Arab immigrants

  • Early Immigrants
  • Acceptance and Exclusion
  • Civil Rights and Stereotypes
  • Mistrust of the Federal Government

Significance: Christian and Muslim Arab immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, initially drawn to the United States by economic opportunities, have both assimilated into and remained distinct from mainstream American culture, creating a distinctive literary and ethnic identity and working to address stereotypes and prejudices arising from the unfamiliarity of Middle Eastern peoples in the United States.

Arab immigrants

Arab immigrant accountant helping a Latino man prepare his income tax forms in Chicago in early 2007. Known as Al- Muhaseb (the accountant) in Arabic, the man’s company was affiliated with H&R Block, the giant tax-preparation firm. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Tracing the historical presence of Arab immigrants during the various periods of their arrival in the United States raises questions of cultural complexity and religious diversity as well as problems of identification. During the early years of the first major period of immigration, which lasted from 1881 to 1914, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration used no standard terminology to identify from what parts of the Ottoman Empire Arab immigrants originated. Instead, the bureau used such labels as Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Ottomans, and Syrians. After 1899, the bureau simply labeled all Arab immigrants as "Syrians.”

Early Immigrants

The initial wave of immigration brought roughly 110,000 Arabic speakers to the United States before World War I (1914-1918). A second, much smaller, number entered between 1920 and 1924, when passage of a new federal immigration act set a quota on Arab immigrants. The 1924 law represented a shift in American opinion away from the open immigration policies of the earlier era, limiting the entry of members of designated ethnic or national origin groups to 2 percent of the numbers of those groups who had been counted in the 1890 U.S. census. This had the practical effect of further limiting the number of immigrants from Arab lands who could qualify for admission, as the bulk of immigrants to the United States before 1890 had come from northern Europe.

Countries of origin Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
Primary language Arabic
Primary regions of U.S. settlement Northeast, Midwest
Earliest significant arrivals 1880’s
Peak immigration period Mid- to late twentieth century
Twenty-first century legal residents* 262,468 (32,809 per year)

Profile of Arab immigrants

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States. These figures are only for immigrants from nations whose populations have the highest percentages of ethnic Arabs—those listed above. Other nations with large Arab populations include Chad, Israel, Somalia, and Sudan.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

The first Arabic speakers to arrive in the United States were Christians from Lebanon. Higher percentages of Muslim immigrants arrived during the next major period of Arab immigration, from the early 1950’s to the mid-1960’s. Another increase came after the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which abolished the quota system. The Arab countries that contributed the greatest numbers of immigrants after 1965 were Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, and Iraq.

The first Arab immigrants generally settled in the urban areas of the Northeast and Midwest of the United States, forming their own ethnic neighborhoods. By the beginning of World War II, they had established major presences in New York City, Boston, and Detroit. Their economic profile was both as members of the industrial workforce and independent businesspeople who traveled widely in search of customers for their lines of household goods.

The second wave of Arab immigrants, who came during the 1950’s, brought a significant number of professional people seeking better conditions. Their numbers were augmented by university students who chose to remain in the United States and followed employment opportunities to new homes, often creating an Arab presence where none had been before. The third wave, after 1965, contained a mixture of skilled and unskilled workers, many fleeing civil strife or instability in their homelands. However, equal numbers simply sought better lives for themselves and their families. The third stream of Arab immigration contributed most of the visible face of Arab America known to the rest of the United States.

Acceptance and Exclusion

All three waves of Arab immigrants initially encountered a variety of prejudicial attitudes beyond those associated with belonging to any group of newcomers to America working to establish themselves. The initial group from Syria and Lebanon entered the United States at a time when nativism was widespread and a cultural imperative on making all immigrants assimilate completely into white Protestant society was in vogue. The newcomers were viewed as suspect for multiple reasons. Not only were they foreign born and speaking limited English, they also were dark skinned, often unskilled, and members of either the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox faiths. Their village backgrounds, family loyalties, and relatively small numbers worked to preclude the establishment of a distinct and visible Arab ethnic segment of the population in a fashion similar to the process undergone by such groups as the Italians, whose own provincial origins took second place to their identification with their native country. The question of Arab eligibility for admission as American citizens proved contentious after 1910, due to federal government restrictions on Arab immigration. However, a series of successful lawsuits filed between 1910 and 1923 by members of what was loosely known as the "Syrian” community eventually established that Arabs were to be considered eligible for American citizenship.

