The following letter was sent to WA Legislatures explaining the cultural and historical reasons behind the Chinese American community’s request to establish January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.
Dear House Democratic Caucus Members & Leadership Team,
Some members of House MOCC are claiming authority on the Americans of Chinese Descent History Month bill when they truly do not have the qualifications to make such a claim. Although the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese communities are often treated as a monolith in the eyes of non-Asians, it is deeply offensive to mistake any of these individual identities for one another. Likewise, it is also offensive for a member outside of the Chinese American community to attempt to make decisions on behalf of our community. We want to make it crystal clear to the entire WA Legislature that between Rep. Cindy Ryu, Rep. Sharon Santos, and Rep. My-Linh Thai, there is not a single drop of Chinese blood and not a single ounce of authority within the Chinese American community. They have demonstrated a lack of understanding of the over 5,000-year-old Chinese culture; and they do not share the same interest and passion for establishing a culturally and historically meaningful Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.
Rep. Ryu and Rep. Santos have been in Olympia for many years. If they had any sincere interest in establishing Americans of Chinese Descent History Month, they would have done it long ago. Their attempt to move Americans of Chinese Descent History Month from January, which is requested by the Chinese American community, to May, which is already designated as AAPI month in Washington, would achieve only one goal: to effectively nullify a standalone, dedicated, month-long recognition that the Chinese American community deserves.
Although the Chinese Americans’ heritage is currently being celebrated as part of the AAPI community during May AAPI month, we have heard loud and clear from students of Chinese descent that there is a clear lack of mentions and coverage of their ancestors’ history in this country at our schools. Chinese Americans’ contributions and mistreatment have received little attention in our schools or society. Given Chinese Americans’ large contribution and well-documented mistreatment on the West Coast and in this country, it makes sense to have a standalone and month-long commemoration of Chinese Americans’ history in the US. In 2019, the WA Legislature designated October as Filipino American History Month. The concept and practice of designating a specific month other than May for a sub-Asian group have been established.
Many factors went into consideration when deciding which month is most suitable to be Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. The designated month needs to have both cultural and historical significance, and it also needs to be during the school year so that our schools can use the designated month to educate students on Chinese Americans’ history and contributions in this country. January was picked because no other month better met the above selection criteria. It is during the school year. And it also holds unique cultural and historical importance to the Chinese American community.
For people of Chinese heritage, we all know that Chinese New Year is the most significant festival in Chinese culture. Chinese New Year often falls in January, and the days leading up to it are one of the most exciting times for Chinese people. According to Chinese tradition, the celebration of the Chinese New Year actually starts eight days before the Chinese New Year’s day, known as Xiao Nian (小年). On New Year’s Eve (年三十), the entire family gets together to have dinner, send off the previous year (舊年), and welcome the new year (新年). And the Chinese New Year celebration does not end on the Chinese New Year Day (大年初一). The entire festival lasts an additional fifteen days and concludes on Yuan Xiao (元宵).
From the first large wave of Chinese immigrants, to slavery, the fight against racial segregation, and the inhumane detention of Chinese immigrants as a result of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act, January holds very special historical meaning for the Chinese American community. Many important historical events happened to the Chinese Americans in the month of January. Designating January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month will undoubtedly raise awareness of the unfair treatment of Chinese Americans in the United States.
- January 24, 1848, was the beginning of the Gold Rush, a time which attracted thousands of Chinese immigrants to the United States;
- January 3, 1852, 195 Chinese laborers arrived in Hawaii to work on sugarcane plantations, and this marked the beginning of foreign contract workers, or rather, slaves, in the islands;
- January 9, 1885, the Superior Court of California ruled that excluding “children of Chinese parents” from public schools violated state law and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment;
- January 21, 1910, Angel Island Detention Center opened to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. An estimated 175,000 Chinese were processed there and went through inhumane detention conditions. The poems and inscriptions inscribed on the walls of the detention barracks tell the stories of those Chinese immigrants;
- And most recently, Anna May Wong, who was born on January 3, 1905, became the first Asian American featured on a US quarter.
The list of events can go on and on…
Our students are eager to have their ancestors’ stories heard and talked about. This year, many students, ranging from middle school to high school, participated in an essay competition to write about “the importance and the value of having Washington State officially recognize January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.” One student wrote, “This very train of Chinese American history tumbles through time, retracing back to dates of shame, humiliation, and unity- and the rails ran most in January. “At the essay competition’s award ceremony, one student said, “The Chinese community, they faced many discrimination and racism in the United States. I felt we do not really speak up about it that much.”
The students are doing their part to spread the word about their ancestors’ history in this country. As adults, we are doing our part to advocate for establishing January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month so that every January, as the Chinese American community prepares for and celebrates its cultural festival, schools and society also commemorate Chinese Americans’ history and have conversations about Chinese Americans’ contributions and mistreatment in this country.
More than 700 people living, working, and running businesses in Rep. Santos’ own 37th legislative district have physically signed the petition to designate January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. There is also an online petition with hundreds of signatories in support of January being designated as American of Chinese Descent History Month.We reached out to Rep. Sharon Santos both in person briefly at an event in Seattle, and via email to request a meeting to discuss the importance of establishing January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. Rep. Santos told us that her calendar was fully booked until January 2023, when PRA records showed that she had many openings in November and December. Rep. Santos’s office did not respond to our email request either. Rep. Santos, who has no Chinese heritage, refused to engage in civil and meaningful discussion with the Chinese American community, yet she wants to sponsor a bill against the Chinese American community’s will.
We urge the WA Legislature to support establishing January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.
The WA Legislature should not allow a small group of legislators who have no ties with the Chinese American community to take away Chinese Americans’ wishes and decide for them.
WA Asians For Equality