To prevent further transgressions, self-appointed vigilante groups delivered swift and terrible punishment to black men suspected of consorting with white women. The Ku Klux Klan formed at about this time, and it sometimes lynched freedmen prominent in Reconstruction politics under the guise of retribution for the mistreatment of white women.40 Through this clandestine attack on interracial relations, whites were able to send a clear message that political equality would not dismantle the color line. Restrictions on sex, marriage, and family would continue to be a cornerstone in defining racial difference.
Although black men suspected of having sex with white women could be lynched,41 black women were unable to fend off the advances of white men. Ironically, once slavery ended, black and mulatto women found it more difficult than during the antebellum period to limit their sexual availability to only one white male. As a result, the number of mulatto offspring increased after emancipation. Reconstruction legislators did try to protect black and mulatto women from sexual exploitation. Efforts to outlaw concubinage failed, but some states adopted bastardy statutes that enabled black and mulatto women to file paternity suits so that white men would be forced to support their illegitimate mulatto children. These bastardy statutes eventually were repealed.42
Even though interracial marriages were exceedingly rare during Reconstruction, white southern males promptly reinstated antimiscegenation laws when they regained control of state legislatures in the post- Reconstruction era. With the one-drop rule of racial classification in place,43 the color line could once again be officially consolidated by regulating sex and marriage. Under this regime, antimiscegenation laws became critical to conserving the integrity and purity of the white race. Without these prohibitions, blacks could gain access to white wealth and privilege through marriage. After all, in black-white marriages, the one-drop rule dictated that the heirs to white fortunes would be black.
Interracial sexuality outside of marriage became a means of establishing racial power and domination. White men could enjoy the sexual favors of black women with impunity, but black men would pay with their lives for sexual contact with white women. When white men impregnated black women, the offspring were illegitimate and generally could not even seek support from their fathers. The children of these black-white relationships threatened neither white identity nor privilege. By contrast, if black men had adulterous relations with married white women, any resulting offspring threatened the racial integrity of white men’s families. After Reconstruction, then, antimiscegenation laws reaffirmed antebellum definitions of racial identity and reasserted the superiority of whites as marital partners. White men expressed their sexual dominance by policing access to white women and enjoying the favors of black women without obligations of marriage or support.
The Chinese and Japanese Experience: Racial
Unassimilability and Sexual Subordination
Although antimiscegenation laws were used to draw racial boundaries between whites and blacks during the colonial era and early years of nationhood, the color line was well-established by the time Chinese and Japanese began to immigrate to the United States in substantial numbers during the mid- to late 1800s.44 Definitions of blackness evolved through state legislation, but for Asians, federal immigration law made their status as nonwhite wholly unambiguous. Much of the racialization of Asians took place as successive waves of immigrants were labeled nonwhite, unassimilable, and unfit for citizenship. The Chinese were the first to arrive, coming in substantial numbers after 1848 when gold was discovered in California.45 Early on, the U.S. government made plain that the Chinese were not white. Under a 1790 naturalization law, only “free white persons” were eligible for citizenship.46 When Chan Yong applied for citizenship in 1854, a federal district court denied his application because he did not qualify as white, although newspaper accounts at the time stated that he was lighter-skinned than most Chinese.47
After the Civil War, race relations in America were contested. Congress amended the naturalization law to permit “aliens of African nativity” and “persons of African descent” to petition for citizenship. When the naturalization law was codified in 1875, the reference to “free white person” was dropped, leaving open the possibility that the Chinese could naturalize. Chinese immigrants quickly capitalized on the statutory uncertainty by filing petitions for naturalization in San Francisco.48 Shortly thereafter, a federal court made clear that as nonwhites, Chinese immigrants continued to be ineligible for citizenship.49
