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History Leads to Diversity When it Comes to Asian Americans

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

The history of Asian Americans is rarely taught much in U.S. history class at any phase in K-12 education.

Maybe someone might throw an eggroll party in junior high and discuss the Chinese Exclusion Act. But it’s more likely that the subject is just excluded from curricula all across America.

Even in college, the exposure to Asian history as American history and not as “ethnic studies” is rare. Maybe there’s an incidental reference to Chinese Americans building the railroad.

And, generally, that’s it.

U.S. history? We’ve got wars to discuss.

Still, if you want to understand how some of our best colleges and universities have become 20, 30, even in excess of 40 percent Asian American then you need a basic history lesson.

We’re not talking international students now, but Asian Americans.

And you need to understand the importance of Oct. 3, 1965.

Fifty years ago on that date, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Hart-Celler Act, also known as the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. It wasn’t enacted until 1968, but, by going to the Statue of Liberty to sign it, Johnson was sending a symbol to those on another shore, on the other side of the continent and clear across the Pacific.

He was telling Asians and Africans, you can come to America.

The law lifted racist quotas that made sure America’s demographics were handpicked. And, naturally, favored those from Europe.

How did America get this way? We controlled our immigration and only let in people like “us.”

Which is a problem if you weren’t one of them.

The law was long overdue. But after the Civil Rights Act in1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, society was opening up. And America was ready to change its racist immigration policy.

Specifically when it came to Asians.

In 1880, Chinese immigrants, mostly male laborers, had been the largest foreign-born group in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada.

But the Chinese Exclusion Act changed all that in 1882.

When Filipinos as colonized U.S. nationals flooded the fields in California during the depression it was the same thing.


Brought over as a male labor force, they took jobs from whites, and because there were few Filipinas, they married white women. It started an anti-Filipino fervor that led to the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which rebranded the Filipinos as aliens and subjected them to repatriation.


Racist laws are nothing new in America.

But non-racist laws like the one in 1965 were our green light.

The Pew Research Center’s new data analysis revealed just how much the law meant: Everything.

The boom in Asian American diversity is all from that law.

With the quotas lifted, Asian Americans have gone from less than one percent of the population in 1965 to six percent in 2015 and are expected to  more than double again—14 percent of the total U.S. population—by 2065.

The population by percentage is expected to boost Asian American immigrants to No.1 in the list of those foreign born by percentage, with 38 percent of the population. Latinos will be bumped to No.2 at 31 percent.

Without that 1965 law, get a load of the demographics of our nation:

75 percent, white

14 percent, black

8 percent, Hispanic

Less than 1 percent Asian

Can you even imagine an America like that with so little diversity? If your campus still looks like that, then your school has a problem.

Because the best schools reflect what America has become—an even better place in the name of democracy and freedom.

And as history shows us, it’s all due to the fairness and wisdom of the immigration reforms of 1965.

Emil Guillermo won the 2015 Ahn Award for Social Justice and Civil Rights journalism from the Asian American Journalists Association. His column runs on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog. He writes from Northern California.,,

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