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The very definition of “Asian American,” which historically has been based upon the formal exclusion of this grouping, demonstrates the racial nationalism of the United States Racial nationalism is not new. It has been the norm in America (and arguably remains the norm elsewhere, including throughout Asia) to identify belonging to a shared race as essential to membership within a nation-state. This essay uses the Wong Kim Ark case, recognizing birthright citizenship for an individual of Chinese descent, and the Korematsu case, allowing the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, as a means of showing how government officials conceived of equal membership in society as being controlled by ancestry. The arguments of the solicitor general on behalf of the executive branch in United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) and the analysis of the majority of the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States (1944) are presented, in their own words, confirming these opinions were explicit; taking the reasoning seriously, at face value, reveals that race was more important than citizenship, so that Asian Americans were deemed more Asian than American whatever their legal status. In both instances, Asian Americans were unequivocally members of groups, not individuals. They were anonymous and representative, their ascribed characteristics assumed to be typical. The cases of Chae Chan Ping and Kaoru Yamataya are styled in the official reports as “the Chinese Exclusion Case” and “the Japanese Immigrant Case,” respectively, the very titles signifying they are about abstract exemplars rather than actual persons.


This is the author's accepted manuscript of the article finally published as: Wu, Frank. "Asian Americans Challenge the Official Racial Nationalism of the United States." Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, 2022, pp. 171-180. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press.



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