The United States has transformed into a multicultural and ethnically diverse community. At present, Census statistics show that 69 percent of the US population is Caucasian. However, they view that that number will significantly decrease to about 64 percent by the year 2010. The numbers that have been decreased from that population will then add up to the other minority groups. In 2010, Asians will make up 5 percent, African Americans 12 percent, and Hispanics will comprise approximately 15 percent of the population.
In line with this ethnically diverse community come the issues regarding racial equality as well. These range from racial equality in the economic aspects through employment opportunities, in the societal aspects such as societal acceptance and equal treatment, and in the political aspect in terms of government administration and representation.
At present, one of the most pertinent topics that are prevalent in the United States politics is the representation of minorities in the government. Shrouded by this controversy is the issue of citizenship.
Citizenship is defined as the membership in a political community (originally a city or town but now usually a country) and is in parallel with nationality, although it is possible to have a nationality without being a citizen (i.e., be legally subject to a state and entitled to its protection without having rights of political participation in it). Having been identified as a citizen of a country entitles one with a multitude of rights. One of which is the right to political participation.
Having been a democratic country, the United States grants its citizens the right to fully participate in the political system of the United States. Moreover, they are represented and protected abroad by the United States, and are allowed to reside in certain territories, primarily in the United States. without any immigration requirements.
To be able to attain citizenship in the United States, they are many ways. Primary of which is being naturally born in the U.S.. This can be done through birth within the territories of the United States by U.S. or non-U.S. citizens, Through birth abroad to two United States citizens (if both their parents were U.S. citizens at the time of their birth and at least one of their parents lived in the United States prior to their birth), Through birth abroad to one United States citizen (If one of his or her parents was a U.S. citizen at the time of the person in question’s birth; The citizen parent lived at least 5 years in the United States before his or her child’s birth; and At least 2 of these 5 years in the United States were after the citizen parent’s 14th birthday).
Also, citizenship can be achieved through naturalization. Naturalization is the process by which one becomes a citizen of a country. If not a U.S. citizen, one may be eligible to become one through naturalization. However there are numerous factors that hinder people towards the attainment of citizenship. Despite the fact that minority groups (Latin Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and African Americans) have populated the territories of America, they themselves encounter certain difficulties in processing their U.S. citizenship.
Here are the requirements: a) one must be at least eighteen years of age at the time of filing, b) he or she should be a legal permanent resident of the United States, and have had a status of a legal permanent resident in the United States for five years less 90 days before they apply (this requirement is reduced to three years less 90 days if they (a) acquired legal permanent resident status , and (b) have been married to and living with a citizen for the past three years.);this primarily they find it hard to accomplish since most minority groups miantain their cultural bond by staying together among themselves;.
Also, those applying for naturalization must have been physically present in the U.S. territory for at least 30 months of 60 months prior to the date of filing their application. Also, during those 60 months, if the legal permanent resident was outside of the U.S. for a continuous period of 6 months or more they are disqualified from naturalizing (certain exceptions apply for those continuous periods of six months to 1 year). Also, they must:
be a “person of good moral character”
must pass a test on United States history and government.
must also have a working knowledge of the English language (there are exceptions for long-resident older applicants and those with mental or physical disabilities)
The list is composed of 96 questions, from which ten are picked and six should be answered correctly. Below is a list of questions taken from the wikipedia’s article on on naturalization: (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)
Who elects the President of the United States?
The Electoral College.
How many changes, or amendments, are there to the Constitution?
How many voting members are in the House of Representatives?
Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death”?
Which President was the first Commander in Chief of the U.S. Army and Navy?
Name the amendments that guarantee or address voting rights.
The 15th, the 19th, the 24th, and the 26th.
In what year was the Constitution written?
How many times may a Senator or Congressman be reelected?
What U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services form is used to apply for naturalized citizenship?
What is the most important right granted to United States citizens?
The right to vote.
Eligibility for public office
Though the phrase “natural born Citizen” is not defined anywhere in the Constitution itself and its interpretation has never been the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it has been used as a qualification in running for U.S. presidency and assuming the position. Only those natural-born U.S. citizens are allowed to become Presidents of the United states though naturalized ones can attain other high positions.
II. Efforts that minority groups have exerted towards racial equality in the attainment of citizenship and the legislative measures (Constitutional Amendments) that the United States have taken to accommodate minority participation in politics.