A few years later, the federal government went even further in defining the Chinese as undesirable nonwhite aliens. In 1882, by an overwhelming margin, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first statute to ban a group from immigrating to the United States based solely on race or ethnicity. The Act prohibited any Chinese laborer or miner from entering the United States, and it barred any state or federal court from naturalizing any Chinese.50 After passage of the Act, the Chinese population in the United States declined precipitously.51 Periodically renewed and strengthened by Congress,52 the law remained in force until 1952 when the McCarran-Walter Act nullified racial restrictions and substituted a quota system for immigration based on national origin.53
The Japanese began to arrive in the United States about twenty years after the Chinese. Most Japanese emigrated to Hawaii to work in the sugar industry, and their numbers were small because of restrictive Japanese emigration policies.54 After 1890, two important changes in Japanese immigration occurred. First, the number of immigrants increased substantially so that by 1910, the Japanese outnumbered the Chinese; and second, Japanese immigrants began to arrive in the western continental United States, particularly California, to replace the dwindling numbers of Chinese laborers and to escape low wages and poor working conditions in Hawaii.55 Having observed the mistreatment of the Chinese, the Japanese struggled to avoid occupying the same place in the racial hierarchy by distinguishing themselves from the Chinese under federal naturalization policy. Although the 1790 law permitted only whites to become citizens, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 withheld the privilege of naturalization only from the Chinese. Several hundred Japanese successfully petitioned for citizenship in lower federal courts on the ground that they were not covered by legislation targeting the Chinese.56 The federal government soon moved to clarify the status of the Japanese as nonwhite. In 1905, the U.S. attorney general informed President Theodore Roosevelt that the Japanese were and always had been ineligible for naturalization based on their race. One year later, the attorney general issued a formal opinion to that effect.57
Despite this setback, the Japanese continued to try to win favorable treatment under immigration laws by highlighting their capacity to assimilate to an American way of life. In a 1922 case, Takao Ozawa asked that his petition for naturalization be granted because the word free was more important than the word white in determining eligibility of “free white persons” for citizenship. Ozawa insisted that even though he was nonwhite, he should be allowed to naturalize because he could successfully shoulder the responsibilities of democratic freedom.58 Despite Ozawa’s proofs of good moral character and individual accomplishment, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his eligibility for citizenship. According to the Court, Ozawa’s status as nonwhite barred him from naturalization, regardless of his ability to conform to an American way of life.59 Race was a categorical stigma, one that did not permit individuals to escape through acculturation and achievement.
The federal government’s treatment of immigrants from India cemented the racialization of Asians.60 Unlike the Chinese and Japanese, Asian Indians were treated as Caucasian under the prevailing scientific taxonomy. Even so, the U.S. attorney general refused to find that Asian Indians qualified as “free white persons,”61 but several federal district courts reached a different conclusion.62 To remedy the confusion, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its 1923 decision in United States v. Thind63 that Asian Indians were ineligible for citizenship because they were nonwhite. According to Thind, Congress used the term white rather than Caucasian because it was relying on popular, not scientific, conceptions of race. As the Court explained: “It may be true that the blond Scandinavian and the brown Hindu have a common ancestor in the dim reaches of antiquity, but the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences between them today. . . .”64 Just as personal accomplishments could not save the Japanese, science could not save the Asian Indian from racialization. All Asians—whether Chinese, Japanese, or Asian Indian—had been definitively categorized as nonwhite. Any claims of racial ambiguity were decisively laid to rest by Congress, the attorney general, and the Supreme Court.
By labeling Asian immigrants unassimilable and unfit for citizenship, the federal government made them easy targets for racial discrimination in the western states where they settled. Bans on intermarriage were one of a number of state restrictions on Asian immigrants’ liberties, all of which were designed to mark them as inferior and undesirable. With the color line clearly drawn by federal immigration laws, the statutes reinforced the temporary status of Asian sojourners, who came to the United States to work and then return to their home countries. Anti-miscegenation laws marked the newcomers’ marginal and subordinate status, prevented them from developing permanent ties to America through marriage and family, and severely restricted sexual options for Asian men in bachelor communities.
