This past week there have been many tributes to Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away due to brain cancer. Kennedy’s most lasting legacy to the Asian American community will most likely be his championing to pass the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which, as part of the Act, abolished the quota system limiting immigration from Asia.
The United States has had a terrible record of civil rights towards ethnic Chinese and Japanese, and prior to this immigration reform, few Asians were allowed to immigrate to the United States, let alone become American citizens. A national origins quota system was in place to mirror the largely white-ancestral makeup of the U.S. Asian Americans previously made up 0.5% of the U.S. population, but as a direct result of this Act, now constitute approximately 5% of the United States.
My father received his Master’s degree in 1964, and I am sure that had the the Act had not passed, the likelihood that my father would have been able to remain in the United States (as well as bring my mother over from Taiwan as well) and eventually become an American citizen would have been quite unlikely. Having been born and raised in Massachusetts for all of my childhood, I’ve always appreciated that Senator Kennedy (as well as Senator Kerry) represented me and represented the soul of the Democratic Party.