During the years of slavery, which lasted for such a very long time, political life was a denial of citizenship for many years. It was only during the approval of constitutional amendments that African Americans became eligible for Citizenship rights. It was during the 13th Constitutional Amendment that the United States abolished slavery. After that initial move, the 14th Constitutional Amendment granted Citizenship rights and the equal protection under the law. Then by the near end of the seventeenth century, voting rights for black males were granted during the 15th amendment.
One of the most popular landmarks in the advancement towards political equality for African Americans was achieved after the war. During reconstruction, blacks were elected to political offices, two of which, from Mississippi, became Senators. From 1869-1877, fourteen African Americans were elected to the House of Representatives and the Republican Party reached out to African American support. However, political equality for this particular minority group was short-lived. As a result, African Americans developed four broad strategies to achieve Constitutional rights. This equality movement is highlighted by the following events and guided by the Four Stands – self improvement, political pressure and legal strategies, Black Nationalism, and protest:
a. Booker T. Washington promoted the rejection of political rights and urged blacks to help themselves to uplift their morals and vocational training. He also encouraged the race to work for economic equality
b. The group, NAACP – National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sought to win political rights through pressure and litigation in courts. W.E.B. DuBois – one of the founders and creative thinkers that promoted the use of courts (confrontation)
c. Movement to Northern cities beginning around WWI also started two strategies
a. Black Nationalism – Marcus Garvey who led the Universal Negro Improvement Association brought about the support for separation and emigration back to Africa and that attracted millions, and built unity among the race.
b. Protest Movement
Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph threatened massive marches on Washington D.C. and that prompted united votes. Black votes swung away from other representatives and focused on representatives from their race.
Apart from these four strands, non-violent protests spread across the South and brought national attention, which were led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (organized clergy). In this process, students became involved (SNCC – Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) in sit-ins, boycotts, and protests. Thus, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act finally brought about the end of minority segregation, and thus marked an improvement towards racial equality.
However, despite this achievement, victories did not alter living conditions of poor African Americans in the North. At present, discrimination, poor housing, inferior education, low wages are still apparent and urban riots of 1960s in Detroit, Chicago, LA, and Newark are still popular.
Latin Americans or “Hispanics”
The population of Latin Americans or those known as “Hispanics” encompasses a wide range of groups from Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Central Americans.
The Mexican Americans comprises the largest group of Latin Americans at an approximate of 14.6 million people. Generally, the political equality practice among Mexican Americans is quite diverse. In the 1950s, though whites dominated political activity, the League of United Latin American Citizens and GI Forum worked to stop discrimination after WWII and some Mexican American were elected to Congress. However, this equality was short-term too.
In the 1960s, boycotts occurred conducted by California students in LA, Denver, and San Antonio. Apart from that, “Chicano” movement- copied political strategies pf Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, Mexican American took a two-track strategy to promote their rights: 1.) Tradition ethnic-group voter path (Voter Registration and Ethnic bloc voting; and 2.) Legal Strategy (Mexican American Legal Defense Fund for civil rights)
Puerto Rican Americans
Comprising a minority group, their migration to the United States began with experience of conquest. It was during the Spanish America War in 1898 that Puerto Rico became a territory of America.
By 1917, though it was not considered as a state, Puerto Ricans became citizens and many migrated to the United States by the 1950s. However, naturalization became difficult since many were banned from having voting rights since they failed the literacy test.
In the 1960’s, Puerto Ricans became politically mobilized voting for Democratic Party but still remained a generally poor ethnic group as compared to other ethnicities.
Majority of the Cuban Americans have come to U.S. since early 1960’s as communists refugees. Most of which were middle class and were granted refugee status – federal assistance in settlement. At the time of their migration, having a mindset of being
Anti-communists philosophy, Cuban Americans supported the Republican Party. And since they had a significantly large population in Southern Florida, representation in the government seemed not an issue difficult to pursue in their populated society. By 1989, the first Cuban American was elected to Congress.
The Asian Americans are considered to be the most diverse group among all the political minority groups. The first who showed interest for migration were the Chinese from the West coast of 1850’s, during the onset of the Gold rush. Unlike other groups who encountered slavery and discrimination, the Chinese were met with hostility and the Congress declared Chinese ineligible for citizenship.
