A Nation of Immigrants
I have learned that the more we learn about immigration policies and attitudes of the past, the more we can make connections to current attitudes and policies. Certainly, there are ideological similarities between the Chinese Exclusion Act and the more recent anti-immigrant attitudes, Muslim Ban (2016), treatment of Latino immigrants, and even more recently xenophobia of Asians. It’s troubling to recognize that discrimination and racial profiling are significant parts of early immigrant history of the United States, and that it persists today.
I was unaware of the Chinese Exclusion Act during high school and it was in undergrad that I observed how schools tend to exclude the uncomfortable parts of history. We avoid talking about what feels uncomfortable. As a student, I’ve learned that when it comes to our curriculum, it’s important to always ask – if this is included, what’s being excluded?! The Chinese Exclusion Act is a significant part of U.S. history, and should be part of the foundation of any immigration discussion. The policy was a restriction based on race and ethnic background. It was followed by several other policies that prevented people of Asian ethnic background from owning property, businesses, and gaining citizenship. Additionally, the origin of the ‘immigrants take our jobs’ discourse can be traced to the Chinese Exclusion Act. This one policy brings to question our entire understanding of the narrative America, land of immigrants…
Consider this, in support of immigration many reference Emma Lazarus’ famous quote on the Statue of Liberty “…Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” However, this poem was added to the base of the statue in 1903. The Chinese Exclusion Act was in full effect, in fact it had become permanent in 1902, just one year before. Who is Emma Lazarus speaking of in her poem? Who did the U.S. honor when they added her poem to the Statue of Liberty? If we want to support immigrant policies, we need to learn and understand the historical context in which we operate.
Current events over the years have made me consider what it really means to say we are a country of immigrants, a country that welcomes immigrants. I am challenging myself to reflect on the public discourses I am exposed to; question them; and actively explore what is underneath the surface.
I hope my post taught you something valuable about the history of our country. I feel that it is important to give voice to individuals and events that are often invisible in our history books.