Thursday, May 07, 2015

Cover story: "The Good Immigrants"

Madeline Y. Hsu is associate professor of history and past director of the Center for Asian American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her books include Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home and the coedited anthology Chinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture.

Her new book is The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority.

Here Hsu explains the connection of the book's cover to the pages within:
These well-dressed Chinese refugees are boarding a chartered Pan Am flight from Hong Kong bound for new lives in the United States. They were lucky recipients of the few thousand refugee visas allocated to the Far East in consideration of American strategic interests in the area. The nongovernmental, humanitarian aid organization, Aid Refugee Chinese Intellectuals, Inc. (ARCI), had recruited this carefully chosen group which reflected a major turn in U.S. attitudes toward Chinese, and Asian, immigration more generally.

Once a despised racial group, Asians were the first targets of enforced U.S. immigration restrictions starting in the 1870s and 1880s. By World War II and the Cold War, however, attitudes about racial differences had changed, propelled in part by practical considerations such as U.S. needs for allies in the western Pacific to whom its discriminatory immigration laws presented significant insults. The U.S. government sought to signal its friendship and greater openness to Asians by admitting small numbers of refugees from communism, but hedged its hospitality by focusing on the well-educated with the best potential to contribute to the U.S. politically and economically.

Unsurprisingly, ARCI was actually a CIA front that sought college-educated refugees in the belief that they were not only more employable and likely to be self-sufficient, but would also secure their children’s education and upward mobility. This photograph was a publicity still used to depict both American outreach to Chinese and to promote their image as desirable immigrants. A twelve-year-old Evelyn Hu-Dehart stands on the staircase, third from the left, along with her family. Her eventual career as an Ivy League university professor demonstrates how well ARCI had projected the future success for this select group.
Learn more about The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue