California schools to teach Chinese Exclusion Act and history

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    California schools to teach Chinese Exclusion Act and history

    The 1849 Gold Rush in California ignited dreams of newfound fortune, attracting would-be miners from around the world including China.

    The search for gold as well as the dramatic increase in demand for laborers triggered a surge in Chinese immigrants to California as the biggest project of that era, the Transcontinental Railroad, which connected the western and eastern halves of the US. In the total of 20 years, it’s estimated a total of 108,000 Chinese. Now, the whole history is being brought to students in California.

    Peter Blodgett is the curator of Western American History at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

    This 19-page handwritten document requested by the soon-to-be Minister to China, John Ross Browne, recorded Chinese immigrant numbers, employment and it even raises the issues of racist actions by white Americans.

    “They find the presence of Chinese as the numbers grow, as incredibly offensive. And the Americans find this an unprecedented encounter in what we could call today, “the other.” said Peter Blodgett, Western American History Curator of Huntington Library.

    The author of the document tried to defend Chinese immigrants. In one passage, he writes, “All laws discriminating against the Chinese should be repealed and they should be protected in their persons and property.”

    But efforts to treat Chinese immigrants fairly didn’t go very far, and in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was adopted, the first major U.S. law to forbid a specific ethnic group from immigrating to, and becoming citizens here. This after nearly 11000 Chinese laborers worked to complete the Transcontinental Railroad of which more than one thousand lost their lives.

    The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 and is part of the overall history of Chinese immigrants that has never been taught beyond a brief mention to American students.

    But that’s about to change in California schools starting next year thanks to Assemblyman Ed Chau. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed Chau’s bill that will ensure students will be taught Chinese American history properly.

    “It is a relief that their hardships are being recognized. Their work and their tribulations did not go unnoticed. And I think that sense of recognition is particularly gratifying to me,” said Ed Chau at CA State Assemblyman.

    Chinese American college students who distinctly remember hasty lessons on the immigrant experience in middle and high school welcome the new legislation.

    “I think people just think we just came from China and settled here and just take up space or something like that. They don’t realize we also have a part in America history also,” said Kristen Cheng, a college student.

    It’s a lesson about immigrants that’s still being learned and sometimes refuted to this very day. But maybe, just maybe, education will be the key to better understanding and acceptance.

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