The racialized imagery that informed federal immigration policy dominated debates about the personhood of Asians. Popular accounts analogized the Chinese to blacks because of their willingness to work in conditions akin to slavery, their incapacity to handle freedom, and their distinctive physical appearance.65 One politician compared the Chinese to Native Americans and recommended their removal to reservations.66 These racial images in turn were linked to a degraded sexuality. One California magazine confirmed the depravity of Chinese women by noting that their physical appearance was “but a slight removal from the African race.”67 As early as 1854, the New York Tribune characterized the Chinese as “lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.”68 Other journals claimed that debauched Chinese males went to Sunday school only to ravage white female teachers. Readers were warned that Chinese men could not be left alone with children, especially little girls. Sexual anxieties about the Chinese were exacerbated by religious differences, as Christian missionaries sought to proselytize a people characterized as base and lecherous pagans.65
California’s laws were particularly important because so many Asian immigrants resided there. During the convention to draft the 1879 California constitution, the chairman of the Committee on the Chinese warned: “Were the Chinese to amalgamate at all with our people, it would be the lowest, most vile and degraded of our race, and the result of that amalgamation would be a hybrid of the most despicable, a mongrel of the most detestable that has ever afflicted the earth.”70 To address these concerns, the delegates proposed an 1878 constitutional amendment to restrict intermarriage of Chinese and whites: “The intermarriage of white persons with Chinese, negroes, mulattoes, or persons of mixed blood, descended from a Chinaman or negro from the third generation, inclusive, or their living together as man and wife in this State, is hereby prohibited. The Legislature shall enforce this section by appropriate legislation.”71 The California electorate ratified the provision the following year, and the California legislature quickly moved to enact antimiscegenation statutes. The California Civil Code was amended in 1880 to prohibit the issuance of marriage licenses authorizing the union of “a white person with a negro, mulatto, or Mongolian.”72
Although levels of interracial sex and marriage among whites and Chinese were quite low, the California legislature criminalized Chinese- white intermarriage in 1901.73 That same year, the legislation was held unconstitutional based on a procedural defect.74 California did not reenact the statute until 1905, primarily in response to intensified concerns about amalgamation with a new group of Asian immigrants, the Japanese.75 As with the Chinese, Americans feared what they presumed to be Japanese immigrants’ alien racial identity and unbridled sexual impulses. When the Japanese government successfully lobbied for its nationals to be exempted from laws that segregated the Chinese, political leaders warned of the dangers of white girls “sitting side by side in the school rooms with matured Japs, with their base minds, their lascivious thoughts, multiplied by their race and strengthened by their mode of life.”76 California’s 1905 antimiscegenation law reflected fears of both racial difference and sexual deviance. The statute addressed eugenic concerns that Asian immigrants were a threat to the “self-preservation of [the white] race”77 as well as anxieties about the lawless sexuality of Japanese immigrants.78
Even with state antimiscegenation laws in place, concerns about Asian intermarriage persisted. In 1907, Congress had passed an Expatriation Act,79 which stripped American women of their citizenship if they married foreign nationals. In 1922, in response to protests from women’s groups, Congress passed the Cable Act. In general, the Act did away with the practice of treating a woman’s nationality as derivative of her husband’s, thereby assuring a wife the freedom to choose her own allegiance. In the area of race, though, women who crossed the color line to marry Asian immigrants remained disempowered. The Cable Act continued to strip American women of their citizenship if they married aliens ineligible to naturalize. The marital autonomy of white women was sacrificed to preserve racial distinctions.
Moreover, the Cable Act made it more difficult than before for American men, usually native-born Chinese, to bring their wives from China. Because a woman’s nationality was now independent of her husband’s, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Act as barring Chinese women from entering the country based on marriage to an American citizen. Previously, the women had been able to come to the United States but not naturalize. These provisions remained in effect for ten years.80 Unable to bring wives from China and barred by antimiscegenation laws from marrying white women, even American-born Chinese had limited marital options. Citizenship by birth did not spare them from the adverse consequences of racial difference.
Restrictive immigration policies and state bans on intermarriage had particularly harsh consequences for the Chinese, who were denied access to wives of any race. Federal policy treated the Chinese as sojourners—temporary male workers who would eventually return to their homelands after fulfilling their labor contracts. Poor, unable to speak English, and unfamiliar with American customs, Chinese immigrants were ill- equipped to challenge their isolation. Many of them could not even afford their wives’ additional passage. These obstacles were compounded by cultural tradition, which dictated that Chinese women join their husbands’ extended families. This practice cemented the family’s expectation that the men would return someday and send remittances in the meantime.81
Given this combination of federal policy, limited resources, and cultural traditions, the number of Chinese women coming to the United States during the 1800s was minuscule. In 1852, of 11,794 Chinese, only 7 were female. By 1870, Chinese men outnumbered Chinese women in the United States by 14 to I. These severe imbalances in turn led to images of sexual deprivation and degradation. Men living without women in bachelor communities seemed deviant and dangerous. The few Chinese women in the United States were vulnerable to sexual exploitation, which reinforced the image of sojourners as predatory and debauched. According to the 1870 census, 61 percent of Chinese women were “prostitutes,” while only 21 percent were “housekeepers.”82 Chinese women regularly worked in the sex trade after having been lured to the United States with promises of marriage, abducted, or sold into indentured servitude by needy families.
