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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Hinnershitz

Sources on Anti-Asian American Violence Part 2: South Asian Americans

Below are some secondary and primary sources that I compiled on the history of anti-Asian violence and South Asian Americans in the US. Check out the previous post on Chinese Americans where you can find some general points that will apply to all of the lists that I'll share. I'm currently reading about South Asian Americans and World War I, so I decided to do a list on this community (more will follow).

I have two goals for sharing these reading lists:

1) To provide some sources for educators to incorporate into their lesson plans (if that is an option considering state guidelines). I've heard AAPI writers explain that many Americans do not know the history of the AAPI community and what they have faced in the past; it makes what is happening now seem disconnected or sudden. In response, thinking of ways to incorporate these stories now--not in the future, but NOW--is crucial.

2) To center AAPI scholars. Representation matters.

Oh. And one more: Get comfortable using the phrase "white supremacy" to discuss anti-Asian American violence. If this doesn't immediately make sense to you, I encourage you to take a look at the historical studies provided in these posts.


Some of these are carried over from the previous list, so I specified which chapters apply here.

Bald, Vivek. Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian Harlem. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Dhingra, Pawan. Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Hotel Owners and the American Dream. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2012. In the 1980s and 1990s, hotel owners and other businesses began an "American-Owned-and-Operated" campaign that used racist tropes to attack Indian American hotel owners who were quickly becoming some of the most successful hotel franchisees. This book provides some background information on the topic.

Joshi, Khyati Y. and Jigna Desai, eds. Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013. (Chapter 7 is an essay by Joshi on Hindu Americans in Metro Atlanta. I own this book, so if you would like the chapter, let me know!)

Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America: A History. New York. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016. (Chapter 7)

PBS documentary Asian Americans.

Shah, Nayan. Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and the Law in the North American West. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012.

Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1998 (updated edition). (Chapter 9)

Primary Sources

The 1907 Bellingham Riots: During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, South Asian migrants left India to travel to the United States, looking for work and educational opportunities. Many found work in the Pacific Northwest lumber industry. It wasn't long, however, before the Asiatic Exclusion League fanned the flames of racial tension and urged white workers to address the perceived competition from Sikh laborers through the common means of the day: violence and intimidation fueled by white supremacy. On September 4, 1907, a mob of between 400 and 500 white men attacked the Sikh community and drove 125 Sikh men from their homes. The men fled north to Canada where they would eventually suffer similar treatment. The link above takes you to the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor Project site that provides some good secondary and primary source material, while the Sikh Coalition offers some sample lesson plans here. The South Asian American Digital Archive also has an extensive primary source collection on the Bellingham Riots.

United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind : Bhagat Singh Thind was a Sikh who migrated to the United States in the early twentieth century, served in the Army during WWI, and tried to take advantage of special programs promoted by the military to "fast-track" service members to citizenship after the War. However, because Asian immigrants were ineligible for citizenship--a legacy of America's racist immigration and naturalization laws going back to the nation's founding--courts in Oregon and Washington rejected his citizenship on the basis that he was not white. Thind appealed these cases to the Supreme Court, arguing that he was Aryan based on his birthplace in India and therefore Caucasian, but the justices rejected this claim, reaffirming that only white migrants could naturalize and essentially ruling that no American would believe that men like Thind could "assimilate" into white American culture. Thind went on to have an interesting career in philosophy and theology (and also challenged segregation in other states as part of his tour across the US), but you could use this case along with the sources above to explain how racism fuels violence which becomes codified in law. Erika Lee's book discusses the Thind case, and the South Asian American Digital Archive has virtual records on Thind's life. Berkeley's Echoes of Freedom: South Asian Pioneers in California contains more information on Thind (and the South Asian community), and Vandana Pawa's essay above would pair well with any of these sources.

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