9/7 Anti-Immigration:Never Having Say You're Sorry for the Past But Keep Repeat
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Equality Is Never Having To Say You Are SorryJean Pfaelzer - The GlobalistMonday, September 07, 2009In celebrating Labor Day, the United States honors the struggle for honorable working conditions. In this two-part series, Jean Pfaelzer — author of “Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans” — discusses the cruel irony of a nation apologizing for past immigrant abuses at the same time as it perpetrates new ones.As the United States observes Labor Day this year on September 7, apologies for labor abuses, anti-labor violence, and slavery are flowing in from states like Maryland, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, California and New Jersey.On a national level, the U. S. Senate has also just apologized for slavery.'Tis the season to apologizeFor instance, California has passed a resolution “deeply regretting” 150 years of violence against Chinese Americans. Adding to the momentum for recognition and regret, in late August 2009, California Assemblymen Mike Eng and Kevin de Leon called for a “Day of Inclusion” to mark December 17, 1943.On that day, the United States finally repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It was the first U.S. law that banned immigration by race. It also prohibited Chinese women from entering the country, a gesture toward ethnic cleansing that sought to eliminate a Chinese American population. Even so, the repeal set a paltry quota of 105 Chinese who could enter the United States each year.On a national level, in 2005 the U.S. Senate similarly apologized for the 1931 Repatriation Program that shipped two million “temporary” workers to Mexico — one million of whom had been born in the United States.Importantly, Eng’s bill in California also honors the “contributions of all immigrants to the greatness of the United States and to California.”State apologies should also mark the untold forceful resistance of early immigrant laborers who did not await apologies to claim their rights — a compelling contribution to American labor.While some struggles of immigrant workers — such as the “Bread and Roses” textile workers strike of 1912 in Massachusetts — are well-known, how many know that the organizers of the first farm worker strikes in California were Chinese?Chinese immigrants also organized California’s first general strike. In 1892, in the largest mass civil disobedience to date, 110,000 Chinese workers refused to wear photo identity cards.Chinese launderers and “washmen” went to jail rather than obey inane local “laundry ordinances” that banned laundries built of wood. When they were facing brutal expulsion by vigilantes, the Chinese returned laundry folded but still dirty.They refused to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to hotel owners and housewives who joined anti-Chinese leagues.But which school teaches that early Chinese American railroad workers struck for equal pay and for the right to have Chinese cooks boil tea water to keep them from the killer parasites that decimated white railroad workers who drank from the crowded mountain streams?However, such apologies will only have an impact if they help us remember these abuses. They should build support for the cause of legalizing the presence of millions of undocumented workers living in the United States now.Repeating past mistakesYet as the United States observes Labor Day on September 7, it is a cruel irony that we apologize for anti-immigrant violence, just as Homeland Security is rounding up thousands of immigrants and holding them in detention centers while their children wait to be picked up at school.The state apologies we are now witnessing should go beyond contrition. They should pledge that the forced expulsion of immigrant labor will cease. Despite contrition, local and national violence against immigrant workers endures.The popular “Hazleton code,” designed by a mayor in a little town in Pennsylvania, makes it illegal for landlords to rent to alleged undocumented immigrants, although landlords have no way to verify documents — and law suits against this code have been filed by civil rights groupsFurthermore, driven by racial profiling, counties across the United States have banned day labor centers. In short, the government is emptying towns of immigrants and hurting local economies.How to apologizeThough California’s action is a good start, state-level apologies should clearly go beyond mere contrition. They should pledge that the forced expulsion of immigrant labor will cease.Looking at public acts of contrition, psychiatrist Aaron Lazere suggests that state apologies — usually offered hundreds of years after the fact by men who did not perpetrate the violence — should announce that the assaults were not the victims’ fault. They should also guarantee the future safety of the victims, penalize the offenders and pay reparations. Victims, he says, should see the offenders suffer.Viewed in that light, an apology for anti-Chinese violence should recall the purges from 1850 to 1906 that drove thousands of Chinese miners, fishermen, launderers, prostitutes, railroad workers and cooks from 300 towns across the Pacific Northwest. It should also recall the years Chinese émigrés spent imprisoned at Angel Island waiting to enter the United States.Why not have a Day of Inclusion that recalls the hundreds of thousands of dollars Chinese gold miners paid under the Foreign Miners Tax — providing half of California’s revenue during the Gold Rush years? A Day of Inclusion should recall the farms, fishing boats, vegetable gardens and the segregated Chinatowns lost in the 19th century pogroms that travelled from Seattle to Riverside.It should also recall the fact that Chinese workers were forced out of town, often at gun point — sometimes in 24 hours, sometimes in just four. In Los Angeles in 1871, 19 Chinese workers were lynched in one horrifying night.Real accountability? Real change?To be sure, these symbolic gestures are not to be underestimated. For example, they can teach the hidden history of Chinese Americans. After all, Asians still encounter stereotypes of passivity and docility that invite abuse.In the first week of September 2009, New York State Gov. David Paterson struck the term “Oriental” from all state documents, joining then Gov. (now Secretary of Commerce) Gary Locke of Washington State in a gesture that removed an imprecise and derogatory term for inexplicable