Legal Arab Immigration, 2001-2008

Arab immigrants

Civil Rights and Stereotypes

The predominantly Muslim Arab immigrants who arrived during the 1950’s and early 1960’s usually arrived with greater economic resources and higher levels of professional education than the members of the first wave had possessed. They were far less flexible in blending with America society than their Christian Arab predecessors had been. They preferred to retain their allegiance to Islam and remained engaged in Middle Eastern political issues. Mainstream American general opinion toward Arab immigrants altered sharply following the Six-Day War of June, 1967, in which the American ally Israel fought several of its Arab neighbors. After a series of highly publicized airline hijackings by Middle Eastern groups, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon issued an executive order in September, 1972, that was intended to prevent terrorists from gaining entrance to the United States. His order authorized special measures against Arabs, ranging from the imposition of restrictions on their entry and ability to apply for permanent resident status to surveillance of community organizations under the code name Operation Boulder.

The fact that no incidents of terrorist activity connected with the Arab American community had occurred raised questions about the necessity of the president’s measure. However, the situation was further complicated by the subsequent oil embargo and the sharp rise in petroleum prices imposed by the Arab-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after the conclusion of another Arab-IsraeliWar in October, 1973. Before these developments, Arab Americans had drawn little public attention in the United States. However, these events prompted a cultural redefinition of what it meant to belong to this community. No distinction was made in political language or mass media journalism to reflect the actual diversity of the contemporary Arab world, which was publicly cast as made up of vicious terrorists intent on destroying America, fanatical religious leaders—no matter which sect of Islam—and unscrupulous businesspeople. These stereotypes were based partly on political realities but were widely disseminated within the United States, unrelieved by positive characterizations of Arabic speakers in American culture.

The presence of such inaccurate images has contributed to a sense of social marginality among Arab Americans that has been addressed in several ways. While some Arab immigrants have made complete breaks with their home cultures and have adopted American lifestyles and values, others stress their uniqueness to distance themselves from being associated with a particular Arab nation or withdraw into ethnic communities, following the pattern of earlier arrivals.

A third response has been to confront stereotypes directly by stressing points of commonality between Islamic and American culture by calling attention to common emphases on strong families and beliefs held by both Muslims and Christians. Although the history of Arab immigrant civil rights activism can be said to begin with the protest by a delegation representing the Association of Syrian Unity made to the federal government during the citizenship disputes before World War I, most such groups came into being during the 1980’s. Perhaps ironically, the success of Arab Americans in adapting to mainstream culture during the earlier part of the twentieth century had the unexpected result of isolating them from the issues of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. The largest civil rights organization countering stereotypes and misinformation about the Arab communities has been the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Founded by South Dakota politician James Abourezk—the first Arab American to serve in the U.S. Senate—in 1980, it quickly established chapters nationwide. In 1985, the Arab American Institute was established inWashington, D.C., to encourage and promote greater involvement by Arab Americans in civic life and the political process.

Mistrust of the Federal Government

In 1987, the Reagan administration attempted to prosecute two longtime Palestinian American residents of California and six of their associates who had been distributing literature and working at fund-raising for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The government charged that they were promoting communism. Dubbed the "LA 8,” the Arab defendants were not deported, as a federal judge ruled the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, under which they were being prosecuted, to be unconstitutional. The government continued to attempt to revive the case six times over a period of twenty years, using successive pieces of antiterrorist legislation including the Patriot Act. In 2007, the Board of Immigration Appeals announced that no further action would be taken, following a ruling by a Los Angeles federal immigration judge that the plaintiffs’ civil rights had been repeatedly violated. This long, drawn-out case served as the focus for Arab immigrant distrust of the federal government and, despite the eventual vindication of the accused, created a legacy of wariness that was only exacerbated by the terrorist attacks on America of September 11, 2001.

The varied social impacts of the events of September 11, 2001, on the Arab immigrant communities were based upon several pieces of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. There was an intensification of existing negative stereotypes about Arabic speakers and an erosion of certain civil rights and elements of due process in investigations carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with the stated aim of identifying possible terrorists and their accomplices, based in large part on racial profiling. Male immigrants fromArab nations regarded as terrorist havens who did not possess green cards were frequently required to be photographed, fingerprinted, and registered by the federal government. More than 140,000 people were registered. Only a handful of the people investigated were actually accused of having terrorist links, but the process resulted in hundreds of Arab immigrants leaving the United States for their home nations, Canada, or Europe to avoid official deportation.

Many of the actions taken by the FBI were sharply criticized by the U.S. Justice Department. These actions also helped energize civil liberties organizations within and outside the Arab community to oppose the selective enforcement of immigration law being utilized to target them. Arab immigrants found themselves having repeatedly to deal with the domestic political consequences of policies and actions they did not condone. They also were repeatedly obliged to emphasize and assert their adoption of American national culture, a process complicated by ignorance among mainstream Americans of the actual core values of Islam.

Despite these problems, the numbers of Arab nationals applying for immigrant status to the United States held firm after 2001—at an average of about 4 percent of total U.S. immigration. However, there was a sharp decline in the numbers of foreign student visas issued to applicants fromMiddle Eastern countries. The drop in student visas ranged from 31 percent for persons from Lebanon to 65 percent for persons from the Persian Gulf states. At the same time, however, the U.S. government actively sought persons fluent in all dialects of the Arabic language to work in its counterterrorism campaign. Ironically, the scarcity of Arabiclanguage programs in American institutions of higher education forced the government to accept applicants for these new positions from among recent Arab immigrants, who faced lengthy periods of security evaluation before they were hired.

These cultural and political challenges resulted in a new awareness of the presence of Arab immigrants in the mind of the American public and offered the immigrants an unprecedented opportunity to educate other Americans on the realities of Arab life. A prime example of this new assertiveness was the appearance in public settings across the United States of women wearing head scarves as required by the Qur$3n, a practice widespread within the Muslim world but not well known in the United States before 2001. In May, 2005, the Arab American National Museum opened in Dearborn, Michigan. These and other outreach efforts by Arab political and religious organizations has begun to create a degree of balance in how the American public regards Muslim and Christian Arab Americans.

Robert B. Ridinger

Further Reading

Arab American National Museum. Telling Our Story: The Arab American National Museum. Dearborn, Mich.: Author, 2007. Profile of the history and exhibits of this unique collection of Arab immigrant history.

Ewing, Katherine Pratte, ed. Being and Belonging: Muslims in the United States Since 9/11. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008. Collection of eight ethnographic essays that explore how questions of identity and assimilation have been and are being addressed in contemporary Arab Christian and Muslim communities.

Hooglund, Eric J. W. Crossing the Waters: Arabic-Speaking Immigrants to the United States Before 1940. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987. Collection of original research essays on the first wave of Arab immigration.

Kayyali, Randa A. The Arab Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. Detailed yet readable history of the cultural background of Arabic-speaking immigrants to the United States and their participation in and impact on American society.

Mehdi, Beverlee Turner, ed. The Arabs in America, 1492-1977: A Chronology and Fact Book. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1978. The history of Arabic speakers in the Americas is followed from 1789 to 1977 through fifty-five primary documents.

Naff, Alixa. Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985. History of the first wave of Arab immigrants before World War II and their economic and social networks.

Orfalea, Gregory. Before the Flames: A Quest for the History of Arab Americans. Northampton, Mass.: Olive Branch Press, 2006. Collection of oral histories of 125 Arab immigrants of three generations of migration, with background information.

See also: Asian immigrants; Asian Indian immigrants; Asiatic Barred Zone; Iranian immigrants; Israeli immigrants; Muslim immigrants; 9/11 and U.S. immigration policy; Patriot Act of 2001; Religions of immigrants; Stereotyping.

Read the full story

Asian Indian immigrants

  • First Wave of Immigration, 1900’s to 1920’s
  • Anti-Asian Legislation
  • Second Wave of Immigration, 1965-1990
  • Beyond 2000

Significance: The Asian Indian diaspora followed three waves of immigration to the United States: The first wave occurred in the first decade of the twentieth century, the second during the 1970’s, and the third during the early twenty-first century, when the highest level of immigration fromIndia occurred. Accounting for more than 2.5 million people in 2007, Asian Indians constituted the thirdlargest Asian immigrant population in the United States.

