On May 29, 2018, Public Broadcasting System (PBS) will broadcast a remarkable documentary, “The Chinese Exclusion Act” by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu. This documentary film talks about the first and only federal legislation in US history ever to single out a specific race and nationality for exclusion from immigration and citizenship. With President Trump’s increasing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, will history repeat itself?
This almost forgotten piece of US legislation forms the basis of the US complex ambivalence towards immigration. It excluded the Chinese but later also excluded Filipinos and Asian immigrants altogether. By 1924, US immigration from “undesirable countries” came to a halt. Additional legislation including the National Origins Act would include immigration quotas mostly from Northern European countries.
On January 2018, President Trump said that he would like to welcome immigrants from Norway and not from shit hole countries (The Independent, January 2018). This sounds eerily familiar. Will history repeat itself?
On May 6, 1882, President Chester Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers into the US that lasted for over 60 years. The Act affected the Chinese who had already settled in the US. All Chinese immigrants were excluded from U.S. citizenship. Any Chinese who left the United States had to obtain certifications for reentry were also deemed illegal. After the Act’s passage, Chinese men in the U.S. had little chance of ever reuniting with their wives, or of starting families in their new homes.
On January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order halting all refugee admissions and temporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The move sparked many protests and legal challenges. This ban seems eerily familiar, will history repeat itself?
On 1875, just seven years before the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the US passed quietly the Page Act. This law classified as “undesirable” any individual from Asia who was coming to America to be a forced laborer, and any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country. It immediately labeled all incoming immigrant women as potential “prostitutes”. However, the interrogation of Chinese women through the immigration process was so atrocious that differentiating “real” wives from prostitutes was virtually impossible (Wikipedia, Page Act of 1875). By 1882, immigration of Chinese women to the US came to a halt.
On September 2017, President Trump quietly ordered an end to the Obama-era program that shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation and Congress also refused to act to change the directive (New York Times, September 2017). More and more, these young undocumented youth are depicted as immoral and as a burden to society. Hmm, this move seems eerily familiar, will history repeat itself?
“This couldn’t come at a more important time in our country… because it tells a story, it tells our story. It shows what was done to our people, but it is also relevant to our present moment, and what is going on today, with anti-immigration laws and prejudices and what’s going on with the Muslim ban. They all have their roots, legally and politically in Chinese exclusion.”- Historian Mae Ngai at THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT screening.
Filipino Independence hero, Jose Rizal, said: “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to this destination.” I hope you will get a chance to view this remarkable documentary, “Chinese Exclusion Act“, that is remarkably significant to today’s current events. WILL HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF?