Sunday, December 16, 2018

Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act Remembered

Above: Former United States Ambassador to China Gary Locke spoke at the commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act on Sunday.

“Legislation matters, and so does its reversal….let’s send that message.” - Beth Takekawa, executive director of the Wing Luke Museum

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

It was a day of intensely personal and poignant storytelling at an event commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act.

The program was held at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle on Sunday.

Stories about the impact of racist and discriminatory federal policies were told in first person by Bettie Luke, sister of Wing Luke, and many others.

Wing Luke, a civil rights attorney, served as a Seattle city councilmember from 1962 until his death in 1965. He was the first Asian American to hold elected office in Washington State.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned the immigration of Chinese to the United States. It also prohibited Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens. 

Native born Chinese American citizens could face exclusion if they left the United States and tried to return. When they returned, they faced extensive interrogations.

Subsequent legislation extended and further restricted Chinese immigration and promoted anti-Chinese sentiment and violence.

The repeal act is known as the Magnuson Act of 1943, named after Senator Warren G. Magnuson who proposed it when he was a member of the House of Representatives.

Even when repealed, only 105 Chinese per year were allowed to enter the United States until 1965.

The exclusionary policies impacted Chinese opportunities for housing, property ownership and employment for decades. 

Many speakers described that those policies can still be felt in their families today.

Above: Bettie Luke, sister of Wing Luke, relates her family history while Lorraine Lee, center, and Connie So listen. Lee is chief administrative law judge of the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings and was a former policy advisor to Governor Locke. So is principal lecturer of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, among other positions.

Bettie Luke said she did not hear stories or know much about her heritage while growing up. She described the impact that lack of knowledge had when her mother died.

“You’re caught in this dilemma where you’re told that the ideal is the more American you become, the better accepted that you would be….On the other hand, throw away your culture…. It’s such a push and pull.

“When my mother died, I asked my elders, ‘What do I need to do for her funeral?’ And, caught in the push and pull dilemma, they said, ‘Oh, we don’t do those things anymore.’ And I thought, ‘What? She was so Chinese!’

“I wanted to make sure that she got a farewell that was Chinese. So, I had to ask and ask and ask….It’s so heartbreaking to have to throw away your culture. And so many of us lived that promise that the more white American you became the more you would be accepted and that’s such a loss.

“…Women are the keepers of the culture and there’s so much that was lost, so much that we did not learn….Our family did not know the name of mother's village or the name of our father’s village.

They located a relative who did know and were able to connect with her mother’s family. Luke said she then found out that her mother once had eight brothers, but three had died of starvation.

Her voice breaking, Luke said that realization was a stab in the heart and personalized why her parents had worked so hard.  

“They had an entire compound of relatives that they supported so that they could live....that carried on for a long, long time….I was a child and did not hear the stories. I wonder now about the following generations. What do they care about? I want us to continue learning lessons….”

Gary Locke, former United States Ambassador to China and Washington State Governor, also spoke about his family history and the need to show compassion and fairness toward immigrants.

Saying he didnt plan on speaking, Locke addressed some sensitive topics head-on.

Mentioning President Trump’s efforts to stop those coming to the United States and deport those who are here, Locke expressed concern with the rise in prejudice and discrimination.

“Our history is filled with prejudice against every wave of foreigners and immigrants that have come here to this country. We need to remember that and celebrate the successes we have had but use that celebration to renew our determination to prevent others from facing that same discrimination and prejudice.

“How is it that so many Chinese were able to come to American despite the Chinese Exclusion Act? It’s because so many of our ancestors claimed they were U.S. citizens or born to U.S. citizens, but the records had been destroyed in San Francisco in the fire.

“And many of our relatives claimed to be U.S. citizens or sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Why? Because they were paper sons, paper daughters. Many of my relatives came to the United States as paper sons and relatives. Families --U.S. citizens -- would go back to China and then another family would pay to claim the son or daughter as the offspring of that U.S. citizen so they could come in.

“So, sometimes the Chans were not really a Chan but a Lee and the Lees weren’t really Lee but a Locke. And the Lockes weren’t really a Locke but maybe they were a Woo. So, we, among our own people, have come here illegally....

“So, before we go around saying, ‘Let’s kick out all those immigrants that are here illegally, improperly, we need to look at ourselves....

“And why is it that even when the Japanese were incarcerated during World War II, soldiers volunteered to serve in the United States Army when their parents and their brothers and sisters were behind barbed wire concentration camps?

“Why is it that African Americans, facing so much segregation in America, signed up to fight in World War II as part of the Tuskegee Airmen and others, even though back home they faced such terrible discrimination? Also, Native Americans, and the list goes on. It’s because they believed in the essential goodness and destiny of America.

“We are not a perfect country. But we hold ourselves up with high ideals and that’s why people of all generations come to America. We in America are all foreigners or immigrants, whether we’re first generation or tenth generation, except for the Native Americans. We are all foreigners.

“And what has made America great through all these centuries is that beacon of hope and opportunity that has attracted generation after generation of people…whether our ancestors came on the Mayflower or a slave ship or on a boat from China.

“…. We’ve all sacrificed and given our blood, sweat and tears for this country, and therefore when we see injustices being perpetuated against other populations and other ethnic groups, it is our duty, it is our responsibility to stand up for them.

“…. This is a celebration because 75 years ago we repealed this racist act and it was a person from this state who then became a U.S. senator who was responsible for that. So, we have much to be proud of, not only in terms of our own ethnicity but the history of this state in correcting racist acts and prejudicial acts.

Locke then related the story of his grandfather who came over from China and worked as a houseboy in Olympia and later as a chef at Virginia Mason Hospital.

Locke said it was Doctor Mason who told Locke’s grandfather to bring his family to America. When he did so, his grandfather and family members were held in detention at the immigration facility.

“It was Doc Mason who went down to the immigration center to vouch for my grandfather, and got grandfather, my father, and my uncle out….Act of courage. Act of kindness.

“We need to remember that that same compassion and commitment to diversity and fairness to all other groups in America. Let’s celebrate, let’s learn more about our history and our past, and let’s continue to fight,” said Locke.

Staff members with the National Archives at Seattle’s Sandpoint Way office also spoke and encouraged those interested in genealogy to use their database and research expertise. 

Much can be learned in the interrogation interviews and marriage, birth and death records of Chinese immigrants and others, they said.

Hao-Jan Chang of Bellevue said he has documented 24 generations of Gary Locke’s ancestry to the year 1275.

The Chinese American Citizens Alliance (Seattle Lodge) co-organized Sundays event.

Correction, December 17, 2018: Bettie Lukes mother had eight brothers, not eleven, as originally reported.