JAEH Archive / Vol. 39, No. 3, Spring 2020

Journal of American Ethnic History

Vol. 39, No. 3, Spring 2020

Special issueNew Scholarship on Refugees and Asylum

Table of Contents


Unsettled Subjects: Inventing the Refugee in North American History

By: Paul A. Kramer

“From Citizens to Refugees”: Japanese Canadians and the Search for Wartime Sanctuary

By: Laura Madokoro


Beginning in 1942, almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians were removed from their homes on the West Coast of British Columbia. While some citizens privately understood their situation as akin to other histories of displacement, they never discussed their situation publicly using the language of refugeehood or exile. By contrast, the Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians, which protested the federal government’s deportation of Japanese Canadians in 1946, cloaked the wartime experience of Japanese Canadians using these very terms. To understand these variations in approaches, this article focuses on the question of what is signified when the term refugee is used in public debates about citizenship and state responsibilities. It begins by framing the stakes of this question by highlighting the debate over the term refugee in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It then explores the experiences of journalist Muriel Kitagawa and her family as they sought refuge in Toronto and the activism of religious leaders who advocated on behalf of Japanese Canadian internees (with reference to a parallel history in the United States). The article concludes by considering the ways in which histories of internment have been memorialized in relation to other accounts of mass displacement. In doing so, the article advances the concept of “refugee distancing” as a way of understanding the reaction of citizens to the idea that they might become refugees. In the context of the Second World War, supporters’ use of the term refugee was a calculated political strategy meant to evoke the promises of citizenship, but it was also one that inadvertently highlighted the vulnerabilities at the core of racialized citizenship experiences, to the detriment of the very citizens the language was meant to assist.

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“I Hate to See Human Beings Kicked Around by Fate and by Law:” Edith Lowenstein's Asylum Advocacy in the 1950s and 1960s

By: Yael Schacher


While most American refugee advocates and organizations were focused on relief oversees and resettlement of vetted refugees in the two decades after World War II, attorney Edith Lowenstein, as the lawyer handling individual casework for the Common Council for American Unity, spent the 1950s and 1960s addressing the persecution claims of “aliens already here” in the United States. This essay discusses how Lowenstein used obscure and understudied provisions of existing American immigration law—the adjustment provisions of the Refugee Relief and Refugee Escapee Acts and the provision in the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act suspending deportation on persecution grounds—to push at the boundaries of the definition of refugee dictated by Cold War geopolitics and economic nationalism. Especially in handling cases involving seamen coming from behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains, Lowenstein used two major strategies: one that might be termed “Cold War immigrant rights” and another that was more radical and holistic. The latter challenged the constructed distinction between economic and political migrants and attempts to deport those with meritorious claims simply because they were in illegal status. Lowenstein had mixed success with the INS and in court, but her advocacy influenced the definition of asylum and practices of refugee admissions.

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“Assets of War”: Strategic Displacements, Population Movements, and the Uses of Refugees during the Vietnam War, 1965–1973

By: Sam Vong


Long before the emigration of thousands of people out of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos at the end of the Vietnam War, the United States and the government of the Republic of Vietnam were confronted with a “refugee problem” in South Vietnam, where more than three million civilians were displaced between 1965 and 1969. This article examines how officials of the United States and the South Vietnam government sought to address the ever-growing crisis of internally displaced people. It analyzes three ways in which the United States and the GVN used the processes of displacement and displaced civilians to gain political advantage by transforming uprooted villagers into “assets of war,” to manage displaced populations by creating a classification system, and to engineer population movements for nation-building projects. These different approaches reveal the importance of displacement as a wartime strategy and the role that displaced villagers served as resources of war.

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History from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out: Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Working-Class History by James R. Barrett

By: Robert Zecker

Anglo-Native Virginia: Trade, Conversion, and Indian Slavery in the Old Dominion, 1646–1722 by Kristalyn Marie Shefveland

By: Rose Stremlau

Officially Indian: Symbols that Define the United States by Cécile R. Ganteaume

By: Angela Pulley Hudson

Hawaiian By Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific by Joy Schulz

By: Paul T. Burlin

Archaeological Perspectives on the French in the New World by Elizabeth M. Scott

By: Catherine Losier