A new Civil Rights movement has begun. Since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and a Staten Island grand jury’s failure to indict the police officer whose choke hold killed Eric Garner, protests have gone on with hardly pause, in NY and nextdoor to our town, in Newark. Police killing these — and many other — unarmed black men, and the increasing use on US city streets of military equipment, and undue and unjustified force, against people (mostly men) of color sparked the movement. But demonstrators at Black Lives Matter marches (including us Coplans) are out there for other things, too. Fairness. Recognition of anti-black racism and deep systemic discrimination. Equal rights. America’s fundamental, unfulfilled promise.
Yesterday, the latest chapter: thousands of NYPD officers turned their back on Mayor Bill DeBlasio, as he spoke at the funeral of an officer tragically murdered by a deranged killer, claiming he was avenging Garner’s and Brown’s deaths.
Marching in New York a few weeks back, I noticed a large contingent from Organization of Chinese Americans (above). Forty years old, DC-based, OCA “consistently affirms the human rights and dignity of all Asian Pacific Americans as contributors, citizens, and defenders of democracy.”
Seeing them brought to mind Chinese Americans’ struggle for rights — powerfully illustrated in the New York Historical Society’s “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion” (open through April). The notorious Exclusion Act of 1882, a quota system limiting Chinese immigration, marked the first time a group was barred. The Exclusion Act officially deemed Chinese people aliens, not to be trusted, spurring copy-cat local and state ordinances and laws designed to exclude and harass. Often these led to state-sanctioned violence.
Emotional, physical, economic consequences resulted, for a century. The Act made exceptions for students, merchants, teachers & diplomats. But laborers were feared. From Popular Science Monthly, 1876: “These hardy Mongolians with their peculiar civilization …have begun the contest for ascendancy.” Chinese workers were barred from industry, called ‘unfair competition” (helping lead to the rise of the hand-wash service).
It also tore families apart. One year (1902) 20,000 Chinese Americans, US citizens, were stranded outside the US, separated from family.
Meanwhile, discriminatory laws that “rigidly prohibited” Chinese immigrants from most neighborhoods. That, and racial violence, led to the rise of Chinatowns. Though in New York City, 75% of Chinese Americans did not live in Chinatown.
Until recently, there had been no official apology for the Exclusion Act, a violation of fundamental civil rights. (See the 1882 Project for more information.) The Senate passed S. Res. 201 on October 6, 2011, and the House passed H. Res. 683 on June 18, 2012 “expressing regret for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Laws… recogniz[ing] the harm done to the civil rights of individuals, families, and communities.”
The banner we saw in NYC was a reminder of that history, and how for all Americans, protection of fundamental civil rights is essential to life in America.
PS: Cool factoid from the exhibition:
Hu Shih 胡适 philosopher, essayist, diplomat, key figure in Chinese liberalism (an intellectual leader of the May Fourth anti-colonial/nationalist movement) and language reform, was mentored by John Dewey at Columbia, and when he returned, was influential in the movement for Mandarin language reform and using written vernacular Chinese (Wikipedia)