In March, 1927, the Expatriation Act was introduced in the United States. This Act decreed that any U.S. woman who married a non-citizen would lose their U.S. citizenship. To regain their citizenship, they would have to go through the naturalization process.
Let's understand one thing first: what does being a U.S. citizen entail? It requires that you are either a citizen at birth (born in the United States or certain territories or outlying possessions of the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States) or that you have successfully applied for a "derived" or "acquired" citizenship through parents or applied for naturalization (which includes the test on English and U.S. Civics).
A breakthrough came in 1920, when American women finally got the right to vote. They began protesting and articulating their ideas to lawmakers. Congressmen now had to please women in order to stay in their positions, and so slowly, things began to change.
In 1922, Congress passed The Cable Act, which essentially meant that women would not be able to keep their citizenship if they married a non-citizen man who could become a citizen. However, U.S. women would still be stripped of their U.S. citizenship if they married a man who was ineligible for U.S. citizenship. At this time of anti-Asian sentiment, this was a major conflict with the Nisei women in the U.S.
Nisei means second-generation Japanese-Americans, meaning that by the law, they are considered U.S. citizens at birth.
At the time, Asians were not eligible for U.S. citizenship as they were labeled "enemy aliens", still suffering from the racial discriminations stemming from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and increased Asian immigration rate. In fact, the fine print of the Cable Act stated that a woman could keep her US citizenship after marrying a non-Asian alien if she stayed within the United States. This essentially excluded Asian men from marrying U.S. citizens at all.
The Act was protested by U.S. women all over, but especially the Nisei women, including Suma Sugi who lobbied to change the Cable Act, and was successful in 1931 when Congress amended the act to allow Japanese-American women to marry Japanese men without consequences like losing their citizenships, and brought the eventual end of the Act in 1936.
Author: Carina Sun
In Honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
We are bringing you the stories of inspirational Asian Americans from history.
5/30/20 - The Exceptional Example Ronald Takaki Set
5/27/20 - The Incredible Legacy of Kalpana Chawla
5/26/20 - When Marrying a Non-American Meant Losing Your Citizenship
5/25/20 - Honoring the 442nd Infantry Regiment
5/24/20- A Glimpse at Asian-Americans in Hollywood -- Miyoshi Umeki
5/22/20 - The Oriental Schools of San Fransisco
5/21/20 - Equality For All Colors - Yick Wo v. Hopkins
5/20/20 - An End To Police Brutality: Peter Yew's Stand
5/19/20 - Finding His Form: Linsanity in 2012
5/18/20 - Internment and Injustice: Fred T. Korematsu
5/17/20 - The Courageous Stand of Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo
5/16/20 - The Unbreakable Spirit of Wong Kim Ark
5/15/20- The Admirable Perseverance of Patsy Takemoto Mink
5/13/20 - The Lasting Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs
5/12/20-Remembering "The Forgotten" -- The Chinese migrants who built America's first Transcontinental railroad
5/11/20 - The Singing Neurosurgeon: Dr. Ayub Ommaya