© Michelle Chan
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a showing of the documentary, "The Chinese Exclusion Act," as a part of the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival in honor of it being AAPI Heritage Month. As a second generation Chinese American, much like most minorities in the U.S., my education in the public school system only allowed me to learn about history in a very linear manner, one that did not adequately reflect the challenges and experiences of minorities.
In the 2 hours and 40 minutes of the documentary, I received a more comprehensive history lesson on not only the Chinese Exclusion Act but also the socio-political landscape at that time for other minorities, than in the 20 years I have attended school. Truly, that is a travesty. Why? Because if we are to improve ourselves as individuals and as a society, we must learn from our pasts. If we are made unaware and oblivious to past wrongdoings and past tragedies, how are we able to improve?
10 fascinating facts I've learned from the documentary tonight that I had no idea about:
1. The Chinese Exclusion Act lasted a whopping 60 years!
2. The Chinese Exclusion Act is the only American law to bar a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the U.S.
3. Massacres and lynchings of the Chinese took place, but most murderers were set free.
4. The Chinese were largely seen as a California "problem," because they immigrated to the west coast.
5. The Chinese Exclusion Act came to be, because the south had lost the Civil War to the north and viewed it as an opportunity to have a trade-off with the west coast. If they helped the west with their Chinese "problem," they may have the favor returned in regards to having laws restricting the recently freed slaves in the south.
6. Angel Island in San Francisco was established for the purpose of making immigration even harder for Chinese immigrants (e.g. sometimes detaining them there for up to 2 years), whereas those from European countries going through Ellis Island in New York had much higher rates of success entering the U.S.
7. Chinese women were seen as prostitutes, and had to prove that they had never been and will never become prostitutes when they tried to immigrate to the U.S.
8. The 14th Amendment eventually helped Chinese-born children become recognized as U.S. citizens, although many challenges continued to occur.
9. Chinese immigrants would boycott, engage in civil disobedience, and challenged injustices whenever it arose through the use of the legal system by citing laws that were already in place.
10. The Chinese Exclusion Act only ended during WWII for propaganda reasons, rather than a realization that it was morally wrong to discriminate against an entire race of people.
Some of the sentiments regarding the Chinese immigrants that European Americans had in the past saddened me a great deal, because it is currently being repeated regarding certain groups of people trying to immigrate to the U.S. now. Unless an individual is from northern and western Europe, it seems as though each new wave of immigrants throughout our history have endured discrimination. How can those of us who are currently here turn a blind eye to those in need when either we or our ancestors have gone through such difficulties in the past?
If we are able to change our mindset from thinking that we must fight one another for limited resources to believing that together we can build something bigger and better than we can alone, what a better world we will all have. To keep others down, you must stay down. To build others up, you will also rise up.
So today, I ask you to do one thing. Look into the history of what people of your ethnic background had to endur in order to immigrate to the U.S., and then look into the history of your family's immigration to the U.S. You will most likely find that there were challenges along the way that you were not aware of. If willing, please share your findings with me!
"You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful." - Marie Curie