There are two bills before our state legislature coming before a vote on Tuesday, March 28: SB 5000 (Americans of Chinese Descent Month) sponsored by State Sen. Keith Wagoner and HB 1759 (Chinese American History Month) sponsored by State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos. These two bills are intended to honor Chinese Americans of Washington state, especially the pioneering railroad builders that built the Kalama line among other early workers and settlers. The bills are similar in its intent but far apart when it comes to the implications of its title.
We strongly endorse HB 1759 and the use of the latter title, Chinese American History Month. The term Chinese American represents a hard-fought struggle to recognize the contributions of the Chinese in America, regardless of citizenship status.
The use of Chinese American acknowledges the 230-year history of Chinese in America who were not recognized as citizens until the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943. Many organizations throughout the state and country have incorporated the term Chinese American in their name. This includes arguably the oldest Asian American civil rights group in existence since 1895, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA).
Using Americans of Chinese Descent is a narrower definition of Chinese American history in that Chinese were not granted American naturalization until 1943. This defeats the well-intended purpose of recognizing the efforts of Chinese prior to 1943, which includes those pioneers who built the railroads in the 19th century, along with those that helped settle our cities.
This is analogous to forcing the Black Community to change “Black History Month” to Americans of African Descent History Month, in effect negating everyone before the Civil War and ignoring the immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean countries, and Latin America.
Our lawmakers are close to making an historical move for the Chinese American community. It would be ideal if the sponsors of these two bills can merge utilizing the appropriate name representing the Chinese America community. Chinese American is historically correct and appropriate.
Doug Chin, author of several books on Washington state history including the earliest book, Uphill: The Settlement and Diffusion of Chinese in Seattle* (for identification purposes only)
Dylan Hartano, member, UW Chinese Students Association* (for identification purposes only)
Chuimei Ho, co-founder, Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee* (for identification purposes only)
Betty Lau, co-founder, Transit Equity for All; historian, board member, Chong Wa Benevolent Association Historian; advisor, Chinese Language Teachers Association of Washington* (all titles for identification purposes only)
Kevin Lee, president, Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Greater Seattle* (for identification purposes only)
Will Lew, treasurer, OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates of Greater Seattle* (for identification purposes only)
Connie So, teaching professor, American Ethnic Studies department, University of Washington, Seattle* (for identification purposes only)
Shawn Wong, Byron and Alice Lockwood Professor in the Humanities, University of Washington, Seattle* (for identification purposes only)
Terry Yaplee, member, OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates of Greater Seattle* (for identification purposes only)