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A History of Asian Americans

at boston college law school



From its humble beginnings seventy-five years ago, Boston College Law School strived to provide ethnic minorities—Irish Catholics to Asian Americans—with a strong legal education based on Jesuit values. As the Law School celebrates its seventy-fifth Anniversary, it is a fitting time to look back and document a group of minority students that has not been studied before—Asian Americans. This paper attempts to record the experiences of Asian American students while at Boston College Law School, focusing on their motivations for attending law school, their experiences while studying in Boston, and their drive to form an identity at the Law School through the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association.

The most striking difference, when looking at the history of Asian Americans, is the noticeable surge of students beginning in 1975. This paper will look at the experiences of Asian Americans prior to the surge in 1975 and after 1975, when the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association was formed. The first group of law students was comprised of Asian American students, almost all of who hailed from Hawaii. Experiences of this first group will be contrasted with those who entered after 1975, most of who are from the continental United States, and are a part of a nationwide increase in Asian American attendance in law schools. This paper will also study their motivations in forming the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association. The main source for this paper is the oral histories of Asian American students who attended the Law School. There is no other known documentation. It is hoped that through these oral histories, we can learn more about the history of Boston College Law School.

Part One: The Asian American Experience
Any study as to why the first Asian Americans to attend Boston College Law School were from Hawaii, must begin with a careful analysis of the circumstances of Asian Americans in Hawaii and the continental United States.

The Asian experience on the continental United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s was arduous compared to the Asian experience in Hawaii. Asian laborers who migrated to the United States worked under harsh conditions and competed with Caucasian, working-class people for many jobs in California. As a result, organized labor groups blamed Asian immigrants for increased unemployment. In 1905, these labor groups organized and formed the Asiatic Exclusion League, whose goal was to exclude Asians, particularly Japanese, from gaining employment. The league lobbied for anti-Asian legislation, conducted boycotts, promoted segregation, and produced propaganda.

As a result of the racism and animosity towards Asians, they faced legal discrimination in varied forms, from the inability to become naturalized Americans to school segregation. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which brought Chinese immigration to a halt and prevented Chinese from becoming naturalized United States citizens. Asian immigrants were also forbidden from purchasing or leasing farmland in California in order to quell their growing numbers. The co-author of the Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 described how these laws were created in order to “limit their presence by curtailing their privileges which they may enjoy here; for they will not come in large numbers and long abide with us if they may not acquire land.” Shortly thereafter, in 1884, the San Francisco Board of Education ordered all Chinese public school students to attend the segregated Oriental School, which later included Japanese, Korean, Indian and Filipino children. Segregation of these children did not end until the end of World War II.

The Immigration Act of 1924 virtually cut off Asian immigration to the United States. The Act restricted Asian immigration by denying even the token quota that was afforded to immigrants from other countries because Asians were deemed ineligible for citizenship on racial grounds by a 1922 Supreme Court decision. These laws remained largely unchanged until the Immigration Act of 1965 (hereafter, “The 1965 Act”).

The effect of these conditions challenged Asians, who struggled against such blatant racism. For those who wanted to become attorneys, the conditions were almost hopeless unless they were naturalized Americans—and most Asians on the continental United States were immigrants. Takuji Yamashita graduated from the University of Washington Law School in 1902. He passed the Washington State Bar Examination with honors that year, only to be denied admission to the bar because he was not a naturalized American—only persons of “the White or Whitish race” were eligible to become naturalized Americans. Asians, who were able to attend law school, had no hope of becoming an attorney unless they were United States citizens by birth. Because there were very few Asian women to bear children, there were few children born as United States citizens. In 1930, men comprised 80% of the Chinese population. Many Chinese men had no reason to stay in America because there were few Chinese women, and nearly half of the male Chinese migrant workers returned to China. Despite this, there were a few immigrant families with United States-born children who should have been eligible to pass the state bars. However, the harsh conditions for Asians living in the continental United States did not even invite them to even attend law school.

Part One Continued