In 1882 Congress passed the nation’s first immigration legislationa law to prevent people of Chinese descent from entering the United States. The law would tear apart families, cut the nation’s Chinese American population in half, and remove their right to become U.S. citizens.
Remembering 1882 explores the historical debate around the Exclusion Act from its origins through its full repeal in 1968, the civil rights struggle of Chinese Americans and their allies, and the historic importance of habeas corpus in the Chinese American community.
To recognize the 125th year since the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Chinese Historical Society of America’s Remembering 1882 project combines a traveling exhibit, a museum theater performance, and a symposium of legal and historical experts as part of CHSA’s ongoing work to celebrate the long-term positive impact of Chinese immigration on California's economic, social and cultural status; honor the vigilance of those who fought tirelessly against Exclusion while upholding democracy for Chinese and other disenfranchised communities; and examine the complex issues and conflicting interests surrounding the Exclusion of people of Chinese descent.
The Chinese Historical Society of America and the Historical Society for the Northern District of California invite you to an exploration of the impacts and legacies of the Exclusion laws. Featuring Justice Harry Low, Attorney Michael Lee, Law Professor Bill Ong Hing, Immigration Attorney Donald Ungar, and Historian Connie Young Yu.
May 9, 2007
Kicking off the panel is a specially crafted Museum Theater performance: A Statement for Non-Exclusion featuring Dr. Ng Poon Chew (1866 1931), a crusading newspaper editor and leader in the fight against Exclusion, as portrayed by CHSA Artist-in-Residence Charlie Chin.
May 1 11, 2007
About the 1882 Exclusion Act
In 1882, Congress considered legislation to prevent people of Chinese descent from entering the United States. They ended up passing a law that would bar from entry all but a narrowly defined class of merchants, students, ministers, and travelers. Further, the law denied the right to become naturalized citizens to people of Chinese descent from 1882 through the next 60 years, removing civil rights and fostering stereotypes that questioned people's identity and loyalties.
"1882 is a watershed," notes Connie Young Yu, historian of early California and San Francisco and San Jose Chinatowns, "for Chinese Americans, all our reference points begin from here. The 1882 legislation is unique in U.S. immigration law because the Chinese were singled out by name thereafter, as 'aliens ineligible for citizenship' - hereafter no Chinese will be admitted to naturalization. Preemptively barred from the possibility of citizenship. That's even bigger than excluding a people just from entry."
"We need to continually study the meaning of this act in our history and the history of America. This was a time when you had these politicians deciding, what do we want the country to look like? The Exclusion Act defined the answer: upper class, no laborers, no Chinese, no people of color. The leaders at the time were trying to define and create a society that was against laboring classes and against people of color."
At a time when laboring and middle class Californians protested the economic and environmental effects of monopolies, trusts, and the replacement of jobs by machines, politicians framed Chinese immigration as the source of all problems, from economic to moral.
To support the idea of eliminating people of Chinese descent from California, California's Governor Perkins, who would later rise to prominent chairmanships in the U.S. Senate, proclaimed "the 4th day of March, 1882, a legal holiday, that it may be made the occasion for one universal demonstration, conveying to Congress and to our Eastern brethren the deep interest which inspires us to check this evil and stop this curse."
While March 4, 1882, was a Saturday, it was true that Governor Perkins was giving everyone a day off. The working week then ran for six days, Monday through Saturday. Workdays were growing increasingly long since the start of industrialization, and commonly ran from 10 to 14 hours for men, women, and children. (The 8-hour work day had been advocated at least since the 1860s, but would not become federal law until 1938.)
Chinese Californians and their allies fought the unjust and unconstitutional Exclusion law through legal and political challenges. While it would only be fully repealed in 1968, the 1943 partial repeal that reinstated the right of naturalization to persons of Chinese descent forms, in Yu's words, "one of the great victories for the constitution."
CHSA's Remembering 1882 project is proudly sponsored by
San Francisco Grants for the Arts
Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation | API Legal Outreach | Asian American Journalists Association | Asian Improv aRts | Asian Law Caucus | Asian Pacific Bar Association of Silicon Valley | Asian Pacific Democratic Club | Chinese for Affirmative Action | Chinese Culture Center | Equal Justice Society | Japanese American Citizens League | Judicial Council of California | Kearny Street Workshop | Legal Aid Society/Employment Law Center | Manilatown Heritage Foundation | Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund | National Japanese American Historical Society | Oakland Asian Cultural Center | Third Thursdays
(c) 2007 Chinese Historical Society of America 965 Clay Street, San Francisco, CA 94108 www.chsa.org