Steve Lawrence, AP, June 17, 2009
California’s Chinese immigrants helped build ships, levees, irrigation systems and the transcontinental railroad. They worked in farm fields and mines and helped develop the abalone and shrimp industries.
For their efforts, they were rewarded with special taxes, forced out of towns and denied the rights to own property, marry whites and attend public schools. They also were subjected to violence and intimidation and denied equal protection by the courts. In 1882, they were made the targets of the nation’s first law limiting immigration based on race or nationality, the Chinese Exclusion Act.
State Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Cupertino Democrat whose maternal grandfather was subjected to immigration restrictions, thinks it’s time the state and the federal governments formally apologize for mistreatment of the Chinese.
The Chinese started coming to California in large numbers during the Gold Rush, hoping to strike it rich and return home. Many stayed and more came, working in the mines or taking other jobs, including helping build the transcontinental railroad.
Fong has introduced a resolution in the Assembly that cites the contributions made by the Chinese and expresses California’s deep regrets for the discrimination. The measure is scheduled to be considered next week by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, the first step in winning approval from the Legislature.
Fong said he also plans to seek an apology from the federal government and some form of reparation, such as a contribution to maintain the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay. The center housed Chinese immigrants between 1910 and 1940 as they tried to prove they were eligible to enter the U.S.
Apologies for government mistreatment and reparations have been rare in Congress. In 1988, Congress apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and offered $20,000 payments to survivors. It also issued an apology in 1993 to native Hawaiians for the unlawful overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
The resolution is ACR42.