difference. “Oriental” is an old but divisive term that has long suggested enduring Asian "otherness." This act reflects the power of language to segregate and demean.Yet, how many Chinese Americans and Mexican Americans are aware of these state apologies?Are these apologies true acts of accountability? Has an apology ever improved an underfunded school? And what of economic reparations for lost generations, lost lands, unpaid labor? They have not provided 40 acres of land to descendents of slaves. As one friend asked, “Where’s my mule?Today’s apologies for past abuses — to immigrants, slaves or indigenous peoples — prompt nervous concerns that recriminations will lead to reparations.Yet, many forget that the United States paid out in the past.Although a Chinese man could not testify against a white man or serve on a jury, in 1886, 50 Chinese men and two Chinese women sued the city of Eureka, California, for $132,000 for being driven out of town by a mob during one brutal weekend. In another successful case, the Chinese who survived a massacre in Rock Springs, Wyoming, won hundreds of thousands of dollars from Congress.In all, Chinese immigrants who survived vigilante violence won nearly half a million dollars in reparations.Other victims of state-sanctioned racism won costly recompense. In 1988, the U.S. government paid $20,000 each to 82,210 Japanese Americans imprisoned in “relocation” camps during World War II.As a form of reparations for genocide and forced migration, many Native American tribes are exempt from bans on casinos. Where railroad workers once lived, Sacramento’s Yee Fow Museum has negotiated with the city and with developers to build a Chinese Cultural Center over the Amtrak parking lot.To commemorate the 1886 purge of the entire Chinese community in Tacoma, Washington, the Army Corps of Engineers donated four acres of breathtaking land on Puget Sound for a Reconciliation Park. Its grotto, garden and tall pillars describe the Trail of Expulsion — so those who visit the park may never forget.The U.S. Congress authorized $30 million in restitution for Holocaust survivors and their dependents. The money was also used to locate assets and art that were looted or extorted from Holocaust victims. Demands by Jews for financial compensation for the Holocaust continue, and both Swiss and Israeli banks now face charges that they have hidden or withheld monies paid by Germany — both for redress and straightforward restitution.Monetary compensation will never offer full equity for irreparable losses. Alternatives to apologies and reparations include the Australian "restorative justice conferences" between representatives of the state and victims of racism or their descendents.In South Africa, some have found contrition as well as information in the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings — although money and land did not change hands. Elsewhere, community service performed by the offenders may also provide racial healing.Private companies have also been held accountable for slavery — specifically, for the sale of human beings. JP Morgan Chase disclosed that two of its predecessor banks in Louisiana had allowed 13,000 slaves to be used as collateral. When the loans defaulted, these early banks took ownership of 1,250 slaves.In response, Chase created a $5 million college scholarship fund for African American students in Louisiana. Wachovia Bank has also apologized for the profits it inherited from its predecessors’ ownership of slaves.Internationally, the apologies continue to flow. Canada's Prime Minster Stephen Harper apologized for the 1885 “Head Tax” that imposed a fine of $50 to $500 (Canadian dollars) on each Chinese immigrant — and banned all immigration from China until 1947.In 2006, Harper also offered $20,000 compensation to the 20 surviving Chinese who had paid the tax and to 250 of their widows or widowers. Chinese Canadians then demanded the same redress for the 4,000 elderly, surviving heirs. However, in the end, only 785 people received compensation.In 2005, New Zealand apologized to the Maori people for the Treaty of Waitangi, which gave Britain full colonial rights to Ngati Tuwharetoa (Bay of Plenty), the Maori homeland.Yet, many whose ancestors suffered from slavery, abuse and racial violence believe that many nations still have a long way to go. In one of his final gestures as prime minister, Tony Blair announced in 2006 that he felt "deep sorrow" for England’s role in the slave trade, which he personally found “profoundly shameful."But even as Mr. Blair launched Great Britain’s public commemorations of the end of its slave trade — marked by museum exhibits and academic conferences — he stopped short of a state apology.Since 1990, Japan has offered apologies for the forced prostitution of 200,000 Korean and Chinese “comfort women” (enslaved sex workers) during World War II. But many Chinese and Korean women forced to serve the Japanese military rejected the money because it was funded by private donations. They demanded that the government itself be accountable.Even as Japan continues to apologize, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that the Japanese military ever forced women into sexual slavery. Japan’s former education minister, Nariaki Nakayama, even declared that he was proud that his government had removed all references to "wartime sex slaves" from students’ history texts.Australia held its first annual “Sorry Day” on May 26, 1998 to apologize for the "Stolen Generations.” These were aboriginal children seized from their families to be raised in missions or reform schools to inculcate them “in European values and work habits” so they could be employed in service to the colonial settlers.In the 1990s, the government gave out "Sorry Books" where indigenous people could record their feelings about their lost childhoods. Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson responded by saying, "Black fellas will get the words, the white fellas keep the money".South African author Achmat Dangor writes that a “happy nation” has no memory; trapped between the future and the past. He explains, “We want to forgive but we don’t want to forget.”Apologies should recall the true violence of slavery, expulsion and anti-immigrant violence. States should vow that their governments will never again purge immigrant workers. Then equality will mean never having to say you’re sorry.=================================================================
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