Monday, June 25, 2012

House of Representatives Expresses Regret for Chinese Exclusion Laws

Transcript of House floor remarks by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and resolution sponsor on H.R. 683 “Expressing the regret of the House of Representatives for the passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act” passed unanimously June 18, 2012

"Mr. Speaker, I rise and support House Resolution 683.
"First, I want to thank Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and subcommittee Chair Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) of the Judiciary Committee for all their work on this resolution. I appreciate it so much.
"We have come together across party lines to show that no matter what side of the aisle we sit on, Congress can make amends for the past, no matter how long ago those violations occurred.
"It is because we have worked together in a bipartisan way that we will make history today.
"Today, for the first time in 130 years, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that expresses regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, one of the most discriminatory acts in American history.
"Over a century ago, the Chinese came here in search of a better life. During the California Gold Rush, the Chinese came to the United States to make something of themselves. Their blood, sweat, and tears built the first transcontinental railroad connecting the people of our nation. They opened our mines, constructed the levees, and became the backbone of farm production. Their efforts helped build America.
"But as the economy soured in the 1870s, the Chinese became scapegoats. They were called racial slurs, were spat upon in the streets, and even brutally murdered. The harsh conditions they faced were evident in the halls of Congress.
"By the time 1882 came around, members of Congress were competing with each other to get the most discriminatory law passed and routinely made speeches on the House floor against the so-called ‘Mongolian horde.’
"Rep. Albert Shelby Willis from Kentucky fought particularly hard for the Chinese Exclusion Act. In his floor speech, he said, ‘The Chinese were an invading race.’ He called them ‘aliens with sordid and un-republican habits.’ He declared that the Pacific states have been ‘cursed with the evils of Chinese immigration’ and that they ‘disturbed the peace and order of society.’
"The official House committee report accompanying the bill claimed that the Chinese – and I quote – ‘retained their distinctive peculiarities and characteristics, refusing to assimilate themselves to our institutions, and remaining a separate and distinct class entrenched behind immovable prejudices. That their ignorance or disregard for sanitary laws as evidenced in their habits of life breeds disease, pestilence and death.’
"And so on April 17, 1882, under a simple suspension of the rules, the House passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. It prevented them from becoming naturalized citizens. It prevented them from ever having the right to vote. And it prevented the Chinese – and the Chinese alone – from immigrating.
"But this was only the beginning. As the years passed, the House built upon this act increasing the discriminatory restrictions on the Chinese.
"Two years later, the House made clear that any ethnically Chinese laborer – even if they weren’t from China but from somewhere like Hong Kong or the Philippines – were banned from U.S. shores.
"Four years later, the House passed the Scott Act. This bill prohibited all Chinese laborers from re-entering the United States if they ever left, even if they were legal residents in the U.S. and even if they had the certificates of return that should have guaranteed their right of return. This prevented approximately 20,000 legal U.S. residents who had gone abroad, including 600 on ships literally en route back to the United States, from returning to their families or their homes. With little floor debate, the Scott Act passed the House unanimously.
"In 1892 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was set to expire, the House extended it for another decade but it increased restrictions further.
"It made the Chinese the only residents who could not receive bail after applying for a writ of habeas corpus – that is, to protest an unjust imprisonment.
