Vote for Change: Asian American Exclusion from Politics

Source: CAASF

I don’t think you’ll ever have an Asian American–not in my lifetime–having a chance to be elected President of the United States”

Governor of Hawaii, Benjamin J. Cayetano


Asian Americans have faced challenges starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and continuing to underrepresentation in the government today. There are steps we can take to combat this growing problem! Keep reading to learn what those are.

Why am I Interested?

One of the biggest reasons for choosing this topic has to be my personal connection to Chinese people. I was adopted from China at a very young age and brought to America, so growing up during the Chinese Exclusion Act would have been impossible for me. Although I have not felt any discrimination towards me, learning about Chinese Americans’ past and how they continue to deal with the after-effects is still extremely important. When deciding on a topic, I immediately thought of today’s issues of lack of representation in politics. While representation is a bit different than exclusion, I believe it is a major result from the Chinese Exclusion Act. These current-day issues of Chinese American discrimination still affect me because this is a huge disadvantage we have to other races and it gives me great unease so I want to shed much needed light on it.

If you want to read my full personal interest essay here is the link:

Historical Background

The problem began to surfaced in 1848 when gold was first found in California and a mass influx of Chinese immigrant miners came to the United States (Kanazawa). In the beginning, the majority of employers and the United States government welcomed Chinese immigrants because they were a cheap labor source who majorly contributed to the making of the Central Pacific Railroad.

Image result for chinese exclusion act
Source: Albuquerque Journal

However, once the railroad was complete in 1861, there was no big need for them. In fact, they were considered serious hindrances to the American workforce because the Chinese workforce dominated them and did so well. Exclusion bills were introduced in Congress the first of which would have banned Chinese immigrants for 20 years; however this was vetoed by the president because it was an infringement on the treaty. Therefore, Congress revised the bill to limit Chinese immigration for only 10 years which was signed by the president on May 6, 1882 and became a law known as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Image result for chinese exclusion act
Source: Wikipedia

The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese labor immigrants entry into United States for 10 years, making it one of the earliest federal laws passed to ban immigrants in the United States and the first law to ban a particular nationality. When implementing the law, it was represented as the first massive investment of federal bureaucrats to control immigrants (Calavita).

Once the 10 years was up, Congress decided to extend the exclusion of Chinese laborers another 10 years through another act called the Geary Act which was created on May 5, 1892. This further restricted Chinese immigration because, in order to come the the United States, each Chinese resident had to register and then obtain a certificate of residency just so they do not get deported. The Geary Act also provided a formal definition of the word “merchants” to be much narrower and restricting than the ordinary meaning. Furthermore, with the act in place, it allowed for the appointing of a photograph as a means for Chinese laborers to be identified and gave the appointment of the marshal as the officer entrusted with the duty of deportation (“THE AMENDMENT OF THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT.”).

After those 10 years of the Geary Act was up, a US Senator first introduced a bill allowing the removal of the 10 year limitation on the Chinese Exclusion Act (“STRICT LAWS ON ANARCHY URGED.”). So in 1902, the Geary Act banned the immigration of Chinese laborers indefinitely (Calavita). The Geary Act regulated Chinese immigration for another 20 or so years (“THE AMENDMENT OF THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT.”).

By the 1920s, anti-Chinese agitation quieted down quite a bit, therefore Congress adopted new means of immigration regulation because of increased postwar immigration: quotas and requirements pertaining to national origin. This national origin system, requiring lots of modifications throughout the years, lasted until Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965 which was effective on July 1, 1968. This act limited the number of immigrants coming to the United States. The act stated 170,000 immigrants from outside the Western Hemisphere could enter the United States, and a maximum of 20,000 immigrants were able to come to the United States from any one country. This act also stated that skill and the need for political asylum was taken into account and determined the person’s admission into the United States. Before this, in 1943, Congress repealed all exclusion acts relating to Chinese immigrants, leaving a yearly limit of 105 Chinese immigrants and also gave foreign-born Chinese the right to seek naturalization. Later, Congress passed another immigration act: the Immigration Act of 1990 which provided the most comprehensive change in legal immigration since 1965. This act established a “flexible” worldwide cap on family-based, employment-based, and diversity immigrant visas, which is basically our current day immigration system (Calavita).

If you want to read my full historical problem essay here is the link:

Present Day Problem

Source: Instagram

While the Chinese Exclusion Act and all other acts relating to Chinese immigration was repealed in 1943, Asian American exclusion and lack of representation is still a major problem today, specifically in the United States government. In recent years, there has been a rise in Asian American officeholders. Currently, there are hundreds of Asian Americans who hold or have held elected offices in local, state, and national government, the majority being in Hawaii, but this is only due to the fact that the majority of Hawaii’s population is Asian American. In the mainland, Asian Americans face much greater challenges in achieving representation in politics because they have such a small minority. Therefore, the few Asian Americans who do have a voice in our government act as advocates for the entire population of Asian Americans (Lai).

Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano
Source: Wikipedia

Governor of Hawaii, Benjamin J. Cayetano, who is the nation’s first Filipino American governor. He talks in an interview about all the reasons why Asian Americans have had such a tough time achieving appropriate representation in United States government and why they will continue with this struggle. He states in the interview that “there is an estrangement between African Americans and Koreans” and that “just the environment of distrust and intolerance on the mainland now is going to make it very difficult for Asian Americans to make great advancements [in politics]”. He states, “I don’t think you’ll ever have an Asian American–not in my lifetime–having a chance to be elected President of the United States. But they will rise to the highest level in medicine, business and every other endeavor” (Yoshihara).

Number of Asian Americans in Senate
Source: CREBP
Number of Asian Americans in House of Representatives
Source: Me

The population of Asian Americans in the United States is currently at 5.6 percent. This means in order for representation to be fair in the government, 5.6 percent of Congress would have to be Asian American. However, as of this year, there are only three Asian American senators and thirteen representatives meaning that in both cases, only three percent of the Asian American population is being represented (Lai). More time is needed to get the population to vote for Asian Americans at a level necessary to achieve equal representation.

If you want to read my full present-day problem essay here is the link:

How YOU Can Help

Despite Asian American representation in the government rising in recent years, we are still alarmingly underrepresented in the political sphere, but there is an array of micro level solutions that can make a positive impact on this problem.

Efforts have been made to further Asian American representation in the government, such as the creation of an organization called the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, which dedicates itself to promoting Asian Pacific American participation in government and strengthening Asian American representation at all levels of the political process. is a very helpful source, allowing you guys to educate yourselves on the topic. You can donate to the organization, helping fund more programs that promote Asian American nominees running for office (“Home – APAICS | Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.”). These are options individuals, like yourselves, can take to increase Asian American representation that do not take much time or money, so why not just do them? By taking action, little by little change will occur and Asian Americans will eventually have proper representation!

Source: APAICS

Bigger Ways to Help

Efforts must not stop with what you guys can do; there are more impactful actions that political organizations, such as the Democratic National Committee ( | DNC | Official Website‎) and Republican National Committee (Republican National Committee | GOP), should take. These committees would be able to increase Asian American voter turnout by educating Asian Americans and implementing programs that help them gain knowledge on who is running for office. Subsequently, if Asian Americans vote more, the number of Asian Americans in government positions would increase because they want to have their own race represented in politics. Furthermore, by increasing Asian American voter turnout, more Asian Americans would be inclined to run for political offices because they would now have a chance to win, whereas before it was only Caucasian people voting for Caucasian people. In addition, some Asian Americans might not have the financial means to run for office, so by creating organizations that would fund their political campaigns, more Asian Americans would then be able to run. With the support of everyday citizens and larger political committees, Asian Americans will rise up and achieve their share of government representation.

If you want to read my full solutions essay here is the link:

Click on this map to see who your US Senator is! Comment down below if they are Asian American

Also comment down below any constructive feedback you have on my presentation. Thank you!

Here is my full work cited page:

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  1. April 28, 2019 by Hanan Sherka

    Hello Addie, this was an extremely interesting I loved reading through this, it was packed with information and you made a clear connection between how institutionalized oppression of Asian Americans in the United States has resulted in a current under representation of Asian Americans in government. I also liked that you mentioned tangible ways to work on this, such as the responsibility of political parties to tap into the Asian American population and inform and include them in political conversation. Great job!

  2. May 02, 2019 by Muscaan.Birdi

    Hi Addie! This was a great presentation! As someone who identifies as Asian American, I was shocked by the numbers. Your connection from historical laws to more passive forms of undermining Asian Americans in today’s politics/society was well articulated and extremely interesting. I was very impressed by your analysis. I appreciate your inclusion of sources to help us learn more about how we can ameliorate this problem. Nice job!

  3. May 04, 2019 by Daisy.Huang

    Hey Addie! This was a really interesting project, thanks for sharing with everyone! I noticed that this lack of involvement in politics is pretty confined to the Asian American community and something that other communities don’t face particularly often, I was wondering what you think about this phenomenon being so unique and what could potentially cause it.

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