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Seeking An Apology
Cover Stories Series 2011> Seeking An Apology
UPDATED: June 20, 2011 NO. 25 JUNE 23, 2011
Never Too Late

A historical issue is being raised on Capitol Hill. In late May, members of the U.S. Congress introduced bipartisan resolutions in both chambers, calling on the federal legislature to acknowledge formally and express regret for discriminatory legislation and how the country accordingly treated Chinese immigrants more than a century ago.

The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed by U.S. Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882, imposed a 10-year moratorium on Chinese immigration and naturalization of Chinese settlers. The Act was renewed for another decade in 1892 and later made permanent. It was eventually repealed in 1943 when China fought alongside the U.S. allies during World War II.

The Act was the first and only one of its kind in the history of the United States to exclude a specific ethnic group. Singling out and ostracizing Chinese were incompatible with the United States' founding principles. The Act and subsequent exclusion laws imposed increasingly severe restrictions and created harsh conditions for the descendants of Chinese immigrants. Meanwhile, seeds of prejudice and bigotry were sown.

Between the late 19th century and mid 20th century, real harm was done to the Chinese American community. They had come to the United States for a better life, but they were confronted with extremely difficult times. Their descendants may avoid directly suffering the restrictions and humiliation brought about by the Act, but they live with the historic legacy of the act—discrimination over the decades against Chinese, overt or subtle.

In the 130 years since the ugly Act was passed, the U.S. Congress has never expressed any regret for violating the civil rights of Chinese Americans. Chinese American communities have been actively involved in raising awareness of this dark era in history and have called on their members to lobby lawmakers to support the bipartisan resolutions.

If Congress demonstrates the courage to correct past wrongs and passes the resolution to issue a formal statement of regret over the notorious Act, it would help to eliminate the negative legacy of discrimination based on race. Historical issues, when addressed properly, can have positive implications for the future. The United States itself can also benefit from shouldering historical responsibilities and correcting past wrongs. Learning from past experiences, especially mistakes, the country will become fairer in its treatment of all minorities, and address race and ethnic issues. This, after all, will help make the American dream even better.

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