“Hate crimes against Asian Americans in 16 cities rose by 150 percent in 2020. … But anti-Asian racism isn't new. Centuries of anti-Asian racism in the United States have led to this moment.” (NPR, March 10)
Racist hate crimes are nothing new in America. One group experiencing a huge increase in these attacks is Asian-Americans, a community which has suffered from ongoing prejudice for centuries.
Since the onset of COVID-19, attacks against Asian-Americans have been intensified by comments from elected officials about the “Chinese plague” or “Kung flu” and other such derogatory terms. Ignorant people want to blame someone for COVID-19, and apparently think attacking Asian-Americans will bring some relief.
That’s stupid, of course, but so are attacks against any group based on their ethnicity, religion, skin color, etc. America has been struggling with this problem for centuries. Nevada has its own history with this issue.
The first session of the Nevada Territorial Legislature took place in the fall of 1861. “In 1861, Nevada became the first state to pass a law specifically barring marriages between whites and Asians.” (Journal of American History, 1996, v. 83)
This law was introduced by Isaac Roop on Oct. 19, 1861, with the intent “to prohibit the cohabitation and marriage of whites with Indians, Negroes, etc.” Two days later, Chinese were added to the list. The bill passed the Territorial Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. James Nye on Nov. 28, 1861. Any white person marrying someone on the prohibited list would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to one to two years in prison. (Nevada Territorial Laws, chap 32, sec 1, 3)
In 1865, another law was passed prohibiting “Negros, Asians and Indians” from attending public schools. Separate schools could be established but weren’t required.
In 1912, the law against intermarriage was enlarged to include Malay (Brown) and Mongolian (Yellow) people. Marriages between white people and any of these groups were illegal and could result in fines and imprisonment. (Nev. Revised laws, sec 6514).
In 1929, 1955, and 1957, Nevada passed more laws forbidding mixed marriages. These laws were not repealed until 1959, not exactly ancient history.
Marriage and education were not the only areas where Asian-Americans suffered discrimination. “On Nov. 4, 1924, the voters of Nevada amended the state constitution to bar foreigners from owning land.” (“Anti-Asian land laws – Nevada”, Master’s thesis, UNLV, 2004)
How did our local community respond to these laws? A story in the Churchill County Eagle (1906-1927), from March 5, 1921, described how Fallon residents approached the issue of Japanese-American citizens living in Fallon. The story was reprinted in the Lahontan Valley News on March 3, 2021.
The article described a meeting of Fallon’s leaders deciding what to do about “the influx of Japanese into Churchill County.” The decision was made to order all Japanese to leave Churchill County. It was decided that “those Japanese having business or property here should be given a reasonable time in which to settle up their affairs before leaving, and that all others must go at once.” In other words, people who legally owned property and businesses in Churchill County were forced to sell everything and leave for no other reason than their ancestry.
Japanese-Americans who arrived in Churchill County by train were to be immediately escorted out of the county, “without violence if possible.” Signs were placed at the train depot to let Japanese-Americans know they were not welcome here. Other Nevada counties passed similar laws.
In a bit of irony, the same March 3 issue of the LVN describing the actions of 100 years ago also had a story about the speaker at the March 10 CEDA breakfast. The speaker was a well-respected Japanese-American business leader, a graduate of West Point with extensive business experience, sharing his knowledge with CEDA attendees. That story shows we can grow and learn.
On April 22, by a 94-1 vote, the U.S. Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, targeting anti-Asian hate crimes. The House of Representatives will vote on the bill this week, and President Joe Biden has promised to sign it when it passes.
May is Asian-American History Month. Anti-Asian hate is just one example of the racism and prejudice that permeate far too much of our country. Denying that racism exists is being willfully ignorant and doesn’t help solve the problem. I hope more and more of us will become even more aware of the poison that is racism, so we can work to eradicate it from our society.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.