Asian Indian immigrants

Sikh immigrants to California posing for a group portrait in 1910. (California State Library)

Although most immigration from India to the United States occurred during the early twentyfirst century, the earliest signs of international migration from India occurred after 1830, when Indian merchants, sailors, and indentured workers traveled on East India Company ships to North America. The 1900 U.S. Census reported that 2,545 "Hindus” whose birthplace was listed as India had settled in the United States.

First Wave of Immigration, 1900’s to 1920’s

Between 1907 and 1917, thousands of Sikh landowners and peasants left the Punjab in northern India to search the western shores of North America for employment and higher wages. First immigrating to Vancouver, Canada, Punjabi Sikhs settled in Oregon,Washington, and Northern California to work on the Western Pacific Railroad. Legally prohibited from bringing their wives and families, some young, male Sikhs married Mexican women, creating a "Mexican Hindu” culture. The small Sikh immigrant community remained faithful to its religious and cultural practices, establishing temple settlements for other Asian Indian travelers.

Immigration from India, 1900-2008

Asian Indian immigrants

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. Immigration records for 1820-1899 show a total of only 687 immigrants.

Leaving employment on the railroad and in the lumber mills, by 1910 Asian Indians began contracting for agricultural jobs in California, where there was a dire need for farmworkers. Comfortable and experienced working in the fields, Asian Indians moved from working as day laborers to tenant farmers.Transacting bank loans, Indians purchased acreage. By 1914, as prosperous landowners, the Asian Indian immigrants started moving inland to central California to establish independent ethnic agrarian communities. Hard-working and Englishspeaking, the Asian Indians posed little threat to the socioeconomic fiber of the region. However, by the 1920’s the hostilities toward the growing number of "Asiatics” escalated as the competition between Asian immigrants and white workers increased.

Anti-Asian Legislation

As early as 1905, an association known as the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) organized to oppose Asian immigration. It launched an anti-Asian crusade toward not only the Chinese and Japanese immigrant populations but also the three thousand new Asian Indian immigrants who had arrived in California at the end of the decade. After years of fighting for congressional legislation to limit immigration, the exclusionists were successful in adopting a series of laws that led to turning away hundreds of Asian immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1917 (also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act) restricted immigration from Asia. Soon afterward, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) that Indians were not included under the "statutory category as white persons”; consequently, Indians were denied the right to naturalization, and previously naturalized Indians were stripped of U.S. citizenship.

Seven years later, the Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of new immigrants to 2 percent of the number of people from their country who were already living in the United States. Over the next twenty years, the number of Indians in the United States dwindled to fewer than 2,500. In 1946, the Luce-Celler Bill reinstated naturalization to Asian Indians and allowed an immigration quota for Indians and Filipinos; 6,000 Indians entered the United States between 1947 and 1965.

Second Wave of Immigration, 1965-1990

The tides turned under President Lyndon B. Johnson when he signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Celler Act), lifting the national-origin quotas system and issuing visas on the basis of preferred skills or family reunification. The initial post-1965 immigrants were professionals and their families; after the mid-1970’s, the Asian Indian immigrants moved into small business ownerships and selfemployment ventures in restaurants, travel agencies, and motels. Almost 40 percent of all Asian Indians who entered the United States after 1965 arrived on student or exchange visitor visas. By 1990, the Indian population had increased to 786,694.

With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990, preference was given to immigrants with high technology-based skills, advanced degrees, and exceptional professional talents. Contributing to the "brain drain” in India, colleges throughout the United States hosted a significant number of Indian students, making India one of the top five sending countries. By 2000, Asian Indians constituted the fourth-largest immigrant community in the United States.

Profile of Asian Indian immigrants

Country of origin India
Primary languages English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, and others
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois
Earliest significant arrivals Early twentieth century
Peak immigration period Early twenty-first century
Twenty-first century legal residents* 535,988 (66,998 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Beyond 2000

The Asian Indian immigrant population increased by 38 percent between 2000 and 2005, becoming the third-largest immigrant population in the United States. Asian Indians have attained the highest level of education and the highest median income among all national origin groups in the United States. More than 40 percent are medical professionals, scientists, or engineers concentrated in metropolitan areas across the United States.

