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AP Explains: Anti-assimilation claims haunt Latinos, Asians

January 29, 2019
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FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2018, file photo, journalist Tom Brokaw speaks during the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Awards ceremony in New York. Brokaw says he feels terrible that he offended some Hispanics with his comments on "Meet the Press" Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019, that Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — NBC’s Tom Brokaw drew strong criticism for saying that Hispanics needed to work harder at assimilating and learning English. Megan Neely, a Duke University graduate studies director, also sparked anger for warning international Asian students in an email against speaking Chinese in public.

Both later apologized.

Beliefs that Hispanics and Asians living in the U.S. won’t assimilate or refuse to speak English are based on stereotypes that scholars say are linked to notions of white supremacy. Throughout American history, Hispanics and Asians have been pressured to adopt the customs of the mainstream white population. The pressure came even as some laws forbade them from voting, intermarrying and having access to education and public facilities.

Here’s a look at how stereotypes have been levied at Latinos and Asians over generations:

CULTURE AND LAND

Missouri-raised Stephen F. Austin convinced the government of Mexico in 1822 to allow 300 white American families to live in Texas. The area already had Mexican settlers.

After American southern whites and Tejanos successful defeated Mexico’s Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna to gain Texas independence, Tejanos were looked upon with suspicion for using two languages and keeping their Catholic faith and traditions. White settlers violently removed Tejanos from some lands on the beliefs that their refusal to adopt American southern traditions showed remained “loyal” to Mexico.

David Montejano’s 1987 book, “Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986,” showed that some poor whites married into the remaining Mexican-American elite families. Through marriage, whites took over large ranch holdings while those Hispanic families slowly lost their ethnic identities.

Some Latinos in California were subjected to state’s ban on interracial marriage.

ASIAN MIGRANTS

According to the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University, thousands of Chinese migrants came to the U.S. to help build the nation’s first transcontinental railroad in the mid-1800s. The migrants took agricultural jobs, join factory work and became entrepreneurs. Most sent money back to China or worked to repay merchants who brought them to the U.S.

As the migrants’ number grew, so did anti-Chinese sentiment over their economic successes. California passed a number of measures targeting Chinese migrants from requiring special business licenses and work permits aimed at preventing them from becoming U.S. citizens. Facing the exclusion into American life, Chinese migrants also faced criticism for an alleged lack of desire to adopt white mainstream customs from religion to learning English. Amid the discrimination, the migrants formed tight-knit communities as a means of support.

Finally, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, limiting all immigration of Chinese laborers.

WORLD WAR II

Facing intense discrimination, Mexican Americans and Asian Americans used the war to prove their loyalty to the U.S. by volunteering to serve. They joined the U.S. Army and Marines even as restaurants refused to serve their families and the federal government began detaining Japanese Americans in internment camps.

The populations emphasized their desire to speak English and civil rights groups celebrated examples of bravery overseas.

When Latino and Asian American soldiers returned home, they found old racial barriers still in place and joined forces to fight discrimination in the court. The 1947 Mendez v. Westminster case, which ruled that segregation of school children in California was unconstitutional, came as a result of Latino and Japanese-American civil rights groups working together.

In Texas, Dr. Hector P. Garcia, a returning veteran, formed the American G.I. Forum aimed at helping Mexican American veteran fight discrimination and poverty. The group encouraged Latinos to speak English, to remain loyal to the U.S. and sought restrictions against immigrants in the country illegally.

Despite his emphasis on assimilation, Garcia received death threats.

“No matter how hard Latinos and Asian Americans go out of their way to assimilate and perfect their Americaness, race always comes up,” Anthony C. Ocampo, a Cal Poly Pomona sociology professor, said.

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Associated Press journalist Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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