Righting a wrong

Rep. Judy Chu, 32nd District, Calif. sponsors resolution calling for an apology for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – As OCA Asian Pacific American celebrates its 40th year as defender of Chinese-American civil rights, it has finally gotten a national apology for a discriminatory law, passed 130 years ago, that singled out Chinese people.

At the OCA national convention that ended Sunday at the Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, there was much rejoicing as the California lawmaker who led the fight announced the singular achievement.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to pass an apology resolution,” said Judy Chu, Democrat from Monterey Park, Calif., who spearheaded the effort. “This legislation reaffirmed the rights of all people.”

The House passed the resolution unanimously on June 18 apologizing for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The U.S. Senate passed their version in October.

In the spring of 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur. It provided an absolute 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration.

For the first time, Federal law banned the entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangers certain localities.

Some non-laborer Chinese were allowed to enter the United States, but the strict requirement made it practically impossible for any Chinese to come.

The 1882 exclusion act also placed new requirements on Chinese who had already entered the country. If they left the United States, they had to obtain certifications to re-enter.

Congress also refused state and federal courts the right to grant citizenship to Chinese resident aliens, although these courts could still deport them.

When the exclusion act expired in 1892, Congress extended it for 10 years in the form of the Geary Act. This extension, made permanent in 1902, added restrictions by requiring each Chinese resident to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Without a certificate, she or he faced deportation.

The law was finally repealed in 1943 when the U.S. was courting China to be an ally during the Second World War.

At the convention Saturday, some Chinese-Americans, including Edwin Lee, the mayor of San Francisco, cited relatives who could not move around without carrying these papers.

Chu, the first Chinese-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, it was also personal for her.

“It is for my grandfather and for all Chinese-Americans that we must pass this resolution, for those who were told for six decades by the U.S. government that the land of the free wasn’t open to them.”

“We must finally and formally acknowledge these ugly laws that were incompatible with America’s founding principles,” she said.

She said her grandfather did not have the legal right to become a citizen, how he was forced to register and carry a certificate of residence at all times for almost 40 years, or else face deportation. He could be saved only if a white person vouched for him.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas, who voted for the apology resolution, said she was happy to help right a wrong.

“As a longtime friend of the Chinese-American community in Nevada and a strong believer in equal rights, I was pleased that a formal apology for the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act passed the House.

“Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable and this action represents a giant step forward in wiping away an ugly stain in our nation’s history,” Berkley said in a statement.

The Organization of Chinese Americans was founded in 1973, is based in Washington, D.C. and has 80 chapters around the country. It has taken a wider Pan Asian approach to its work and advocates for Asian Pacific Americans.

The 2012 national convention was from Aug. 2 to 5.

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BertEljera

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