Members of the California State PTA Board of Managers have been reading books that give us a deeper understanding of the effects of racial prejudice on our minority populations. We have read eight books including The New Jim Crow, The Color of Law, How to Be An Antiracist, and White Fragility, among others. These books all dealt with the experiences of African Americans in the US. We decide to broaden our scope to other minority groups impacted by racism in America. The most recent book we read was titled Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki.
Strangers from a Different Shore is the story of Asian immigration to the U.S.
When Chinese began to immigrate to the U.S. it was because we needed them as laborers. They built the Central Pacific Railroad line, worked in mines digging gold and ore out of the ground, and tilled the fields.
But many Americans saw them as competitors for jobs. Thus, they were denigrated and described as heathen, morally inferior, savage, childlike and lustful.
They came to America for a dream – the dream of a better life. What they found was bigotry and racial discrimination. They were seen as different and inferior; they were strangers, strangers from a different shore. They were different from the European immigrants that Americans were used to. They could not blend in like European immigrants could. The shape of their eyes and the complexion of their skin immediately identified them as different. The individual could not remake himself by shedding his past, language, custom and dress.
For survival and protection, they banded together, thus reinforcing claims that they could not be assimilated, and therefore, could not be Americans.
Eventually other Asian groups immigrated to America. They were not all Chinese, even though many accused them of being so. There were Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Asian Indians. All experienced hostility and racial prejudice.
Laws were enacted prohibiting Asians from becoming U.S. Citizens:
- The 1790 Naturalization Act, which restricted naturalized citizenship to whites.
- In 1882 Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Law.
- The Immigration Act of 1924 included the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act. It was a law that prevented immigration from Asia.
- The Gentlemen’s Agreement (1907) was a series of informal arrangements in which Japan agreed not to issue passports to emigrants to the U.S.
From 1790-1952, Asian immigrants have been defined as racially ineligible for citizenship and subject to severe immigration restrictions. Stereotyped as a “yellow peril” invasion consisting of slavish “coolie” labor competition.
After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. and China declared war on Japan and the two countries became allies. President Roosevelt commented, “By the repeal of the Chinese exclusion laws, we can correct a historic mistake and silence the distorted Japanese propaganda.” Japan had been appealing to Asia to unite in a race war against white America – condemning the U.S. for its discriminating laws and the segregation of Chinese into ghettos.
During World War II, America could not oppose the racist ideology of Nazism while practicing racial discrimination at home, and therefore laws began to change. But guarantees of equal protection under the law had little effect on what happened in society. Asians were often persecuted not for their vices, but for their virtues (hard working, devotion to family, stressing the importance of education.)
Asian immigrants endured discrimination that still resounds years later. Many Asian Americans suffer inequality and feel as though their roles in U.S. history have been overlooked.
Our book group readings on current and historical racial discrimination have inspired our legislation advocates to select legislation that seeks to address some of these wrongs. California State PTA has taken support positions on the following bills:
- SB 693 (Stern) – This bill would establish the Governor’s Council on Genocide and Holocaust Education to establish best practices for education on genocide, including the Holocaust.
- AB 57 (Gabriel) – This bill would require a basic course for law enforcement on the topic of hate crimes.
- AB 101 (Medina) – This bill adds a one-semester course in ethnic studies to graduation requirements commencing 2029–30. The bill would also require schools to offer an ethnic studies course commencing with the 2025–26 school year.
- SB 17 (Pan) – This bill would establish an Office of Racial Equity tasked with coordinating, analyzing, developing, evaluating, and recommending strategies for advancing racial equity across state agencies.
We encourage our PTA members and all parents to educate themselves regarding issues of racial discrimination. We hope that by educating ourselves on these issues we can become more understanding of the issues facing many in our country today.
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