Antimiscegenation laws arguably played a more significant role in sending messages of racial inferiority than in thwarting interracial relationships. Anxieties about lustful Chinese bachelors harming white women appear to have been largely unfounded. Although interracial sex between blacks and whites remained relatively commonplace even under antimiscegenation laws, Chinese men were unlikely to cross the color line to cohabit and procreate with white women. During the early decades of Chinese migration, only the most affluent and powerful Chinese might dare to take a white wife or mistress.83 The linguistic and cultural isolation of the Chinese, their segregation in immigrant enclaves, and their vulnerability to deportation—all of these factors undoubtedly made affairs with white women an unlikely prospect, and Chinese men frequently remained childless bachelors. Indeed, even as late as the 1920s and 1930s, many Chinese men chose to remain single rather than intermarry. According to Los Angeles County marriage records for 1924— 1933, of the Chinese who married, only 23.7 percent had a non-Chinese spouse. Given that there were nine Chinese men for every two Chinese women at the time, the majority of Chinese men must have remained alone.84 Although there is little evidence that the Chinese pursued white women for sex and marriage, western states continued to threaten the immigrants with criminal prosecution under antimiscegenation laws.
Far from alleviating the problems of bachelor communities, Congress consistendy enacted immigration policies that worsened the gender imbalances. In 1875, the Page Law barred Chinese prostitutes from entering the country. Tough interrogation techniques were used to enforce the ban. In fact, the law was so intimidating that the number of Chinese women coming to the United States dropped by 62 percent between 1876 and 1882.85 Shortly after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, a federal court in 1844 held that Chinese women assumed the status of their laborer husbands and were barred from entry. Only the wives of lawfully domiciled merchants could enter the United States.86 Immigration laws were so effective in deterring family creation that, in 1890, only 8.7 percent of the Chinese in the United States were native born.87 Restrictive immigration policies coupled with antimiscegenation laws confirmed the sojourner’s status as a dehumanized and degraded laborer: “Permitted neither to procreate nor to intermarry, the Chinese immigrant was told, in effect, to re-emigrate, die out—white America would not be touched by his presence.”88
The only relief that the Chinese had from harsh immigration policies came with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Because official records had been destroyed, Chinese men claimed to be native-born citizens who could bring their wives from China to the United States. Between 1907 and 1924, ten thousand Chinese women entered the country. By contrast, before 1900, only slighdy more than forty-five hundred Chinese women lived in America.89 This loophole was closed in 1924 when Congress restricted entry of Chinese women to students and wives of clergymen, professors, and government officials.90 One year later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, even though it barred native-born Chinese from bringing their spouses to America.91 The Chinese themselves felt the bitter sting of the federal government’s efforts to restrict female immigration: “”We were beginning to repopulate a little now so they passed this law to make us die out altogether.”92
In contrast to the Chinese, Japanese immigrants were able to build same-race families in the United States. Although the Japanese also arrived as dekaseginin, or “men who go out to work,” they soon were converted to teiju, or “permanent residents abroad.”93 Arriving in California in the midst of anti-Chinese hysteria, the Japanese quickly concluded that sojourner status would subordinate and humiliate them. With the support of the Japanese government, the newcomers embarked on a strategy of settlement to ensure economic independence, social standing, and self-respect.94 Integral to this strategy was the immigration of Japanese women, who could help to build stable, self-sufficient families and communities. “When the United States moved to restrict immigrant labor from Japan, a 1908 “Gentleman’s Agreement” permitted Japanese residents to bring members of their immediate family to the United States.95 The agreement protected the Japanese from the hardships of bachelor communities. In 1905-8, 16 percent of Japanese immigrants were women, but by 1909—14, the proportion exceeded 50 percent.96 The ongoing arrival of Japanese women rapidly rectified gender imbalances in the immigrant community. In 1900, there were almost five Japanese men for every Japanese woman. By 1910, the ratio had dropped to 3.5 to 1, and by 1920, it was only 1.6 to 1. Moreover, nearly every adult Japanese female was married.97
Despite these important differences between the Chinese and Japanese immigrant experiences, both groups triggered anxieties about race- mixing. Fears associated with bachelor communities persisted for the Chinese, but the fears surrounding the Japanese arguably should have dissipated by the 1920s. The Japanese had built prosperous families and communities in the United States. Carefully screened by the Japanese government, immigrants arrived with higher rates of literacy and more material resources than their counterparts from Europe.98 A number of Japanese became entrepreneurs, running successful farms and small businesses. In addition to their economic accomplishments, Japanese immigrants were able to forge stable, same-race families due to the steady influx of women from their home country.
