A grim reminder: Sacramento leaders face legacy of Chinese Exclusion Act
County resolution remembers a dark moment in history
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution May 9 recognizing the 135th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act, alluding to the danger of history repeating itself.
The resolution was brought forward by Supervisor Patrick Kennedy with support from Opportunity Community Advocacy Sacramento, formerly called the Organization of Chinese Americans. The timing of the resolution was no coincidence, according to OCA president Greg Jung, who sees parallels between the anti-immigration legislation signed by President Chester Arthur in 1882 and President Donald Trump’s attempted executive orders targeting Muslim travel and proposing a wall on the Mexican border.
“Chinese native men and women were portrayed as heathens,” Jung said. “They were blamed for lowering wages, taking jobs away, draining the economy and basically endangering the American way of life.”
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 75,000 Chinese Americans lived in California at the time of the Exclusion Act.
During the Gold Rush, they took backbreaking jobs, including railroad work and building river levees. Jung said the Chinese were targeted for discrimination at the federal level for religious, racial and cultural reasons. The Exclusion Act was renewed in 1892, and again in 1902, surviving until December 17, 1943.
Jung lauded the supervisors’ acceptance of the resolution, adding that the parallels between the xenophobia of 19th and early 20th century America and the era of Donald Trump are striking.
“We believe there’s a direct link between the racial and religious animosity driving these executive orders,” Jung acknowledged. “We believe that the current executive orders have put America on the wrong side of history.”