By Madeline Sumida, Fall 2012 Intern
Veterans Day is a time to honor the men and women in the United States military. Asian immigrants to the United States have served in American conflicts since the War of 1812, but for many years federal legislation prevented most from becoming citizens. Even Asians American citizens did not see significant change in social and legal racism until after World War II, which marked a turning point for Asians in the United States military.
During WWII, Asian Americans enlisted in unprecedented numbers. The mass demonstration of patriotism despite the detrimental political conditions established by United States enabled Asian American soldiers to transform racist attitudes towards them and their communities. Korean, Chinese, and Filipino Americans volunteered to show their support for the United States by enlisting in the armed services. Chinese Americans pointed to their contributions in the war effort in order to pressure Congress to repeal Chinese exclusion legislation. Filipino fighters in Bataan and Corregidor won the respect of both the American military and civilian society—in February 1943, 1200 Filipino soldiers gained U.S. citizenship in recognition for their service. The unparalleled heroism of the Nisei veterans of the 442nd/100th battalion and the Military Intelligence Service caused many white citizens to recognize the injustice of the United States government’s internment of Japanese Americans.
Items in the Smithsonian collection, such as this monument (pictured above) to the 442nd Combat Team’s sacrifices to liberate French territory from Nazi German control, remind us of the Asian American role in U.S. military history. Today, we continue to honor the service and sacrifices of Asian Americans in the military.
- McClain, John. “Tortuous Path, Elusive Goal: The Asian Quest for American Citizenship.” Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository, 1995.
- Takaki, Ronald. Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II. Boston, MA: Back Bay Books, 2001.