Students speak with WA Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn in Olympia. • Courtesy Photo
Students speak with WA Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn in Olympia. • Courtesy Photo

The following column was written by The Seattle Chapter of the Chinese American Citizens:

On March 26, the Seattle Chapter of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance’s (CACA) Youth-in-Action visited Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn in Olympia. Youth-in-Action includes students from various schools in the Greater Seattle Area. The students met with Dorn to discuss having the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act added to the Washington State public school curriculum. Students shared their knowledge about how this important historical legislation affected thousands of Chinese Americans, had long-term repercussions to the community and to this day, provides a lesson that is especially applicable with the current issues on immigration reform.

“I was surprised when some of the judges for the contest said they had never heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act,” said high school freshman Jack Holbrook, who won first place in the Regional 2013 National History Day Contest for his documentary Freedom Denied: The Unconstitutionality of the Chinese Exclusion Act. “It made me realize that a lot of people have no idea how the civil rights of thousands of Chinese were violated in our country’s history.”

Student Anna Edelman added: “Washington was directly affected as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Many of the Chinese who built the railroad settled on the West Coast. Communities in and around Seattle tried to send them to Portland or San Francisco. It’s an ugly piece of history but it’s important.”

Middle school student Madeleine Lee said: “It seems as though we are repeating what we did to the Chinese with the way we treat our migrant workers coming from Mexico.”

Emma Ottensen, another middle school student, added: “It’s a lot like bullying. No one likes to be bullied. It’s not right to bully a group of people out of fear or using their race as a scapegoat. Our country knows we made a mistake with the Chinese Exclusion Act but if we forget what happened in the past, how are we going to keep it from happening again?”

CACA’s national work on raising awareness about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act led to the passing of Congressional resolutions in 2011 and 2012 that condemned the Chinese Exclusion Law. The same national energy continues in different state and local efforts to broaden awareness and gain support for public programs about the history and significance of the Chinese Exclusion Laws.

“Mr. Dorn was receptive to what the students had to say,” said retired Seattle schoolteacher Maxine Loo, who helped develop a pilot curriculum about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. “He shared with them his own knowledge about immigration and bullying issues. It was a good discussion.”

CACA hopes to continue raising funds and awareness about the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“If we can raise enough funding, the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction can make curriculum materials about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act available to any district interested in adding it to their social studies curriculum,” said Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman, president of CACA’s Seattle Chapter. “We are also thinking of taking this to the Legislature. Apparently the only way to be sure this is added to the Washington State Public School Curriculum is for the state Legislature to mandate its teaching in our schools.”

CACA’s mission is to promote and protect civil rights, develop leadership in Chinese youth, and provide community service. The Seattle Chapter will celebrate its third anniversary on April 27 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Four Seas Restaurant, 714 S. King St., Seattle, WA 98104. Davace Chin from the National CACA. will be speaking and the winner of the CACA sponsored local essay competition recently held in March will be announced. Tickets are $12 per person. For more information, visit www.cacaseattle.org or contact Ming-Ming Tung Edelman at [email protected]

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