"It made them the only people in America who have to carry papers or ‘certificates of residence’ with them at all times. If they couldn’t produce the proper documents, authorities threw them into prison or out of the country regardless of whether they were U.S. citizens or not. Legally, the only means by which this could be stopped is if a white person testified on their behalf.
"In 1898, the U.S. annexed Hawaii and the Philippines, making them U.S. territories. And while other residents of the territories could come and go between their home and the U.S., who did the House make sure to exclude? Only the Chinese.
"Then in 1904, the House made the Chinese Exclusion Act permanent. This act lasted for 60 long years.
"It was not until 1943 that this law was repealed, but it was only because of World War II when the United States needed to maintain a critical military alliance with China. U.S. enemies were pointing to the Chinese Exclusion Act as proof that the U.S. was anti-Chinese and the U.S. had to erase that perception.
"However, Congress made no formal acknowledgement that these laws were wrong. The Chinese Exclusion Act as the first and only federal law in our history that excluded a single group of people from immigration on no basis other than their race.
"And the effects of this act produced deep scars on the Chinese-American community. Families were split apart permanently. Without the ability to naturalize as citizens and to vote, the community was disenfranchised.
"Because immigration had been so severely restricted, few women could come and the ratio of males to females was as high as 20 to 1. Many Chinese-American males could not have families and were forced to die completely alone. If they tried to get married, they were forced to go abroad and families were separated.
"The family of Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland, had been here legally since 1880. Her father went abroad to marry a woman in China in 1920 but had to leave her behind along with their children. When the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed over 25 years later, his wife was finally able to come and have Jean in the United States. But the siblings did not know each other for decades.
"The Chinese, like my grandfather, did not have the legal right to become naturalized citizens. He had been here legally since 1904 but unlike non-Chinese immigrants, he was forced to register and carry a certificate of residence at all times for almost 40 years or else be deported. He could only be saved if a white person vouched for him.
"These laws are why we ask for this expression of regret. Last October, the U.S. Senate did its part to right history by passing their own resolution of regret for these hateful laws. It did so unanimously with bipartisan support.
"And today, the House should also issue its expression of regret. It is for my grandfather and for all Chinese-Americans who were told for six decades by the U.S. government that the land of the free wasn’t open to them that we must pass this resolution. We must finally and formally acknowledge these ugly laws that were incompatible with America’s founding principles. We must express the sincere regret that Chinese-Americans deserve.
"By doing so, we will acknowledge that discrimination has no place in our society and we will reaffirm our strong commitment to preserving the civil rights and constitutional protections for all people of every color, every race, and from every background…
"Today is historic. This is a very significant day in the Chinese-American community. It is an expression that discrimination has no place in our society and that the promise of equality is available to all.
"This is only the fourth such apology in the last 25 years. In 1988, President [Ronald] Reagan signed the bill apologizing for the Japanese-American internment during World War II. In 1993, Congress apologized to Hawaiians for the U.S.-led overthrow of their monarchy. In 2008, the House issued an apology to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.
"This bill was a huge undertaking requiring the efforts of Chinese-Americans and their supporters all across the nation. Without the dedication of countless community organizations and grassroots advocates from across the country, none of this would have happened. I thank them, and I thank all the Congress members from both sides of the aisle, including the 50 co-sponsors of the bill, and especially Chairman Lamar Smith, for their support of the bill."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pew Research Center-"The Rise of Asian Americans"

