrating from Asia, primarily China and Japan(Jeff Guo, The Myth of the ‘Model Minority’). In addition to the Gold Rush, many Chinese immigrants worked on the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s(Jeff Guo). The more these immigrants worked, the more racism and hatred was fostered by many Americans. Asian immigrants were seen as “job-stealers” and “dangerous criminals” which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first immigration act of many(Jeff Guo). The resentment increased among white Americans resulting in multiple immigration acts, which culminated in the Johnson Reed Act of 1924. The Johnson Reed Act stopped immigration from countries whose people could not be citizens in the US. Asian immigrants were not allowed to be naturalized citizens of the US. The Reed Act resulted in the prohibition of legal immigration from Asia. (The Other One Percent: Indians in America Chakravorty, Kapur, and Singh).  

Racism towards Asians persisted in the United States and was further exposed once the US entered World War II. After the Japanese bombed Pearl harbor in late 1941 and the United States entered the war, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps based on suspicion of treachery(JACL). Although Germany and Italy were also members of the Axis Powers, German and Italian Americans were not put in internment camps (JACL). 

(Dorothea Lange)

15 years after the war ended, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s led by several activists (Barber). Among the activists was a Japanese American, Yuri Kochiyama, a former internee of World War II that promoted civil rights for Asian Americans (JACL). Although the Civil Rights Movement did not directly tackle immigration acts, they indirectly caused congress to pass the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, an act that lifted restrictions on immigration into the United States (JACL). As Rebekah Barber stated: “As the the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1960s, it made the idea of America as a white nation increasingly unacceptable”(Barber). With the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, the demographic of the United States significantly diversified(Tom Gjelten, The Immigration Act That Inadvertently Changed America). In the 1960s, 7 of 8 immigrants were European and by 2010, 9 of 10 immigrants were from outside of Europe(Gjelten).


As the Coronavirus spreads in the United States, closeted hatred towards Asians and Asian-Americans becomes apparent in the streets, in our president’s twitter account and in press briefings. 

Because of the Coronavirus’s origins in Hubei Province, mainland China, people perceived as Chinese are targeted and attacked for the belief that they will spread the disease. On March 31, 2020, on MSNBC, California Representative and chair of Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Judy Chu stated that at least one thousand hate crime incidents against Asians have been reported in the last five weeks and about one hundred incidents are reported each day. These hate crimes range from verbal harassment to a fatality. One instance, reported by the New York Times, is centered around a woman named Yuanyuan Zhu in San Francisco. Ms. Zhu had moved to the United States from China five  years ago, and was walking to the gym for potentially her last workout when she began to be harassed by a man. The man was shouting at Ms. Zhu and using profanity to criticize China. When a bus passed the two of them, the man screamed at the bus to run her over. Stopped by the light, Ms. Zhu found herself stuck with the man at the crosswalk. Despite avoiding eye-contact with the man, she could sense the man’s malicious gaze. Abruptly, the man spat on Ms. Zhu’s face and sweater. Ms. Zhu hurried to the gym where she found a corner to curl up and cry. When asked about the man, Ms. Zhu said that he “didn’t look strange or angry-he just looked like a normal person” (Tavernise and Oppel Jr). In a second case in New York City, Jiayang Fan, a writer for the New Yorker, was verbally abused for her Chinese heritage. Ms. Fan was taking out her trash and talking on the phone in Chinese when a passerby vehemently cursed at her for being Chinese. Like Ms. Zhu’s harasser, this man did not seem drunk or mentally ill (Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel Jr, NY Times). 

Although Ms. Zhu and Ms. Fan were not physically attacked, those interactions planted a seed of fear and paranoia. Ms. Fan stated that “[She had] never felt like this in [her] 27 yrs in this country” and that “[she has] never felt afraid to leave [her] home to take out the trash [because] of [her] face.” For fear of another attack, Ms. Fan is confined to her own property and the reality that she is now perceived as an outsider rather than an American dawns on her.

Unfortunately, some hate crimes are deadly attacks. For example, In late March, three Asian family members, two of whom were young children, were stabbed in a Sam’s club in Texas (Chu). The attacker claimed he wanted to kill Asian-Americans because he believed that the family was spreading the Coronavirus. 

This surge in hate crimes towards Asians, many believe, can be tied to president Trump’s comments on twitter about the Coronavirus: For example, on March 18th, he tweeted “The onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault! Will be stronger than ever!” The use of the term “Chinese Virus,”which the president also uses in press briefings, associates this global epidemic with the Chinese and creates a stigma, when in fact it is a global pandemic with escalating rates of infection in the US, partially caused by the federal government’s failure to prepare ahead of time. Also, the term “onslaught” implies an invasion or attack of the United States, which the “Chinese Virus” is responsible for. Careless comments like these incite violence and result in the marginalization of people like Ms. Zhu, Ms. Fan, and the family of three in Texas. Trump’s comment may seem insignificant, because Americans have become so accustomed to his bluster on Twitter, but his influence should not be underestimated. During his campaign and election in 2016, hate crimes against Muslims had reached their highest level in 15 years (Zapotosky).

See full present day problem: 



An individual can support Asians by being an ally and standing up against the attacker. By being an ally, the victim knows that they are not only targeted and vilified in this country, but that people support them as well. Also, if enough people aid the victims in these scenarios, then the attackers will not feel secure acting out on their bigoted ideas. When one witnesses a hate crime and is compliant, this sends a message to both the attacker and the victim. To the attacker, this means that their actions are warranted. To the victim, this means that they are not wanted and could be attacked or harassed by anyone.


For a larger scale solution, supporting Asians in the media and refraining from the use of words that can incite violence is mandatory. If we can dissociate the Chinese from the virus, then those that attack or harass Asians would not be able to justify their actions.


Ultimately, for Asians, xenophobic tendencies have not improved since they have been in this country. One can assume that this hatred and racism has always been present but only appears in times of crisis or when these racist actions have any justification. This has been a recurring theme since the Pearl-Harbor bombing in 1941 when 120,000 Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps for the color of their skin, in 2001 when islamaphobic hate crimes reached an all time high, and now with the Coronavirus. If we do not address this pattern of racist tendencies, then innocent people will continue to suffer for the actions of others.

See Full Essay:


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  1. April 24, 2020 by Ben


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