House Expresses Regret for Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Chinese-American jewellers, ca. 1900. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Last week the House of Representative passed a resolution that officially expressed regret for the passage of Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.

Rep. Judy Chu, whose own father had been affected by these laws, introduced the resolution and saw to it until its passing. "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," Chu said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We must finally and formally acknowledge these ugly laws that were incompatible with America's founding principles," she said.

The 1882 U.S. federal law barred all Chinese laborers from entering the country for 10 years. Non-laborers who wished to enter the United States had to obtain certification from the Chinese government in order to do so. However, it was extremely difficult to prove labor status, and as a result, the possibility of Chinese to enter the country under the law was slim to none. It was not repealed until the Magnuson Act of 1942 [See this article for more on these exclusionary laws]. Now, 130 years after its passing, it has been formally acknowledged that these laws do not reflect the values of the nation.

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The U.S. Senate passed a similar resolution last fall, and the state of California issued a similar apology in 2009. The House has previously apologized for slavery, overthrowing of the Hawaiian Monarchy, Japanese internment, and treatment of Native Americans.

This resolution comes on the heels of Los Angeles Country Supervisors' unanimous vote to reverse their decision to support the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. In an emotional testimony, actor George Takei, who had been interned at Manzanar as a ? year-old boy, recalled: "As my mother carried my baby sister and a duffel bag, I saw tears rolling down her cheeks," he said. She "remembers it as the most degrading, humiliating experience she ever had in her life."

These formal apologies will (hopefully) ensure that such atrocities are acknowledged as mistakes and will not happen again. But will they ever be enough for those who were affected? Nothing can erase the painful memories of those like Charles Wong, who after the Senate's decision this past fall expressed bittersweet emotions as he told of the struggles of his family to Neon Tommy: "The apology makes all Chinese Americans now able to take the offensive to history... You don't have to go to the denial, you don't have to go through the 'don't ask, don't tell.' Now you can put it out there--finally, finally."

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