Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Asian American man"Holding my queue grown longer, American cowlicks growing out on my once smooth head. I carry candidate President Grover Cleveland, and his vice president on my chest. He gave us justice at Rock Springs.We honor him, though we cannot vote." - Chinese Pioneer Man

We see as well the role of political opportunism in the way that anti-Chinese sentiment infused the highest levels of government, as California Governor George C. Perkins proclaimed March 4, 1880, a legal state holiday for anti-Chinese demonstrations.

The program will show how 30 years of unrelenting anti-Chinese sentiment culminated in the U.S. Congress passing the unprecedented Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which halted further immigration of virtually all Chinese as well as other "Asiatics" to whom the same law was applied in succession: Japanese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Koreans. The Exclusion Act also prevented Asians already residing in the U.S., including American-born offspring, from becoming naturalized citizens.

"The Chinese Exclusion Act...is the hinge on which all American immigration policy turned. Prior to the Exclusion Act there had been no significant restrictions of any kind on any immigration to the United States. There was no such thing as an illegal immigrant. After 1882...there are successive restrictions placed on all immigrants." - Professor Roger Daniels

The Chinese Exclusion Act was a milestone in immigration policy--the first major restriction on immigration to America. The film will show how Chinese immigrants learned to use the U.S. court system to challenge exclusion and many other forms of discrimination, often all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the Exclusion Act was not fully repealed until 1943, when China was America's wartime ally, there were many other precedent-setting legal victories prior to this, which greatly expanded basic civil and human rights in America--long before the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. Ultimately, Chinese and other Asian immigrants brought more than 170 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


Political rally
One of the most important cases is Wong Kim Ark v. The United States, an 1897 U.S. Supreme Court decision that for the first time established the legal right of citizenship by birth for all Americans, more clearly defining the 14th amendment. Another important case was the 1885 Yick Wo v. Hopkins, in which a Chinese Laundrymen guild won "equality before the law" with regards to regulations on their livelihood.

Program 3 will also portray the case of Mamie Tape, an 8-year-old Chinese American girl whose parents fought for her to be admitted to the all-white Spring Valley School in San Francisco in 1885. Her descendants help tell this pioneering story of school desegregation.

"A hundred years ago I would not have been able to go to school here....Jennie Hurley, the school principal, stood at the door to bar Mamie Tape from entering. Today, I, a Chinese American, am the principal, and it is my role to stand at the gate and welcome all children." - Ms.Lonnie Chin, principal, Spring Valley school, 1997

In addition, Program 3 will put Asians in America within the context of world events. By the early 1900s the U.S. was becoming an international power and looking beyond its western shores to the lands across the Pacific, to Hawaii and Philippines. "The Far East has now become our Far West," declared Secretary of State John Hay.

Interracial familyBut the influence was not one way. Program 3 will show how the American experience of Asian immigrants, despite the discrimination they faced and fought, provided ideological inspiration and practical support for the formation of nationalist and democratic movements in their homelands in the early 20th century.

Seeking to establish a new republic to replace a crumbling, millennia-old monarchy system, the Chinese in China sent out a clarion call for the patriotic support and aid of their former countrymen in America. The reliable response of "overseas" Chinese, especially those in America, helped financed the revolution that gave birth to the Chinese Republic in 1911.

In parallel fashion, Asian Indians in California and the Pacific Northwest, longing to throw off British control of India, formed the Ghadar Revolutionary Party in San Francisco, and Korean Americans in Hawaii and California established similar organizations to throw off Japan's domination of Korea.

By the conclusion of Program 3 we see how and why all the early Asian immigrant groups--Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Asian Indian, and Korean--arrived and started their American communities by the second decade of the 20th century.


Asian men

"[Asian immigrant] cases did profoundly affect the course of American jurisprudence, contributing in a significant way to the molding of 14th Amendment due process and equal protection." -Professor Charles McClain

Finally, we see how these immigrants and their contributions to America collectively set the stage for the renewed Asian immigrations that followed in the latter half of the 20th century, driven by changes brought about by WWII, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

If you would like to be notified when Program 3 is completed, please subscribe to our free email newsletter or e-mail CET.



<< Previous page

[an error occurred while processing this directive]