SB 5000, which would establish Americans of Chinese Descent History Month, passed the Senate by an unanimous vote of 48 to 0 on February 1st. The bill then passed the House with a vote of 94 to 2 on April 6th, with Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos and Rep. Cindy Ryu being the only two who voted against it.
If it weren’t for the striking amendment insisted on by Rep. Santos, the bill would have passed the Washington State legislature and been on its way to being signed into law by the governor. However, due to the amendment made in the House committee, the bill has to be sent back to the Senate for concurrence. SB 5000 needs to pass the Senate again by April 23, or it will fail to become law again. Below is a recount of the four year struggle to establish a commemorative month for the Americans of Chinese Descent Community in Washington state.
- 2019 – The WA Legislature passed SB 5865, and established October as Filipino American History Month in Washington. Inspired by this bill, WA Asians for Equality and American Coalition for Equality lobbied for a bill to establish a Chinese American History Month;
- 2020 – Then-Republican Senator Steve O’Ban sponsored a Senate Resolution, SR 8684, Honoring Chinese Americans. The WA Senate passed this resolution unanimously;
- 2020 – Encouraged by the support for SR 8684, then-Republican Senator Hans Zeiger introduced SB 6679, declaring January as Chinese American history month and encouraging public schools to commemorate the month. The bill was introduced near the end of the 2020 legislative session, and due to time constraints, the bill did not move out of its original committee. However, SB 6679 had bipartisan co-sponsors;
- 2021 – Republican Senator Keith Wagoner reintroduced SB 6679 as SB 5264 for the 2021-2022 legislative session. SB 5264 passed the Senate State Government and Elections committee unanimously, yet was stalled by Senate Democrat leadership, and missed the deadline to move out of the Senate in 2021;
- 2022 – Seeing the rise in anti-Asian attacks, Senator Wagoner gave a Senate floor speech saying, “When Americans are attacked, Americans stick together,” and changed the name to “Americans of Chinese Descent History Month” to emphasize that community members are Americans first. The WA Senate quickly passed the amended SB 5264. The bill passed the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee unanimously, and was put on the House floor run list for the final floor vote on March 3. However, a behind the door political manipulation led by Reps. Cindy Ryu, My-Linh Thai, and Sharon Tomiko Santos, eventually blocked SB 5264 from getting a final floor vote and killed Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. Could not oppose the month outright, Reps. Ryu, Thai, and Santos wanted to move the month from January to May, which has already been designated as AAPI Heritage Month. In a message to the House Democratic Caucus on March 3, 2022, Rep. Ryu said, “If 5264 must run, I’d like to amend the bill to change the month to May.”
- July 11, 2022 Rep. Santos’ office contacted Prof. Connie So, a Teaching Professor at UW, “to discuss the proposed Chinese American history month in Senate Bill 5264”;
- December 2, 2022 – During a meeting with Speaker Jinkins and members of WA Asians For Equality, Rep. Santos insisted that the month should be decided by her scholar from the UW. Rep. Santos admitted in the meeting that Prof. Connie So was her UW scholar. She also said to members of WA Asians For Equality, “Don’t you just want a month? Isn’t that the most important thing? People in my constituency would want to have Chinese American History, period. They will celebrate whenever it is that we decreed it to be.” Members of WA Asians For Equality brought physical copies of the petition to establish January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month signed by over 1,000 people from the Chinatown International District to the meeting and presented them to Speaker Jinkins and Rep. Santos;
- December, 2023 – More than 700 people signed the online petition to establish January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.
- January 14, 2023 – Prof. Connie So sent an email to four people who she later hired as consultants to her research project and claimed, “OSPI has given the department of American Ethnic Studies some funds to find researchers to determine what month would work best.” However, OSPI denied any association and claimed that “OSPI did not contract Dr. So to produce any survey about finding the appropriate month for Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. Therefore we have no knowledge of the creation of the survey, funding, or payment breakdowns. “ Among the four consultants So hired, two openly admitted that they had discussed this topic with Rep. Santos prior.
- Between January 14 and January 25, 2023, a group of 26 people were on Prof. Connie So’s email chain discussing the name and month to be asked in the survey to “evaluate whether January is the best month to honor ‘Americans of Chinese Descent'”. Among the 26 people were Reps. Sharon Santos, Cindy Ryu.