Because the Japanese represented the anomaly of nonwhites with material resources, however, their self-contained communities sparked conflicting anxieties about their sexual and marital proclivities among whites. Some whites concluded that the Japanese settlements were proof of the immigrants’ unassimilability and chauvinism. As one witness from California testified before the Senate Committee on Immigration in 1924:
[W]ith great pride of race, they have no idea of assimilating in the sense of amalgamation. They do not come to this country with any desire or intent to lose their racial or national identity. They come here specifically and professedly for the purpose of colonizing and establishing here permanently the proud Yamato race. They never cease to be Japanese. They have as little desire to intermarry as have the whites, and there can be no proper amalgamation, you will agree, without intermarriage. In Hawaii, where there is every incentive for intermarriage, the Japanese have preserved practical racial purity. . . .99
At the same time, the Japanese immigrants’ ability to establish farms and businesses raised fears that they would try to convert their economic success into sexual and marital privilege. One farmer worried that property and wealth would lead Japanese men to covet white wives with disastrous consequences:
Near my home is an eighty-acre tract of as fine land as there is in California. On that tract lives a Japanese. With that Japanese lives a white woman. In that woman’s arms is a baby. What is that baby? It isn’t Japanese. It isn’t white. I’ll tell you what that baby is. It is a germ of the mightiest problem that ever faced this state; a problem that will make the black problem of the South look white.100
Concerns about the Japanese immigrants’ sexuality were magnified by their integration into white schools and communities. Anti-Japanese propaganda warned that the Japanese were “casting furtive glances at our young women. They would like to marry them.”101
Despite widespread fears that prosperous Japanese men would prey on white women, the rate of outmarriage among first-generation Japanese, or Issei, was quite low. Los Angeles County marriage records between 1924 and 1933 indicate that of Issei women who married, only 1.7 percent wed non-Japanese men; of the Issei men who married, fewer than 3 percent had non-Japanese brides. This was the lowest rate of outmarriage for any racial group in the area. By comparison, of blacks who married, 11.3 percent had nonblack spouses, and of Chinese who married, 23.7 percent wed non-Chinese.102 Nor is there any evidence that the Japanese regularly evaded antiscegenation laws through extramarital affairs with whites that produced illegitimate offspring.
The self-sufficiency and success of Japanese communities presented a singular challenge in interpreting the significance of antimiscegenation laws. Although bans on intermarriage could be interpreted as an unequivocal mark of racial subordination for blacks and Chinese, the same was not true for the Japanese. By building prosperous, autonomous communities, Japanese immigrants appeared to be exercising the freedom to forge a separate but equal society in the shadow of racial restrictions. Confronted with a nonwhite population that defied easy categorization as inferior or dependent, whites could no longer assume that low intermarriage rates automatically signalled a diminished status. To preserve a sense of white superiority, the lack of Japanese—white relationships had to be attributed either to Japanese chauvinism or to thwarted sexuality.
The Filipino Experience: Not Compliance but Defiance
Although the Chinese and Japanese generally abided by restrictions on intermarriage, one group of Asian immigrants refused to accept race- based limits on their sexual and marital autonomy. Unlike other Asian immigrants, Filipinos arrived in the United States steeped in the American democratic tradition. Convinced of their entitlement to full personhood, Filipinos fought vigorously for the freedom to date and marry as they saw fit.
