Published Date

January 1, 2016

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For the Classroom


Indigenous, Migration, Immigration, & Diaspora, Social

AHA Topics

Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education


United States

Institution: Santa Monica College

Location: Santa Monica, CA

Participant: Leslie Kawaguchi

Year: 2016

The first third of this course looks at the peopling of North America and ends with the establishment of the U.S. and the 1790 immigration policy that provides naturalization to “free white persons” despite the cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity established during the colonial period.

Week 1
  • The Historical Construction of Ethnicity, Race, and Whiteness
  • Native Americans emphasizing the role that physical environments played in shaping their cultures
Week 2
  • Native Americans and the Spanish
  • Native Americans and the French, Dutch, and English
Week 3
  • Native Americans and the English
Week 4
  • Multicultural/Multiracial 18th-century North America including California and Hawaii – This is where the connection among Barbados, Spanish Florida, and South Carolina, including Natives and Africans, is emphasized.
Week 5
  • Defining American Identity and Culture: The Results of the American Revolution – Years ago in the U.S. history survey and in this course, I framed the presentation around the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) and the Constitution (“We the people of the United States”) and asked students to stand. After going through the Constitution with its provisions on “tax-paying Indians,” the 3/5ths clause, the 20-year importation of “other persons,” and the fugitive servant/slave clause, the English precedents regarding female coverture, the 21 year old legal age, and property qualifications, I ask students which groups were systematically excluded. I also mention what happened later as the U.S. took over the Southwest and California to Mexicans and Asians. As they call out who was excluded, that group of students sit down. In all of my years of doing this, the most I have ever had standing at the end were two white males out of a class of 45. Most of the time, I have none. Then I ask who is allowed to participate today, and most of their hands go up, which sets the stage for looking at when changes occurred.

For the next part of the class, we examine in depth the experiences of six specific groups from 1790 to 1896 with the Plessy v. Ferguson decision to see what changes, if any, occurred in these groups’ status. The emphasis is on the meaning of citizenship and whiteness.

Week 6
  • The Irish and Germans (comparing East Coast and West Coast experiences and differing meanings of whiteness)
Week 7
  • The Mexicans and Chinese (largely comparing their experiences in the west) However, we also look at the Chinese experience in New York City, where marriages occurred between Irish women and Chinese men, while the Irish became “white” in California. For the Mexicans, the focus is on their becoming a racialized people despite their European origins as gente de razón (Spanish speakers) in California who dominated the Native populations. For instance, California passed an anti-vagrancy act in 1855 directed at “all persons who are commonly known as ‘Greasers’ or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood . . . and who go armed and are not peaceable and quiet persons.” I show photos of Juan Cortina and Tiburcio Vasquez who resisted American rule and who students generally agree look “white.” Then I show a drawing of one person’s view of Joaquin Murieta in which he looks stereotypically “Mexican.” My PowerPoint concludes with a slide of a sign that says “WE SERVE WHITE’S only NO SPANISH OR MEXICANS.” During all of this, I keep asking students where Spain is to remind them of the 1790 immigration policy.
Week 8
  • African Americans including the significance of the Haitian Revolution in the Gabriel and Vesey conspiracies
Week 9
  • Native Americans