Entering the United States English-knowing, highly educated, socially and professionally connected, and geographically mobile has made Asian Indian assimilation fairly smooth. Asian Indian immigrants tend to identify themselves not with the Indian national origin group but with their particular regional, linguistic, religious, or professional subgroups. After arrival, Bengalis, Punjabis, Marathis, and Tamils tend to maintain their languages, religious practices, foods, and dress.

Tamara M. Valentine

Further Reading

Bacon, Jean Leslie. Life Lines: Community, Family, and Assimilation Among Asian Indian Immigrants. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Examination of the Asian Indian experiences in Chicago.

Jensen, Joan M. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Cultural history of the immigration patterns of Asian Indians to the United States.

Joshi, Khyati Y. New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground: Religion, Race, and Ethnicity in Indian America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Analysis of second-generation Indian Americans and their identities.

Leonard, Karen Isaksen. The South Asian Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Examination of the social, political, and cultural history of South Asian immigrant communities.

Sheth, Manju. "Asian Indian Americans.” In Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues, edited by Pyong Gap Min. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2006. Sociohistorical look at the diverse Asian Indian communities that developed across the United States.

See also: Asian immigrants; Asiatic Barred Zone; Asiatic Exclusion League; Association of Indians in America; Bellingham incident; "Brain drain”; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Lahiri, Jhumpa; Motel industry; Mukherjee, Bharati; Pakistani immigrants; United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind.

Read the full story

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

  • Affiliation with the AFL-CIO
  • APALA Convention

Identification: Labor-activist organization

Date: Founded on May 1, 1992

Significance: The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was formed to address the workplace and community needs of a growing Asian and Pacific Islander population in the United States.

The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) convened for the first time on May Day, 1992, in Washington, D.C. That gathering drew five hundred Asian American and Pacific Islander labor and union activists from around the United States, including hotel and restaurant workers from Honolulu, longshore laborers from Seattle, garment factory workers from New York City, nurses from San Francisco, and supermarket workers from Los Angeles. The establishment of APALA was the culmination of several decades of Asian American labor activity.

Affiliation with the AFL-CIO

After the mid-1970’s, Asian American labor organizers in California worked to strengthen unionization efforts by holding organizational meetings in the larger Asian American communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Neighborhood-based organizations such as the Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor (AAPL) grew out of these efforts, forging stronger ties between labor and community and uniting Asian union staff members more closely with rank-and-file labor leaders. The creation of the AAPL was a successful local movement, but it soon became clear to AAPL administrators that to organize significant numbers of Asian American workers, a national organizing effort would be needed. Led by Art Takei, the AAPL solicited organizational aid from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO).

AAPL vice president Kent Wong attended the 1989 national AFL-CIO convention in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the establishment of a national labor organization for Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland acknowledged Wong’s lobbying attempts by noting the local accomplishments of the AAPL in California and recognizing the organizing potential of the burgeoning Asian American workforce.

Two years after that AFL-CIO national convention, Kirkland appointed a national Asian Pacific American labor committee, comprising thirtyseven Asian American labor activists. The committee spent more than a year planning the founding meeting of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, finally releasing an invitation for Asian American and Pacific Islander unionists, labor activists, and workers to bridge the gap between the national labor movement and the Asian Pacific American community.

APALA Convention

More than five hundred delegates attended the May, 1992, APALA convention to adopt a constitution and set up a governmental structure with a national headquarters inWashington, D.C., and local chapters throughout the United States. Organized in this way, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance could receive recognition and legitimacy from a national administration guided by the AFL-CIO, while still using its powerful techniques of community organizing at the local level.

