Lauren Ouyang, an 8th grade student at Rosehill Middle School, just won the middle school category young activist award at a national essay competition held by the Chinese American community (https://acefus.org/events-projects/essaywriting2022.html ). The topic of the essay competition is “The importance and the value of having Washington State to officially recognize January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.”
Below is Lauren’s petition letter.
Dear Washington State Legislature,
Having lived in 3 cities within Washington, my surroundings and classmates constantly changed, but one thing didn’t. My culture and heritage. Chinese Americans are the largest Asian origin group, making up 24% of the Asian population. They have contributed immensely to the history and infrastructure of the United States. In the 1860s, 15,000 Chinese Americans built the Transcontinental Railroad, which became a symbol of America’s growing industrial power. Chinese also supplied most of the construction labor needed during the Civil War, a considerable advantage for the Union due to their factories and railroads. Despite this, they were seen as competition and faced continuous discrimination. In the 1880s, more than a hundred and sixty-eight communities violently forced their Chinese residents to leave. In 1885, miners in Rock Springs massacred twenty-eight Chinese and drove out several hundred others. As a result, Rock Springs’ Chinatown was gone, and dead bodies were still lying on the streets. But worst of all, the murderers weren’t charged with the crimes that were unquestionably committed. Even so, Chinese Americans have continued to contribute to this country’s growth, yet we’ve been erased from the history books. Establishing January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month would allow schools to emphasize our accomplishments, something that would’ve otherwise been forgotten.
January 24, 1848, is marked as the beginning of the Gold Rush. It resulted in a steady stream of Chinese immigrants coming to the United States – thus, its importance. Many Chinese Americans moved to the northwest when gold was discovered in the Washington rivers. Soon after the Chinese came to the United States, the first Lunar New Year’s celebration in America was held. It’s the most significant holiday in Chinese tradition, commonly falling in January. Every year, Chinese of all ages gather to exchange red envelopes and watch the renowned lion dance. Celebrations are held across the country, and lanterns and lights are strung in malls and public buildings– showing our lasting impact on our community. Even so, while teachers talk on and on about the strenuous labor jobs created during the Industrial Revolution, they never mention the Chinese who worked for 12 hours in unsafe conditions every day in order to provide for their families. For Chinese History Month to be effective, it should be while school is in session, so our history and contributions may be remembered and infused into our textbooks.
Representative My-Linh Thai claims that Chinese History Month would be backward, and Cindy Ryu argues that it could be linked with May AAPI month or shortened to a day or week. All of the reasons mentioned could be applied to Filipino American History Month, a bill that Thai and Ryu voted in favor of. Yet, it’s pointed out only in Chinese History Month. Since its creation in 1889, the Washington State legislature has never had such a high bar for passing a bill. This is not about how, where, or when Chinese History Month is. It’s about Chinese Americans and their fight for representation. January being Chinese History Month is no different than how January 13 is Korean American Day, May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, or October is Filipino American History Month. Yet it’s continuously met with high standards and unreasonable contentions.
House Speaker Jinkins argues that Chinese History Month lacks broad support, and Representative Ryu makes remarks about the Chinese community comprising 200 people, but there are well over 100 thousand Chinese Americans currently living in Washington. Several Washington school districts have shown their support of the bill– including Seattle, Bellevue, Lake Washington, and Tacoma. Out of other similar proposals, Chinese History Month was the only one that CAPAA (Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs) testified in support of. Chinese History Month also has the encouragement of the League of Women Voters of Washington, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and the JCRC of the Jewish
Federation of Greater Seattle. This bill has been introduced multiple times and was supported unanimously by the Senate and the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee. Still, in 2021 the bill was stalled with a mere excuse of “time constraints” and missed the deadline to move out of the Senate. In 2022, the bill made it all the way to the House floor for its final vote but was purposefully blocked. The bill’s failure even had advocates asking how a proposal with such strong support could fail. The answer? Anti-Chinese contingent.
Upon learning about the history of Chinese people in America, I, and many others hope the bill will finally be passed without any stalling. This bill is not only for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese Americans currently living in Washington but also for the thousands that served our country during its early stages.