Divesting Citizenship: On Asian American History and the Loss of Citizenship Through Marriage

80 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2005 Last revised: 10 Aug 2012

See all articles by Leti Volpp

Leti Volpp

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Date Written: August 9, 2012

Abstract

This Article narrates a neglected legal history, that of the intersection between race, gender, and American citizenship through the first third of the twentieth century. It is a little known fact that marriage once functioned to exile U.S. citizen women from their country; moreover, how racial barriers to citizenship shaped expatriation and dependent citizenship presents an even more complex history. Using an intersectional analysis, the Article begins with a clarification of the historical record.

But beyond narrating history, exploring the contours of gender- and race-based exclusion offers a lesson about citizenship more generally. In particular, the history of dependent citizenship and marital expatriation shows how notions of incapacity were foundational to racial and gendered disenfranchisement from formal citizenship. Such notions of incapacity, reflected in laws of coverture and race-based exclusion, were deeply connected to moral and republican ideals - which were assumed unattainable by women and Asian men. Thus, our understanding of citizenship broadens if we focus not only on the status - race and gender - used to deny citizenship, but also on ideas about conduct that precluded women and Asian immigrants from access to the American polity.

In addition to literal access and exclusion, the Article examines how identity shapes citizenship more broadly. Whether one discusses citizenship in the form of rights, as political activity, or symbolically, it is apparent that continued ambivalence about admission to citizenship remains; we see this through today's prosecution of the War on Terror. Ideas about morality and appropriate conduct continue to patrol all forms of citizenship. Those who were never admitted and those who were exiled may fall outside of our memory, but linger as ghostly traces to remind us of the force of identity in shaping citizenship.

Keywords: citizenship, migration, marriage, gender, race, history, Asian American

Suggested Citation

Volpp, Leti, Divesting Citizenship: On Asian American History and the Loss of Citizenship Through Marriage (August 9, 2012). UCLA Law Review, Vol. 52, 2005; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 870087. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=870087

Leti Volpp (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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