Today the Pew Research Center released a new study of Asian immigration.
"Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a comprehensive new nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center.
A century ago, most Asian Americans were low-skilled, low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official discrimination. Today they are the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group in America to live in mixed neighborhoods and to marry across racial lines. "
Here is a link to the full study.

In my family history blog, I have detailed the story of  our clan in America which began with the immigration of my great grandfather, Jue Joe in 1874. Members of our family are descendants of this first wave of Asian immigration in the late 19th century.  This immigration wave was severely curtailed by racist immigration policies instigated in the late 19th and early 20th century.
"Asian immigrants first came to the U.S. in significant numbers more than a century and a half ago—mainly as low-skilled male laborers who mined, farmed and built the railroads. They endured generations of officially sanctioned racial prejudice—including regulations that prohibited the immigration of Asian women; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred all new immigration from China; the Immigration Act of 1917 and the National Origins Act of 1924, which extended the immigration ban to include virtually all of Asia; and the forced relocation and internment of about 120,000 Japanese Americans after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941"

Descendants like myself of this first wave of immigrants from China are now outnumbered by Chinese who have immigrated after 1965. 
"Asian Americans either are immigrants from Asia (59%) or are descendants of immigrants (41%)."

The new first generation immigrants are very different from the first generation immigrants in the late 19th century.
"Large-scale immigration from Asia did not take off until the passage of the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Over the decades, this modern wave of immigrants from Asia has increasingly become more skilled and educated. Today, recent arrivals from Asia are nearly twice as likely as those who came three decades ago to have a college degree, and many go into high-paying fields such as science, engineering, medicine and finance. This evolution has been spurred by changes in U.S. immigration policies and labor markets; by political liberalization and economic growth in the sending countries; and by the forces of globalization in an ever-more digitally interconnected world."

Chinese comprise the largest Asian American group at 23%. but Indian Americans comprising 18% of Asian Americans lead all other groups by a significant margin in their levels of income and education.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sucheng Chan-This Bittersweet Soil-The Chinese in California Agriculture 1860-1910

Out of print but essential reading to understand the history of the Chinese in California agriculture is Sucheng Chan's book published in 1989. Used copies are available through Amazon. My family history blog has chronicled the multigenerational story of  the Jue family and it's involvement in asparagus farming in the San Fernando Valley. In a 1934 article my great grandfather, Jue Joe was dubbed the "Asparagus King" by the Los Angeles Times. My grandfather San Tong and my father, Jack Sr, were also involved in asparagus farming. My father even created a video of the family farming operations in the 1950's.

Reading Professor Chan's book really has helped me place our family's story within the broader context of the Chinese involvement in agriculture from the mid to late 19th Century and on into the 20th Century. Her book is quite detailed and interesting. Her research was based on a thorough examination of census records, legal deeds and documents as well as  family histories of notable Chinese agriculturists. Her book, as does many books on Chinese American  history begins with the great diaspora of the Chinese in the late 19th century. Agriculture as an economic opportunity for Chinese immigrants really began with supplying of  vegetables for consumption  of the Chinese miners and then grew as the mining claims became exhausted. and the Chinese workforce entered agriculture as well as other as other work opportunities when they could no longer mine.  The presence of Chinese in California agriculture grew rapidly before the Exclusion era and then continued and matured throughout the Exclusion era but then declined with the ageing of the Chinese population and the lack of new Chinese immigrants caused by rigid enforcement of Exclusion era regulations.

A major contribution of Professor's Chan's book is to change the widespread monochromatic picture of the Chinese in California agriculture as a faceless horde of "cheap immigrant stoop laborers" to a rich tapestry of entrepenurial men who were tireless in improving their economic lot and that of their families back in China despite persecution and discrimination.
These men may have started as laborers working for Caucasian landowners clearing and planting and harvesting fields, and reclaiming swamp land but rapidly many became interested in striking out on their own as tenant truck farmers, leasing land and growing their own crops, and hiring their countrymen to work at their sides in these tenant farms. Many also became involved in marketing, selling and distributing their crops or partnered with Chinese merchants to do so. Some, before the enactment of the Alien Land Law, were even able to buy land of their own  to farm as landowners rather then only as tenant farmers. A few became rich and owned  hundreds of acres of land becoming "Potato Kings ", "Lettuce Kings ",  or " Asparagus Kings. Chinese tenant and landowning farmers farmed through out California  from Tehema County  in the North , to the foothills of the Sierra's, Santa Clara County , Sacramento-San Joaquin County , and down into Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. They grew a huge variety of crops including grains, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, sweet potatoes , potatoes, peaches, pears, chinese vegetables, and asparagus.

Gradually with the ageing of the population , the lack of a new influx of Chinese immigrants because of Exclusion era polices, the enactment and strict enforcement of Alien Land laws , and the lack of desire of subsequent generations to continue family farming businesses , the importance of Chinese in California agriculture greatly diminshed.

Interestingly, the Jue Joe Clan involvement in agriculture continued into the middle 1950's before we as a family ceased to be involved in farming . The story of our family is deeply rooted in the soil of Yuba and Sonoma county and in the soil of the San Fernando Valley and the Saugus hills.