In 1785, three Chinese immigrants landed in the US, starting Americans of Chinese descent’s long history in this country. In Washington, this history can be traced back to the beginning of the Washington Territory in 1853, at which time a measure was adopted to deny Chinese people the right to vote. Despite this discrimination, Chinese Americans continue to call this land their home and contribute to Washington’s growth and prosperity.
From building the Transcontinental Railroad, and the Northern Pacific Rail Line, to digging the canals that connect Lake Union with Salmon Bay and Lake Washington, the work and contributions of Chinese Americans are everywhere. Washingtonians are enjoying the fruits of that work, yet not many are aware of their stories. The Washington Legislature established Japanese American Remembrance Day in 2003, Korean American Day in 2007, and Filipino American History Month in 2019. However, there is no designated time in Washington to recognize the contributions and hardships of Chinese Americans.
This year, Washington legislators were presented with ESB 5264, the Americans of Chinese Descent History Month bill. If passed, ESB 5264 would declare January as Americans of Chinese descent history month and encourage (not mandate) public schools to commemorate the lives, history, achievements, and contributions of Americans of Chinese descent.
The Senate quickly passed ESB 5264 by 48 to 0 in January. This gave the bill enough time to navigate through the House. After delays in the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee, it finally reached the House floor calendar on February 26. House Democratic Leadership had plenty of time and all the power to bring this bill out for an all-member vote. It would have easily run and passed in only a few minutes, yet the bill was blocked by leadership from having a vote. By contrast, House Democratic Leadership swiftly passed the pickleball bill, which had just reached the floor calendar on the cutoff day!
The power to pass ESB 5264 was firmly in the hands of House Speaker Laurie Jinkins from Tacoma. As Speaker of the House, she had the ultimate authority to determine if this bill received a vote. She chose to take the floor time to pass the pickleball bill but ignored the Americans of Chinese Descent History Month bill.
The Chinese American community is deeply insulted. Chinese Americans’ 237 years of history seem to carry little weight in the eyes of the House Democratic Leadership compared to the pickleball bill. Our generations of contributions, discrimination, and sufferings are not worthy of recognition, but pickleball is? We see no concern or compassion from House Leadership or Speaker Jinkins. This has been going on for far too long.
I have been sending all Washington legislators a daily note about Chinese American history since January 10th. It is deeply saddening that the rich history of Americans of Chinese descent is once again ignored. This is even more deeply puzzling, considering House Speaker, Laurie Jinkins, is from Tacoma, a city with such a dark Chinese exclusion history. On November 3, 1885, Tacoma’s remaining 300 Chinese Americans were forcefully expelled from the town. They lost their homes and possession, and some lost their lives along this terrible journey.
On November 30, 1993, the Tacoma City Council adopted the milestone Resolution 32415, acknowledging that the 1885 Chinese expulsion was a most reprehensible occurrence. Now, on Tacoma’s beautiful Ruston Way waterfront, sits Chinese Reconciliation Park, a park dedicated to commemorating Tacoma’s terrible history of hatred, murder, and repression. It expresses the city’s commitment to ending racism and hatred. But unfortunately, the Democratic Leadership in our legislature has not learned from Tacoma’s dark past.
The Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs gave strong testimony supporting this bill at the House Public Hearing. Tacoma Public Schools, Seattle Public Schools, Bellevue School District, and Lake Washington School District all signed up to support this bill. Our schools were ready to embrace this bill. House Democratic Leadership failed the Chinese American community, failed our schools and our students. We deserve an answer and closure. There must be accountability.