|When the Chinese American experience is viewed through the microscopic lens of history, December 17, 1943 stands out as a day to remember. On that day, sixty-five years ago, when China was an ally of the United States in World War II, Congress passed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the “Chinese Exclusion repeal Act of 1943: (Chap. 344, 17 Dec. 1943), 57 United States Statutes at Large, pp. 600-601) |
Chinese had been encouraged earlier by the Burlingame Treaty to travel freely between China and America, but the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the only federal law with a specific race of people in its title, and subsequent laws enacted by the United States essentially stopped the immigration of Chinese to America for sixty-one years. The right to apply for naturalization was also denied by the Act.
The labor of the Chinese on the Transcontinental Railroad is now credited for helping to unite the nation, facilitating the settlement of the American West. The Chinese played an important role in establishing farms and working in shoe, garment, and cigar factories. They worked long hours in the fisheries, shrimp, and canning industries. They had to accept lower wages and live in the shadows, living in segregation, suffering decades of racial harassment, overt prejudice, violence, and even massacre as they were “driven out” from industries such as gold mining, agriculture and forbidden to own land.
Federal and state laws and community pressures forced them to attend segregated schools and restrict their living quarters and businesses to segregated areas. The abrogation of their civil
rights included denial of the right to vote and the inability to testify in their defense against a white person.
A major consequence of the Chinese Exclusion Act was the separation of husbands from wives and the separation of families. Several generations of Chinese men were unable to travel to
China to marry and interracial marriages were outlawed, thus precipitating a “bachelor society.”
In 1944 the War Brides Act enabled young Chinese American and other Asian males who had served in World War II, to marry, bring their brides, and begin establishing families in America.
Succeeding generations could aspire for higher education and were gradually accepted in the workplace or became entrepreneurs, scientists, teachers, and other professionals serving their
communities and the nation.
The Repeal of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act marked the beginning of emancipation of Chinese in America and was a turning point and reversal of American civic philosophy and policy.