"One Raw Material in the Racial Laboratory:" Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese Students and West Coast Civil Rights, 1915-1968

Thumbnail Image

Publication or External Link






Between 1915 and 1968, Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese students studying at colleges and universities along the West Coast in the United States created, organized, and led influential civil rights groups. Although these students were only "temporary" visitors to the U.S., they became deeply involved in protesting the racism and discrimination that characterized life for Asian immigrants, Asian Americans, and other minorities in California and Washington. With the assistance of larger organizations such as the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations and the World Student Christian Federation, these foreign students formed their own campus groups during the1920s and 1930s that allowed them to build relationships with each other as well as students from other racial and ethnic backgrounds. The discrimination and segregation that visiting students from Asia faced in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle also prompted them to consider their roles in promoting justice for racial minorities while in the U.S. By leading and participating in petition campaigns, national youth conventions, and labor organizations, students from China, Japan, and the Philippines worked together to build an activist network with African American, Asian American, white, and other foreign students devoted to ending racial discrimination and promoting civil rights and liberties for all in the U.S. Considering the continuity in ideas, ethnic and racial composition, and leadership between pre and post-World War II equality activist groups, I argue that Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese students were key players in the creation of a West Coast civil rights movement that began during the interwar period. By analyzing the records of Asian Christian campus groups, national and international youth group meeting minutes, student newspapers, yearbooks, and local West Coast community newspapers, my dissertation will alter the traditional narrative of civil rights history by arguing that the push for immigrant and human rights was a foundation for racial justice during the twentieth century.