Filipinos arrived on the West Coast, particularly California, in the 1920s and 1930s.103 Like the Chinese, most Filipino immigrants were male: In 1930, there were 40,904 Filipino men but only 1,640 women. By 1940, of the Filipinos in the United States, there were still seven men for every woman.104 They, too, formed bachelor communities and sparked fears of miscegenation.105 Popular accounts portrayed the Filipinos as lascivious dandies with a taste for white women. One anti-Filipino spokesman described the immigrants as “little brown men attired like ‘Solomon in all his glory,’ strutting like peacocks and endeavoring to attract the eyes of young American and Mexican girls.”106 The president of the Immigration Study Commission warned of race-mingling between “Filipino coolie fathers and low-grade white mothers,” whose numerous offspring could become “a serious burden.”107 Sexual anxieties reached such a pitch that race riots broke out in 1930 when white men became angry at Filipino men who were socializing with white women.108
Filipinos reacted defiantly to efforts to control their sexuality. Unique among Asian immigrants, Filipinos arrived not from a foreign country but from an American territory. As a result, they had been educated in American schools, spoke English, and were familiar with American history and civics. They felt that their discriminatory treatment betrayed the ideals taught in their classrooms: “In school in the Islands we learn from the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. But when we get over here we find people treating us as if we were inferior.”109 Filipinos confounded their critics by reveling in their depiction as sexually powerful and threatening. In 1936, a San Francisco municipal court judge wrote in Time magazine that Filipinos “have told me bluntly and boastfully that they practice the art of love with more perfection than white boys.”110 The Philippine Resident Commissioner responded dryly: “[T]he Judge admits that Filipinos are great lovers.”111 Another Filipino wrote to Time that “We, Filipinos, however poor, are taught from the cradle up to respect and love our women. . . . If to respect and love womenfolks is savagery, then make the most of it, Judge. We plead guilty.”112
Filipinos in California strongly resisted the application of antimiscegenation laws. Most of California’s Filipino population resided in Los Angeles County. California forbade marriages between whites and Mongolians, but the Los Angeles City Council announced in 1921 that Filipinos were exempt because they were not Mongolian. Eight years later, the California attorney general issued a contrary opinion, concluding that the term Mongolian included Filipinos as well as Chinese and Japanese.113 Nevertheless, county clerks in Los Angeles continued to issue marriage licenses to Filipino—white couples.114 In 1930, a lawsuit was filed to force the clerks to cease issuing licenses to Filipinos who were marrying whites. When a superior court judge held that the California attorney general’s opinion was binding,115 the Filipino community reacted with outrage.116
Filipino leaders promptly spearheaded efforts to fight the decision. By 1931, four cases were pending in Los Angeles superior courts on the legality of Filipino–white marriages.117 Reversing itself after only one year, the superior court held that the term Mongolian did not include Filipinos. The California court of appeals agreed, affirming the lower court decision by a 3—3 vote. According to the court of appeals, the California legislature had not intended to cover Filipinos under the antimiscegenation law because anthropologists typically classified Filipinos as “Malays,” not “Mongolians,” and the legislature presumably had adopted this usage. Moreover, the original legislative debate was focused on Chinese, not Filipinos. The court added that the legislature could always amend the statute if it wanted to bar marriages between Filipinos and whites.118 The California legislature did not take long to act on this suggestion. Nine days before the court’s decision, a state senator introduced a bill that would amend the antimiscegenation statute to preclude Filipino-white marriages. Within a few months, California had adopted a new law to cover “negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes.”119 The 1933 provision remained in effect until the California Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional fifteen years later.120
Faced with the ban on intermarriage, Filipinos did not concede defeat. Instead, they evaded California’s antimiscegenation law by leaving the state to marry. Efforts to close this loophole met with limited success. In 1936, a California court of appeals ruled that a Filipino-white marriage that took place in New Mexico was valid in California. In that case, a white woman sought to annul her marriage on the ground that her Filipino husband had falsely represented himself to be “of Spanish Castilian descent.” She testified that she would not have married him had she known he was Filipino because the marriage was illegal in California. The judge held that marriages between whites and Filipinos were legal in New Mexico, so “the ethnological status of the parties was not a ground of annulment.”121 In 1938, the California legislature passed a resolution calling on Utah to prevent whites and Filipinos from going there to evade the ban on miscegenation. Utah obliged by outlawing white–Filipino marriages that same year. Still dissatisfied, a California legislator introduced a bill to void interracial marriages that took place outside the state if they would be illegal in California. The bill died in committee.122