- January 25, 2023 – Prof. Connie So sent her two question survey to forty people in her close circle, including the above group of 26 people. Again, Reps. Sharon Santos, Cindy Ryu were among the 40 people she surveyed;
- January 27, 2023 – Prof. Connie So sent out an email to the 40 survey participants, and said “I have been asked by a few people to clarify ‘Americans of Chinese Descent’ versus ‘Chinese American Month'”. So then provided her version of explanation and asserted “Chinese did not have naturalization rights until the Magnuson Act of 1943. Thus, the early pioneers who built the railroad were NOT Americans. However, ‘Americans’ of Chinese descent puts the emphasis on being an American.” So’s narrow definition of “Americans of Chinese descent” scared people away from selecting that term. We later learned that people thought adopting the name “Americans of Chinese Descent History Month” would leave out the history of early Chinese immigrants, which is completely untrue. Just as The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 applies to all individuals with disabilities, regardless of their US citizenship, the term “Americans” is not reserved only for American citizens;
- January 31, 2023 – Prof. Connie So sent her “Recommendations for Chinese American Month” to Rep. Santos and other recipients, but no one from OSPI was included in the report’s distribution list, despite her claim that the research was commissioned by OSPI. Among the 40 people she surveyed, 18 responded. The recommendations were based on answers of the 18 people in the period of January 25 to January 29, 2023;
- February 1, 2023 – Rep. Santos forwarded Prof. Connie So’s recommendation to Speaker Jinkins and Counsel Desiree Omli;
History of SB 5000:
- December 5, 2022 – Senator Wagoner pre-filled SB 5000, Americans of Chinese Decent History Month;
- January 13, 2023 – SB 5000 passed the Senate State Government and Elections Committee unanimously. Senator Bob Hasegawa, who is the bill’s co-sponsor, voted for the bill;
- Feb. 1, 2023 – SB 5000 passed the Senate 48 to 0;
- Feb. 3, 2023 – SB 5000 entered the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee;
- Feb. 6, 2023 – Rep. Santos sponsored her own bill, HB 1759, Chinese American Month, claiming that it was supported by Prof. Connie So’s research. Only one bill is needed to establish a commemorative month for people of Chinese descent, and every bill must pass both the Senate and the House. By that time, SB 5000 had already passed the Senate, whereas HB 1759 still needed to pass the House first and then the Senate;
- Feb. 24, 2023 – HB 1759 failed to advance out of House committee, and is considered dead this session;
- March 21, 2023 – SB 5000 had a public hearing in the House. More than 100 people signed up in support of it. Many testified, asking the committee to pass it as is. Prof. Connie So showed up to testify in support of HB 1759, a bill that could not advance this session. Prof. So claimed that “Americans of Chinese descent” is the wrong term to use;
- March 22 to March 28, 2023 – Rep. Santos applied pressure to the House committee to strike out the entire language of SB 5000 and replace it with language from her own bill, HB 1759. HB 1759 consists of two parts: the first part is about the history of people of Chinese descent in Washington, which is a nice addition but won’t be included in the state law and won’t have any practical impact on establishing the month in Washington. The second part is what actually goes into the state law, RCW 43.117. The only practical difference between SB 5000 and HB 1759 is that in SB 5000, the month is referred to as “Americans of Chinese Descent History Month,” while in HB 1759, the month is called “Chinese American Month”. Passing the bill without amending SB 5000 with Rep. Santos’ bill language, would avoid creating an additional obstacle to its passage and ensure the establishment of a commemorative month;
- March 26, 2023 – Rep. Santos had a conference call with the Committee Chair, Rep. Bill Ramos, and Rep. Mia Gregerson. After the meeting, she arranged a conference call between Rep. Gregerson and Professor So and some people from the January group of 26 in the morning of March 27;
- March 28, 2023 – In order to advance SB 5000 out of the committee, the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Wagoner, and the bill’s supporters agreed to a striking amendment to SB 5000 that recognizes both names, “Chinese American History Month” and “Americans of Chinese Descent History Month”. However, in an unexpected twist, the original language, which urged the recognition of Americans of Chinese descent’s history in the US, was intentionally removed from the final amendment due to Rep. Santos’ influence. WA Asians For Equality tried to have the language reinstated, but that request was denied;
- March 29, 2023 – SB 5000 passed the House committee as amended;
- April 6, 2023 – Amended SB 5000 was voted by the entire House. Reps. Sharon Tomiko Santos and Cindy Ryu were the only two who voted Nay;
- Update: April 13, 2023 – The Senate concurred in the House amendment to SB 5000; SB 5000 passed the Senate 47 to 0, which marked SB 5000’s final passage of both chambers;
- Update: May 9, 2023 – Governor Inslee signed SB 5000 into law. Washington is the first state in the nation to establish Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.
- May 9, 2023 – Washington the first to mark January as Americans of Chinese Descent Month
- May 9, 2023 – Making time to celebrate the Chinese community’s place in state history
- April 17, 2023 – Compromise calls for honoring Chinese community each January
- April 1, 2023 – Spin Control: Debate on Chinese American month asks, ‘What’s in a name?’
- February 1, 2023 – Bill to honor ‘Americans of Chinese Descent’ in January passes through Washington Senate
- January 17, 2023 – WA Democrats hid messages on Chinese American History Month bill
- October 16, 2022 – Rantz: Democrat lawmaker axed Chinese Heritage Month because sponsor is white
- April 12, 2022 – When could there be a Chinese History Month? Repeated efforts fail in Legislature
- May 1, 2021 – Spin Control: Why a bill to designate Chinese American history month hit a brick wall this session
- April 29, 2021 – No Chinese American recognition in Washington. Simple bill dies peculiar death, twice
- April 15, 2021 – New Black history holiday good for Washington. But don’t slight this minority group