During the convention, APALA organizers and delegates recognized and honored Asian Pacific American labor pioneers whose achievements they believed had melded national and local unionization efforts successfully or who had made significant contributions toward heightening the recognition of Asian American laborers. Honorees included Philip Villamin Vera Cruz of the United FarmWorkers union and Ah Quon McElrath of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

APALA conventioneers looked ahead to the organization’s role in continuing such activism and achievement. They drafted a commitment document calling for empowerment of all Asian American and Pacific Islander workers through unionization on a national level, as well as the provision of national support for local unionization efforts. APALA also promoted the formation of AFL-CIO legislation that would create jobs, ensure national health insurance, reform labor law, and channel financial resources toward education and job training for Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. Toward that end, a revision of U.S. governmental policies toward immigration was called for. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s commitment document supported immigration legislation that would promote family unification and provide improved access to health, education, and social services for immigrants. Finally, the document promoted national government action to prevent workplace discrimination against immigrant laborers and strongly supported vigorous prosecution for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes. APALA delegates passed several resolutions, which they forwarded to the AFL-CIO leadership. These documents decried the exploitative employment practices and civil rights violations alleged against several U.S. companies.

Convention delegates also participated in workshops that focused on facilitating multicultural harmony and solidarity, enhancing Asian American participation in unions, and advancing a national agenda to support broadly based civil rights legislation and improved immigration policies and procedures. Fromthese APALA workshops, two national campaigns were launched. The first involved working with the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute to recruit a new generation of Asian Pacific American organizers. The second campaign involved building a civil and immigration rights agenda for Asian Pacific American workers that was based on APALA’s commitment document and its convention resolutions.

Through the legislative statement of its goals and by lobbying for their societal implementation, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was the first Asian American labor organization to achieve both national and local success. Although by the time of the 1992 Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance convention Asian Americans had been engaged in various forms of unionization activity for more than 150 years, the establishment of APALA within the ranks of the AFL-CIO provided it with more powerful organizational techniques. APALA was able to unite Asian Pacific workers, simultaneously integrating them into the larger American labor movement.

Cynthia Gwynne Yaudes

Further Reading

Aguilar-San Juan, Karin, ed. The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990’s. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Explores the connection between race, identity, and empowerment within the workplace and the community. Covers Euro- American, African American, and Asian American cultures.

Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Examines the Asian American labor experience from a gendered perspective, asking how the oppression of Asian American workers has structured gender relationships among them.

Friday, Chris. Organizing Asian American Labor. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. Analyzes the positive impact of Asian Pacific immigration upon the formation of West Coast and Pacific Northwest industries between 1870 and 1942.

Rosier, Sharolyn. "Solidarity Starts Cycle for APALA.” AFL-CIO News 37, no. 10 (May 11, 1992): 11. Summarizes the AFL-CIO conference report on the establishment of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.

Wong, Kent, ed. Voices for Justice: Asian Pacific American Organizers and the New Labor Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Collection of interviews with Asian Pacific American labor organizers and workers.

See also: Asian American literature; Asian immigrants; Chinese immigrants; Civil Rights movement; Issei; Japanese American Citizens League; Japanese immigrants; Pacific Islander immigrants.

Read the full story

Association of Indians in America

Identification: National association of Asian Indians

Date: Founded on August 20, 1967

Significance: The association has provided a unified voice and sense of purpose for the nearly two million people of Asian Indian descent living in the United States, gathering them under the common bonds of Indian heritage and commitment to the United States.

In 1965, Congress passed a new Immigration and Nationality Act, repealing the Immigration Act of 1917 and opening the door to immigrants from India, who soon arrived in large numbers. Founded in 1967 and incorporated in 1971, the Association of Indians in America (AIA) is the oldest association of Asian Indians in the United States. The AIA has three goals: to support the social welfare of Asian Indians living in the United States and to ease their transition into the mainstream; to help members work for development in India; and to provide charitable, cultural, and educational means for Asian Indians to participate in American community life. The AIA is a grassroots organization with chapters throughout the United States. It has worked to gain political recognition of Asian Indians by the federal government, to lobby for the reunification of families, to promote scholarship in areas affecting public policy, to support voter registration, and to assemble resources to aid victims of natural disasters around the world.

Cynthia A. Bily

Further Reading

Bacon, Jean Leslie. Life Lines: Community, Family, and Assimilation Among Asian Indian Immigrants. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Das Gupta, Monisha. Unruly Immigrants: Rights, Activism, and Transnational South Asian Politics in the United States. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006.

Ng, Franklin, ed. The Asian American Encyclopedia. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.

