the end of the Civil War, America, signing the Burlingame Treaty with
Imperial China, saw free migration as a matter of mutual interest. Two
years later, when the right to U.S. citizenship was extended from "free
white persons" to include African Americans and Native Americans, the
Chinese were specifically excluded.
In 1898, the Philippines became a U.S. colony, and Filipinos became U.S. nationals. They enjoyed all rights and privileges of citizenship until the Tidings McDuffie Act of 1934 gave the country autonomy and America sanction to exclude them from U.S. citizenship, along with other Asians.
1907-1908 The "Gentleman's Agreement" between USA
and Japan allowed Japanese families to move intact to the U.S. long
after other Asians were unable to bring wives. Although "subjects
of the British Empire," the immigrants from India never enjoyed
the same kind of political protection.
As a child, when I struggled to memorize the preamble to the Constitution of India, I was constantly reminded by my parents and grandparents how lucky I was to be born "Indian." I now realize why that was a big deal for them.
Only one act in the entire story of "Roots in the
Sand" lives up to my ideal of the American respect for the law.
Following the murder of two white shippers, Sheriff Gillett could
easily have turned away and let his "Hindu" prisoner be lynched
by the "white" mob. He didn't. To me, that makes him a true lawman.
The lesson of American legislative history is that for "the rule of law" to work, laws have to be constantly scrutinized. And because they were, "Roots in the Sand" has a happy ending. However, in human nature, there is a part that rushes to judgment, and even today public referendum makes laws that later have to be reconsidered. Today's Proposition 186 legislation in California is uncomfortably similar to laws in the Depression-stricken 1930s, when people of Mexican heritage had to endure unlawful search and seizure and systematic roundups, such as the infamous La Placita raid, in which the INS, in conjunction with state and local police, surrounded a public park on a weekend day demanding proof of citizenship from those who didn't look "American" and arresting those who couldn't immediately show proof. U.S. citizenship did not provide protection against deportation to Mexico.
Jayasri speaking at the film's premiere in L.A.
There are many stories of the Imperial Valley waiting
to be told. But they are part of a different scenario the migration
from the Dust Bowl, or the 1930's attempts to organize farm labor.
There are also other stories about Indians political activists
in the U.S. working to free their country from British rule. Wherever
there are stories of ordinary people at the crossroads of history,
there you will find this documentary filmmaker sniffing around.
To begin a conversation with filmmaker Jayasri please visit
us at NAATA(www.naatanet.org/community/filmmaker/index.html)