Legacy of Exclusion

Evacuees Leaving Poston Camp/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay3_9_PostonRelocation_NARA.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration Administrators process evacuees about to leave the Poston Camp in Yuma County, Arizona, in 1945. California Representative Doris Matsui was born in the camp.
Yet, despite their often successful political mobilization, Asian Pacific Americans continue to live with a legacy of exclusion that stretches back more than 160 years. “To be Asian American in the twenty-first century,” observed the historian Erika Lee, “is an exercise in coming to terms with a contradiction: benefiting from new positions of power and privilege while still being victims of hate crimes and microaggressions that dismiss Asian American issues and treat Asian Americans as outsiders in their own country.”40

Their growing population, combined with that unique duality—“with histories of both exclusion and inclusion,” Lee has written—enables Asian and Pacific Americans to ask what it means to be American even as they shape and reshape the country in the 21st century.41

The modern Congress reflects this in ways large and small. But perhaps the most immediate example is its direct link to the legacy of World War II: Three Members first elected to Congress in this era had either personal or familial experience with the forced evacuation and policy of internment that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Congresswoman Doris Matsui was born in the Poston Camp in Arizona; Congressman Mike Honda lived in the Amache Camp as an infant; and Congressman Mark Takano’s parents had been interned as well.

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40Lee, The Making of Asian America: 391, 393–394, quotation on p. 391.

41Ibid., 396, 402.