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Citizens of Asian America

Democracy and Race during the Cold War

Cindy I-Fen Cheng

Publication Year: 2013

During the Cold War, Soviet propaganda highlighted U.S. racism in order to undermine the credibility of U.S. democracy. In response, incorporating racial and ethnic minorities in order to affirm that America worked to ensure the rights of all and was superior to communist countries became a national imperative. In Citizens of Asian America, Cindy I-Fen Cheng explores how Asian Americans figured in this effort to shape the credibility of American democracy, even while the perceived “foreignness” of Asian Americans cast them as likely alien subversives whose activities needed monitoring following the communist revolution in China and the outbreak of the Korean War.
While histories of international politics and U.S. race relations during the Cold War have largely overlooked the significance of Asian Americans, Cheng challenges the black-white focus of the existing historiography.  She highlights how Asian Americans made use of the government’s desire to be leader of the “free world” by advocating for civil rights reforms, such as housing integration, increased professional opportunities, and freedom from political persecution. Further, Cheng examines the liberalization of immigration policies, which worked not only to increase the civil rights of Asian Americans but also to improve the nation’s ties with Asian countries, providing an opportunity for the U.S. government to broadcast, on a global scale, the freedom and opportunity that American society could offer.
Cindy I-Fen Cheng is Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
In the Nation of Newcomers series

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The research and writing of this book were completed with the generous fellowship support of the Office of the Provost of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the University of Wisconsin Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the University of Wisconsin Institute for Research in the Humanities, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Graduate School. ...

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Introduction: Asian American Racial Formation and the Image of American Democracy

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pp. 1-20

Shortly after World War II ended, the President’s Committee on Civil Rights released its 1947 report entitled To Secure These Rights, which dedicated a section to discussing the injustice of Japanese internment. It noted that not since the days of slavery had the nation witnessed such a wholesale displacement and incarceration of a group of people. ...

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Chapter 1. Legislating Nonwhite Crossings into White Suburbia

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pp. 21-56

Just two days after Tommy Amer moved into his newly purchased home in South Los Angeles, his neighbors stopped by to inform him that they had filed an injunction against him. The petition before the Los Angeles Superior Court demanded that Amer be removed from the premises of his home. ...

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Chapter 2. Living in the Suburbs, Becoming Americans

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pp. 57-84

Postwar suburbanization is often portrayed as a process that spatially reified racial divisions in society, where the separations that manifested in the built environment expanded on the privilege of whites. As the historian Eric Avila has explained, postwar suburbanization, as a course of white flight, fortified racial segregation ...

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Chapter 3. Asian American Firsts and the Progress toward Racial Integration

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pp. 85-116

Jennie Lee earned the distinction of being the first Chinese and one of the first women to be a certified army-navy welder at the Douglas Aircraft Company.1 During World War II, Lee’s accomplishment was featured in newspapers throughout the greater Los Angeles area, as it captured the values and aspirations that the nation sought to promote. ...

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Chapter 4. McCarran Act Persecutions and the Fight for Alien Rights

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pp. 117-148

When David Hyun and Diamond Kimm were arrested as part of a nationwide sweep of aliens suspected of subversive activities after the 1950 McCarran Act went into effect, their detention illustrated how the outbreak of the Korean War intensified the nation’s fear of an internal communist subversion that threatened to overthrow the government from within. ...

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Chapter 5. Advancing Racial Equality and Internationalism through Immigration Reform

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pp. 149-190

Writing just six months after the communist revolution in China, the historian Gerald T. White argued for immigration reform that would make the treatment of Chinese equal to that of other groups in the United States as a way to better relations with Asia. In an article penned for the Far Eastern Survey, he acknowledged ...

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Conclusion: Cold War America and the Appeal to See Past Race

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pp. 191-208

On the day that President Lyndon B. Johnson was to sign the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, he addressed the nation to convey the historic significance of the occasion.1 He reminded the nation of how its founding members pledged their lives and fortunes to fight for something bigger than political independence and the elimination of foreign rule. ...


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pp. 209-246


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pp. 247-260


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pp. 261-272

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About the Author

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pp. 273-285

Cindy I-Fen Cheng is Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she teaches Asian American history and culture and U.S. Cold War culture.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814770849
E-ISBN-10: 0814759351
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814759356
Print-ISBN-10: 0814759351

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013