Paul Fong, “Godfather” of Silicon Valley’s Asian American’s political community and current California State Assembly member, last week introduced resolution ACR 42 calling on the state of California to offer the first formal apology to Chinese Americans for unjust laws and discrimination dating from the Gold Rush Era to the 1940’s:
“Unjust laws include foreign miner’s tax on all gold found, prohibition to marry the person of your choice, Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibition to buy a home and work for a state, county or city entity. ACR 42 also recognizes the work Chinese in California performed on the Transcontinental Railroad and their contributions to the success of California’s fishing and agricultural industries. In addition, Chinese in California helped build the Delta levees.”
I previously mentioned the famous 1869 photo capturing the joining of the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Point where not one Chinese laborer was included in the photo, even though up to 12,000 Chinese worked for Central Pacific, making up to 90% of the workforce. But photos can lie, with history is often written by the victors. And sometimes, history needs to be corrected.
Not many Americans were taught the very racist and exclusionary practices of America’s past when regarding Chinese Americans in the 18th and 19th century, let alone the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II (which the United States formally apologized for paid reparations, albeit in 1988.)
I’m sure many Californians will complain about any such efforts regarding addressing past injustices of discrimination, especially with the state of California falling apart and dealing with a massive budget deficit. But these resolutions don’t actually take up all the of the legislature’s time — it’s not like everyone in the state senate and assembly can’t be working on other matters when there is time in between negotiating budget compromises and votes. I’m glad that at least someone is trying to redress such past discriminatory acts; the longer these acts are left behind and forgotten, the harder they are to go back to to redress. In an interview, Fong expresses part of his family’s experience and his personal motivation for introducing the resolution:
“Growing up in his family’s flower business, Fong heard many stories about the hard life of Chinese immigrants, building railroads, mines and irrigation systems. They weren’t allowed in public schools, couldn’t vote and couldn’t marry a white person. Fong’s grandfather was detained for two months on Angel Island in 1939 and had to wait for several years to be reunited with his wife and daughter, Fong’s mother.”
Ultimately, a formal apology for past injustices would serve more to educate, inform and redress past official policies of the state of California — and hopefully in the future, the United States federal government.
As the old saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Let’s not repeat history when history has proven past actions wrong. For this reason, I personally want to wish Assembly Member Fong all the best in trying to get ACR 42 passed, and hopefully get a federal apology of past unjust laws and discrimination.