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Unsuitable Suitors: Anti-Miscegenation Laws, Naturalization Laws, and the Construction of Asian Identities

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In this article, I use state-level anti-miscegenation legislation to examine how Asian ethnic groups became categorized within the American racial system in the period between the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. I show how the labels used to describe Asian ethnic groups at the state level reflected and were constrained by national-level debates regarding the groups eligible for U.S. citizenship. My main point is that Asian ethnic groups originally were viewed as legally distinct—racially and ethnically, and that members of these groups recognized and used these distinctions to seek social rights and privileges. The construction of “Asian” as a social category resulted primarily from congressional legislation and judicial rulings that linked immigration with naturalization regulations. Anti-miscegenation laws further contributed to the social exclusion of those of Asian ancestry by grouping together U.S.-born and foreign-born Asians.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Sociology, The College of William and Mary

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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