Uncertain citizenship: Race, empire, and the denationalization of Asian Americans in twentieth-century United States
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While scholarship on immigration and Asian American history has frequently focused on the relationship between immigration and naturalization restrictions and the actions of people who were subjected to them, this body of work has generally assumed US citizenship to be a stable legal category once it is attained and has ignored the possibility of citizenship loss for Asian Americans. “Uncertain Citizenship” intervenes in this scholarship by providing a social, legal, and cultural history of cases where US citizens of Asian descent were legally divested of their US citizenship through administrative procedures of denaturalization and expatriation. Through an analysis of legal proceedings, government correspondence, and other archival materials uncovered in the archives of the Department of Justice and the Department of State, this project uncovers the as-yet untold stories of Indian Americans who were denaturalized in the early twentieth century for not being white, and Japanese Americans who were expatriated after World War II for voting in Japanese elections, serving in the Japanese armed forces, or taking up employment with the Japanese government. These cases, which comprise the most systematic and targeted instances of denationalization in US history, demonstrate how transnational constructions of race and empire were vital to the development of norms of US citizenship. In addition, this dissertation argues that the threat of citizenship loss also served as a disciplinary mechanism that policed certain citizen behaviors such as split national identities or participation in subversive or “deviant” acts. It served as a potent reminder to citizens that failure to adhere to citizenship norms could get them expelled from national membership and made it clear to Asian immigrants that their acceptance into the nation was precarious and conditional at best. By placing citizenship loss in a transnational context, this project makes significant contributions towards understanding the impact that the transnational movements of peoples and ideas has had on the development of the American nation, state, empire, and concept of citizenship.