Mapping Asian Americans (WWI)

This exhibit demonstrates an interactive map of Asian Americans (sampled) who registered for the draft during World War One. It includes an overview map as well as close ups of Astoria, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois, and Buffalo, New York. The map is part of an ongoing larger project documenting the presence and location of Asian Americans in the early 20th century through the World War One Selective Service Registration.

The draft registration asked registrants their names and current addresses as well as questions about their employment, place of birth, race, nationality, and citizenship status.

This information is vital to Asian American history in two ways. Firstly, the registration cards provide details about individual Asian American migrant men in the early 20th century, about whom little is known. The cards also include references to housing, places of employment, businesses, etc. that are sources of information about Asian American social, economic, and commercial experience at the time.

Secondly, migrant Asian American WWI servicemen stood at the nexus of competing social and political debates at the time about, on the one hand, restrictions and exclusions from immigration and citizenship based on race, and on the other hand, inclusions, specifically to citizenship, for demonstrated patriotism, loyalty, and military service. The quests of Asian immigrant servicemen, Bhagat Singh Thind and Hidemitsu Toyota, to gain naturalized citizenship, which was not guaranteed to all immigrants, took them to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled they were racially ineligible. Their subsequent lives and experiences followed the complicated trajectory of debates, laws, and government actions about Asian American racial citizenship in the 20th century.

For more information on the draft registration cards, see the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) web page on them as well as its description of the microfilm series.