By Assunta Ng
Resolution 201 was approved by the Senate on Oct. 11, and it was a moment that was 60 years in the making — perhaps even 160 years in the making.
From 1848 to 1855, Chinese immigrants booked passage with the Pacific Mail Steamship Company and the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Company. They dreamed of finding gold in the mountains of California.
Later, more of these immigrants were given the dangerous task of building the Pacific Railroad, a link between the eastern and western United States.
Then, in 1882, Chester A. Arthur signed a federal law — The Chinese Exclusion Act — that suspended further Chinese immigration. Those that violated the law were to be imprisoned and deported. Chinese already in the country were made permanent aliens, forever excluded from U.S. citizenship, and were prevented from establishing families in the United States.
The Chinese Exclusion Act would not be repealed until 60 years later, on Dec. 17, 1943.
On May 26 of this year, The 1882 Project was formally introduced to Congress. The 1882 Project is a nonpartisan grassroots effort spearheaded by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Committee of 100, Japanese American Citizens League, National Council of Chinese Americans, and Organization of Chinese Americans.
The 1882 Project addressed the fact that while the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, it was never formally acknowledged by Congress as being unconstitutional.
The 1882 Project requested an expression of regret from Congress — it was not interested in reparations or apologies, because as the group rationalized, an entity cannot apologize for something it did not explicitly do. But it certainly can express regret.
The approval of this resolution is especially meaningful to the Chinese Americans of Washington state. Under the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese laborers, who were already sequestered in Chinatowns, were efficiently expelled from Tacoma and Bellingham. There are Chinese Americans alive today who are linked to this moment in history — their relatives lived through the expulsion.
It’s important that the government is finally formally expressing regret. It is even more important that we don’t forget what has happened. Our history is important because it informs our future. The issues that affect immigrant communities today — language and legal barriers, for instance — have roots in the past.
There are events occurring in the coming weeks that are aimed at opening discussion and dialogue about this topic — you can find them in our community calendar on page six. We hope you join in the discussion. (end)