This study contrasts Japanese American activism, centering on citizenship struggles surrounding the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, to show alternatives to the emergence of the model minority trope. This complexity of activity worked to create and contest the making of a “successful” minority and ideas about U.S. democracy and equality at mid-century. Through a nuanced interpretation, this article reveals how certain narratives relied on a social progress framework and shifting global Cold War politics to create a “Japanese American Exceptionalism.” The little-known history of Japanese American Cold War progressivism shows the forging of deep solidarities and the refusal to promote domestic rights based on empire building. By inserting Japanese Americans into the “Long” freedom movement historiography, this article further examines intergenerational continuities and ruptures.

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