Skip to main content Skip to navigation

‘Melting pot’ America: integration, assimilation and ‘hygienic citizenship’

The individuals and families who passed through Angel and Ellis Island in the first half of the twentieth century were considered and assessed for their suitability to become permanent settlers and would-be citizens. But once landed, did they settle permanently, and gain equal rights as citizens? Did they become 'American' and if so, how? Here we will look at the experiences of Asian migrant and ethnic groups as they established themselves in the United States.

Required Reading:

  • Nayan Shah, Contagious divides : epidemics and race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (Berkeley, CA : University of California Press, 2001), Chapter 8, 204-224 Course Extract. NB This is a print book, available in multiple copies, and in Short Loan. See also Shah Chapter 9, 'Reforming Chinatown' pp. 225-250. (Not required for this week but strongly recommended!)


  • Robert G Lee, 'The Cold War Origins of the Model Minority Myth' in Jean Yu-Wen Shen Wu, and Thomas Chen, eds, Asian American Studies Now : A Critical Reader (Rutgers University Press, 2010), 256-271. E-book Note that this volume also contains lots of material on the experiences of other Asian American groups.


  • Monica Chiu, Medical, Racist, and Colonial Constructions of Power in Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down', in Jean Yu-Wen Shen Wu, and Thomas Chen, eds, Asian American Studies Now : A Critical Reader (Rutgers University Press, 2010), 370-392. This piece reflects on a full-length study of on family of Hmong refugees navigating US healthcare. Although you do not need to read this book, it is a lovely piece of writing -- perhaps for you to enjoy later... This NY Times article summarises the story.

Discussion Questions:

  • When and how did the national myth of the United States as a 'nation of immigrants' emerge, and how did it affect responses to successive waves of migration and migrants?
  • What strategies did different migrant groups use to gain access to opportunity and civil society in the USA.

Background Readings:

Elena Barabantseva, 'Messengers from the US-Chinese Past', Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 75 no. 2, 2015, pp. 441-450. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jas.2015.0033

Jason O. Chang, 'Racial Alterity in the Mestizo Nation', Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 14 no. 3, 2011, pp. 331-359. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jaas.2011.0038

Soo-Young Chin & Peter Feng, & Josephine Lee, 'Asian American Cultural Production', Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 3 no. 3, 2000, pp. 269-282. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jaas.2000.0030

Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, new edition (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2012).

Amy Fairchild, Science at the Borders: Imigrant Medical Inspection and the Shaping of the Modern Industrial Labor Force (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

Madeline Y. Hsu, The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015).

Franca Iacovetta, Gatekeepers: Reshaping Immigrant Lives in Cold War Canada (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2006).

Nancy Ordover, ‘National Hygiene: Twentieth Century Immigration and the Eugenics Lobby’, in Ordover, American Eugenics: Queer Anatomy and the Science of Nationalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003) pp. 1-56.

Jeannie N. Shinozuka, 'Deadly Perils: Japanese Beetles and the Pestilential Immigrant, 1920s–1930s', American Quarterly, vol. 65 no. 4, 2013, pp. 831-852. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aq.2013.0056

Emma Jinhua Teng, Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, 1842–1943 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

Cecilia Tsu, Garden of the World: Asian Immigrants and the Making of Ariculture in California's Santa Clara Valley (Oxford: OUP, 2013).

P. Wald, 'Communicable Americanism: Contagion, Geographic Fictions, and the Sociological Legacy of Robert E. Park', American Literary History 14.4 (2002): 653-685. Project MUSE. Web. 17 Aug. 2016. <>.

Xiao-huang Yin, "Changes and Continuity in Chinese American Philanthropy to China: A Case Study of Chinese American Transnationalism," American Studies 45.2 (summer 2004): 57-91.

And for an interesting comparison:

The resettlement of Vietnamese refugees across Canada over three decades
Date: 2017
By: Feng Hou
Welcoming 60,000 Southeast Asian refugees in the 1979–80 period has become a celebrated part of Canada’s history, but the eventual integration of these refugees into Canadian society has received insufficient attention. This study provides a comprehensive overview of Vietnamese refugees’ economic outcomes over the three decades after their arrival. This study also explores how regional contexts contributed to shaping economic outcomes. Based on analyses of the 1981, 1991, and 2001 census and the 2011 National Household Survey, this study finds that adult Vietnamese refugees arrived with little human capital, but they had high employment rates, and over time they closed their initial large earnings gap with other immigrants. Childhood Vietnamese refugees out-performed other childhood immigrants and similar-aged Canadian-born individuals in educational attainment and earnings when they reached adulthood. The geographic region of residence was associated with some large variations in refugees’ socioeconomic outcomes; and regional differences in refugees’ human capital characteristics, ethnic enclave, and economic conditions played varying roles depending on the outcome measure and length of residence.