See also: Asian immigrants; Asian Indian immigrants; Immigration Act of 1917; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Motel industry.

Read the full story

Bellingham incident

The Event: Racially and economically motivated riot and expulsion directed against Sikh laborers

Date: September, 1907

Location: Bellingham, Washington

Significance: During the first decade of the twentieth century, Asian Indian immigrants, most of whom practiced the Sikh faith, working in the United States met organized discrimination and even violence.

Asian Indians began to leave India around 1900 to earn money for their families in India and for the independence movement of India against Great Britain. Most were men and identified as members of the Sikh faith. Between 1900 and 1905, several hundred immigrated to the United States and British Columbia, Canada. Since Sikhs often understood English and were hard workers, some Canadian employers began to promote Sikh immigration. In 1907, more than two thousand Asian Indian men arrived in Canada, most of them Sikhs. More than one thousand Asian Indians immigrated to the United States in 1907, hundreds of whom were Sikh laborers crossing the border from Canada. Just south of the border, the town of Bellingham in Washington State had about 250 Asian Indian immigrants, mostly Sikh, working in its lumber mills by September, 1907.

Prejudices against Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino immigrants along theWest Coast were strong by 1907, and the Asian Indian workers in Bellingham became targets, too. Movements against Chinese immigrants during the nineteenth century were driven by white workers’ racism and fear of economic competition with the newcomers. These movements expanded into broad anti-Asian agitation during the twentieth century. In 1905 in San Francisco, the Asiatic Exclusion League formed to block Asian immigrants, particularly those from China and Japan. In Bellingham, the league had eight hundred members by 1907. While the radical Industrial Workers of the World criticized anti- Asian hostility, most unions supported it.OnLabor Day, September 2, 1907, hundreds of union advocates marched in Bellingham against the Sikh immigrants. Calling the Sikhs "Hindus” (falsely believing that Asian Indians all practiced the Hindu religion), marchers demanded that mill owners fire all "Hindus” immediately.

Sikh workers reported for work on September 3, but that night roving vigilantes targeted Sikh residences. The next evening, September 4, a mob of 150 men and boys formed and surged through Bellingham, assaulting some Sikhs and forcing others from bunkhouses and mills into the basement of Bellingham’s city hall.Upto five hundred participants eventually joined in the coercive roundup. Police officers cooperated, claiming that this calmed the vigilantes and reduced violence.

On September 5, with up to two hundred Sikhs held captive, Bellingham’s mayor claimed that the city could protect anyone who wished to stay in Bellingham. However, the obvious failure of the police to stop the previous night’s coercion convinced Sikh laborers not to trust the mayor. A Sikh spokesman stated that all "Hindus” would leave Bellingham by September 7. Approximately half went to Canada and half to California.

No attackers were brought to trial, and most white people in Bellingham apparently supported the expulsion, combining racism with economic fears to justify their approval. A few falsely claimed that Sikh men deserved expulsion because they insulted white women, but most argued that by accepting lower pay and inferior housing, immigrant Asian Indians undercut unions’ efforts to improve economic benefits for white laborers. Waves of anti-Sikh, anti-Asian Indian protests spread from Bellingham north to Alaska and Canada, and south to towns inWashington State and California. Asian Indian immigrants would not return to Bellingham for many decades after the 1907 expulsion. Immigration from India and other parts of Asia to the United States was stopped entirely during the 1920’s, but by the early twenty-first century Bellingham was a more welcoming home for Asian Indian immigrants and recognized the one hundredth anniversary of the Bellingham incident with apologies and commemorations against all anti-immigrant discrimination.

Beth Kraig

Further Reading

Allerfeldt, Kristofer. Race, Radicalism, Religion, and Restriction: Immigration in the Pacific Northwest, 1890-1924. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.

Jensen, Joan M. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

Lee, Erika. "Hemispheric Orientalism and the 1907 Pacific Coast Race Riots.” Amerasia Journal 33, no. 2 (2007): 19-47.

See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Anti-Japanese movement; Asian Indian immigrants; Asiatic Exclusion League; Economic consequences of immigration; Employment; Industrial Workers of the World; Labor unions; Washington State.

Read the full story