However, the anti-Chinese feeling that developed thereafter led to Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Thus, that barred citizenship and further immigration. Moreover, Chinese Americans were later isolated in Chinatowns until after WWII.
As for the Japanese Americans, they had same reasons for migration in the first place. However, the WWII Anti-Japanese sentiment brought about certain treatment disparities. Citizenship was not granted and worse, majority of their population were placed in relocation camps for three years deprived of property, jobs, freedom. It was only after War that Japanese Americans challenged restrictions. Moreover, it was only in 1988 that the Federal law issued liberty, acceptance and $20,000 to each survivor of camps.
In 1965, Asian immigration climbed after the approval of the Immigration Act. That then lifted the discriminatory quotas for immigration. As a result, Asian Americans have become more diverse and 37% of the population is now comprised of Asians coming from the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Generally, Asian Americans have followed the traditional paths from local political offices to higher positions. In Hawaii for instance, majority of the population were Asian-Pacific American and thus, that resulted to Hawaii having a long history of Asian political participation at all levels of government. Also, its congressional delegation has been held by Asian Americans for most of its history. However, despite the increase in population, their own diversity in terms of cultural practices and beliefs impeded unity and further political power.
Native Americans account for two million of the population of USA at present. Separated by tribal culture and tradition, several tribes first settled in the United States without unity. In the early1800’s, each tribe was considered and defined as a nation. As a result, Indian Americans were considered non-citizens.
It was only in 1924 that Native Americans were granted citizenship and in1930’s, they were encouraged to live on reservations.
It was only in the 1960’s that Native Americans sought rights through protest litigation, and assertion of tribal rights. In 1968, Dennis Banks co-founded American Indian Movement that actively uplifted the Indian political rights.
General Constitutional Measures towards Racial Equality
During the 1930s, a series of changes within the United States triggered industrialization and immigration towards the United States. In line with this however, Minority groups, primarily the African Americans,conducted Civil Right movements.
The series of political movements resulted in President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Other than that, the motto “A city too busy to hate” also increased popularity and active political leaders of the minority groups began to participate more and more in the mainstream of American society and politics. Through the Civil Rights Act and the Affirmative Action program brought about changes in American society. That resulted to the reduced practices of the most overt and easily identifiable practices of discrimination. Moreover, the easier access to good educational opportunities and jobs gave way to more and more opportunities for minority representation in the U.S. politics.
The Future of racial minority (African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, & American Indians) group politics
Since the Civil Rights Movement, the situation of many minority racial groups continue to improve dramatically in terms of economic, educational, societal, and in political aspects as well. Also, discrimination and racism are, on the societal level, are reduced. This may be due to the practice of more and more programs towrads the promotion of equality. However, charges of white racism against minority groups still increase in the recent years.
Though discrimination have been traced accordingly through historical narrativesm, some actions have been prompetd to revert the inequality. One of which is the policy of Affirmative Action. Under Affirmative Action, “members of groups traditionally “under-represented” in higher education, etc., are given preferential access to education and employment. Most prominent of these groups are African-Americans, though women, the handicapped, and other non-East Asian minorities also receive preference. On the one hand, Affirmative Action has made it possible for even more African-Americans to improve their educations and incomes. On the other hand, it comes at the expense of other applicants—some of whom may have superior qualifications—who, as a result of limited positions, are denied access. This practice has been the subject of intense debate and even legal action.”
Affirmative action, is considered one of the primary signs that racial equality is taken into consideration in the United States. As such, possible steps towards the attainment of other programs to promote racial equality, especially Minority representation in politics might also follow.
Other than this, hopes are high towards the attainment of equality in the United states because of the continuous and active Civil Rights movements of such minority groups.
If these movements are continued, and if the government continues to support the idea on diversity appreciation and racial equality, as part of the democratic ideology and fight for liberation, then there is no doubt that equal opportunities in political representation and participation can be achieved.
Affirmative Action. (n.d.) Accesssed February 07, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_actionNative Americans. (n.d.) Accesssed February 07, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_americans
African Americans. (n.d.) Accesssed February 07, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_americans
Asian Americans. (n.d.) Accesssed February 07, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_americans
Citizenship. (n.d.) Accesssed February 07, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizenship
Latin Americans. (n.d.) Accesssed February 07, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_americans