I still remember one of my first immigrant rights rallies in San Francisco. I marched with over two thousand energetic and hopeful participants in front of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office, urging her to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Though we were a diverse group of people, we were chanting together in unison, holding up our signs and fighting for social justice. In the midst of rallying, I realized that I was one of the very few Asian American people there. But this was not the first time. I’ve been to many immigration reform rallies and events, and usually I see just about a handful of Asian Americans.
I’ve since begun to wonder why Asian American communities are not addressing this important issue. Is it because Asian Americans are not affected by immigration laws? Modern day stories and statistics will tell you otherwise, with one in ten AAPIs being undocumented and so many families stuck in backlog wait periods that could last for years. Even looking back to our history, there are too many examples of discriminatory incidents and laws specifically targeting Asian Americans.
One of the harshest discriminatory laws that comes to mind is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 – the first major immigration legislation that restricted people of Chinese descent from entering the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act was simply wrong and singled out Chinese and Chinese American people. Similar to what’s happening right now with immigration, the law would tear family’s apart, deporting innocent immigrants, and violating human rights. Even without the hostile law, Chinese Americans had to fear racial persecution. “Chinese treated worse than dog. The hoodlums, roughnecks and young boys pull your queue, slap your face, throw all kind of old vegetables and rotten eggs at you,” recalled Huie Kin in his account of San Francisco’s Chinatown during the 1870s.
It has been over a hundred years after Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. And yet, our current immigration system continues to embody much of what was explicitly wrong about the Chinese Exclusion Act. If the situation does not change, the immigrant community at large continues to suffer. It is especially painful for me to see fellow young people who are downtrodden at the fault of our broken immigration system. Where is justice today in this country?
As President Lyndon Johnson said of the Chinese Exclusion Act, “This system violated the basic principle of American Democracy the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man.” When we remember this history together, when we recognize its echoes into modern history-in-the-making, can we still do nothing?
Today, Asian American community and immigrant communities as a whole are still facing discrimination. If we don’t speak up, we will continue to be marginalized by our society. Therefore, it is crucial for us to collectively join in one force and fight for justice and for comprehensive immigration reform. For this country to stay true to its values and its dreams, there can be no second class citizens.
What would you do in the face of a law titled the Asian American and Pacific Islander Exclusion Act?
Is our current immigration system a means of exclusion under more subtle names?