I am writing this article on January 17th. The day before yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the day that is dedicated to the memory and honor of the great civil rights leader. That evening my family and I watched the documentary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Today I read a New York Times article about the challenges and dilemmas that the presidents of the major universities are facing when white supremacists demand to speak and promote their ideology on these university campuses. In the past several days, I am also paying attention to the media coverage of the discussion and debate about immigration policy, especially Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DADA). I simply could not believe my ears when I first heard that a derogatory, dehumanizing word was reportedly being used in the White House to describe African countries. I am wondering where my adopted country is heading.
I came to U.S. twenty years ago as a graduate student and became a naturalized U.S. citizen seven years ago. I still remember the warm and genuine welcome that I and other newly naturalized U.S. citizen received by a federal Judge who officiated the naturalization ceremony. The photo I took with the Judge that day is and will always be one of my treasured documents. Had I come to U.S. 75 years ago, I would have been denied citizenship simply because I am from China.
Several months ago, I saw the historic marker “Chinese Texans and Civil Rights” in the Bayland Park Community Center, Houston. Here are the first and last paragraphs of the marker:
Chinese immigrants arrived in Texas in the 1870s and 1880s, primarily to build railroads and work as laborers. These early immigrants faced harsh working conditions and racism from those fearing they would take away jobs. Chinese Texans were also met with violence, punctuated by Judge Roy Bean’s reported 1884 ruling that it was not illegal to kill a Chinese. With anti-Chinese sentiment spreading through the western and Southern states, Congress restricted immigration through the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the only U.S. Law to exclude a specific race from immigration; it also denied citizenship to Chinese Americans.
Through the efforts of American-born Chinese, economic and social injustice began to be righted. 1937 testimony by Edward K.T. Chen (陳鏡堂) and Rose Don Wu (伍曾瑞雲) helped defeat a proposed Texas Law that would have prevented Chinese from owning unban property. In 1943, the Magnuson Act repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese American Citizens Alliance, including its Houston branch, under the Direction of Albert C.B. Gee (朱朝波) helped pass the Immigration Act of 1965, paving the way for large-scale Chinese immigration. Today, Chinese Texans continue to make a vital impact on politics and culture in Texas, standing as a tribute to the immigrants who withstood discrimination and thrived.
I am keenly aware that my life is connected to the history and struggles of America. I am grateful for the sufferings and sacrifices of all who have helped made my becoming a U.S citizen possible. I believe the American quest for freedom, justice, and equality will continue and I am part of it. As a Christian minister, I believe in the ministry of reconciliation that God has entrusted to the church: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) I believe the crucified and risen Jesus is and will always be with us as we work for justice, peace, reconciliation, and dignity of all God’s children.
(This article was written for Mountain Mover (February, 2018), the monthly newsletter of Faith Lutheran Church, https://faithbellaire.org/about-2/mountain-mover-newsletter )