In addition to circumventing the law by going out of state, Filipinos married Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and Eskimo women. In fact, most mixed couples in Los Angeles were Filipino–Mexican. There were some cultural affinities between Filipino immigrants and Mexican women because Spain had at one time colonized the Philippines. Consequently, many Filipinos spoke Spanish and were devout Catholics. Although Mexican-origin women were formally classified as white under California law, registrars seldom stood in the way of a marriage between a Mexican woman, particularly one who was dark skinned, and a Filipino man.123 The prevalence of intermarriage among Filipinos was so great that by 1946, over half of the immigrants’ children were biracial.124 Far from accepting their relegation to bachelor communities, Filipino immigrants drew on their familiarity with American law and culture to challenge the ban on intermarriage. Unlike the Japanese who relied on separate settlements, Filipinos invoked their rights to freedom and equality before the law. When Filipino demands for recognition of their full personhood failed, they asserted their autonomy by using loopholes to circumvent racial restrictions.
Although antimiscegenation laws were identical in form, they served different functions at different times and for different groups. In the colonial era and during the early years of nationhood, bans on intermarriage were critical to drawing the color line between indentured white servants and blacks. Once the color line was in place, the statutes became a way to enforce racial hierarchy by barring blacks from assimilating through marriage to whites. Interracial sex continued to occur on a widespread basis, but it did not threaten white identity and privilege because the one-drop rule classified any illegitimate offspring as black. Nor did the extramarital liaisons jeopardize white superiority since white men could have their way with black women, but black men faced severe sanctions for having sex with white women.
Asian immigrants were subject to harsh restrictions on intermarriage, although their racial identities already were clear from federal immigration law. The use of antimiscegenation laws to subordinate the Chinese was in some ways harsher than their use to subordinate blacks. Blacks could form same-race families, but Chinese men often remained single and childless for life because of the shortage of Chinese women. Although forced to live in bachelor communities, Chinese men did not cross the color line to procreate. Linguistically, culturally, and economically isolated, Chinese men were ill-equipped to pursue extramarital liaisons with white women. Their emasculation reinforced their powerlessness, even as they were portrayed as sexually degraded and lascivious. The penalties for whites who became involved with the Chinese also were in certain respects more severe than for those who became involved with blacks. Although a white spouse in a black-white marriage remained white, American women who wed Chinese immigrants were stripped of their nationality, thereby taking on some of their spouses’ unassimilable, alien qualities.
Enforcing racial subordination was particularly critical where the prosperous Japanese were concerned. The ability of Japanese immigrants to build stable, successful businesses, families, and communities threatened a sense of white superiority. In response, nativists insisted that the Japanese could not assimilate through naturalization or intermarriage, whatever their personal accomplishments. At the same time, though, nativists feared that Japanese racial pride made them spurn assimilation to a white way of life. While intermarriage remained a daunting prospect, the possibility that the Japanese might choose to remain a separate people also threatened white superiority. Just when proof of racial subordination was most urgently needed, antimiscegenation laws could no longer offer unambiguous evidence of white desirability and unattainability.
Although the Chinese and Japanese generally complied with antimiscegenation laws, Filipino immigrants defied the statutes. Rather than simply evade the restrictions through illicit liaisons, Filipinos demanded the right to cross the color line to date and many women of their choice. Explicitly linking their masculinity to romantic and marital freedom, Filipinos were unwilling to forgo intimacy as the price of admission to the American workforce. Though economically marginal, Filipinos were not hampered by the linguistic and cultural isolation that doomed the Chinese to perennial bachelorhood. Often able to communicate in English and aware of American political ideals, Filipinos had a well- developed sense of democratic entitlement and acted on it. Their collective, confrontational approach to restrictions on sexual and marital freedom is unique in the annals of antimiscegenation law.