Last week, the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced a resolution calling on Congress to formally acknowledge and express regret for the passage of a series of laws during the turn of the 20th century that violated the fundamental civil rights of Chinese American immigrants. This is a long-time coming, considering the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882. Back in July 2009, I had blogged that the State of California officially apologized for discriminatory laws against Chinese immigrants during the Gold Rush.
U.S. Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Judy Biggert (R-IL), and Mike Coffman (R-CO), along with Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Scott Brown (R-MA) introduced the resolution. Congresswoman Chu, the first ever Chinese American Congresswoman, had these words to say:
A century ago, the Chinese came here in search of a better life. But they faced harsh conditions, particularly in the halls of Congress. Congress passed numerous discriminatory exclusion laws that barred the Chinese from accessing basic rights given to other immigrants. These laws engendered hatred, bigotry and prejudice in the minds of Americans towards Chinese. Many were brutally murdered, and even more were abused, harassed and detained. It is long overdue that Congress officially acknowledges these ugly laws, and expresses the sincere regret that Chinese Americans deserve. The last generation of settlers impacted by this legislation are leaving us, giving Congress a short window to make amends to those who were directly affected. As the first Chinese American Congresswoman, I am proud to say that we will today introduce a resolution on the House Floor that does just that.
The Chinese Exclusion Laws were repealed in 1943 as an gesture of goodwill to our wartime alley China during World War II in our efforts to defeat the Japanese. But it was only until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that lead to the abolishment of a quota system limiting immigration from Asia (and ultimately allowed my father to remain in the country after graduate school in the mid-1960s). Given the current debate on immigration reform and the craziness of birtherism, I really wonder sometimes how far we have come when it comes to embracing our roots as a nation of immigrants rather than demonizing them.