Gratitude at the 140th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act

by Eddie Wong. Posted May 17, 2022.

One of the joys of building community is working with like-minded people for a common purpose. This was certainly true in the case of organizing for the 140th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act in San Francisco.  Five years ago, we organized a large rally in Portsmouth Square for the 135th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act. In 2017, our rage was burning as Trump daily insulted people of color and immigrants.  We had to stand up and draw the connections between past discrimination and the present attacks on our humanity. Five years later, we no longer have an ogre in power, but the remnants of anti-Asian hate, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant policies persist.  The persistent and vile attacks on elderly Asians and Asian women point to the need for our community and allies to remain vigilant and protective of one another. And the recent mass murder in Buffalo is a grim reminder that the extreme right has declared war on African Americans and all who make up a multi-racial, multi-cultural USA.

Resilience emerged as an overarching theme as did gratitude for our Chinese American ancestors who persevered through vicious attacks and unrelenting discrimination. They resisted in numerous ways and they most importantly kept the community alive so that future generations could step forward to make their mark. Thus, the community coalition which was composed staff from the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Chinese Culture Center, Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Chinese Progressive Association, and other organizations along with longtime activists such as the Rev. Norman Fong, filmmaker Felicia Lowe, Harry Chuck, and others developed a series of events aimed to educate the public and involve community members in a ritual of remembrance. These events were made possible with grants from Chinese for Affirmative Action, Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative, the Asian Pacific American Heritage Foundation, and the Portsmouth Plaza Parking Corporation.

The following videos and images show the scope of the effort and highlight voices of conscience, including those of new and upcoming leaders.  As one of the OGs involved in this coalition, watching this new generation of activists and artists take the reins was perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this entire endeavor.

Leading off the commemoration was the ceremony on May 6, 2022 at the Angel Island Immigration Station. Due to covid-related concerns, the event was invitation-only.  We thank the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation for making this footage video available to East Wind ezine.  The speeches by Ed Tepporn, Casey Dexter-Lee, and Katherine Toy are short and precisely on point.

In the evening of May 6, Felicia Lowe and Ben Wood created a large-scale video projection entitled “Exclusion/Inclusion” in collaboration with the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture.  Held during the Off the Grid food/music event, this art installation introduced hundreds of people to the immigration stories of Chinese Americans and others who were detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station from 1910 to 1940. Throughout the month of May, visitors to Fort Mason will also see Angel Island images projected on the windows of the Guard House, which is at the entrance of the parking lot. Here’s a brief look at this innovative event.

Video projection on Building B in back of the food trucks. Photo by Ed Tepporn, AIISF.

 

Detail of a Chinese poem on the barrack wall at Angel Island Immigration Station. Angel Island is partially visible underneath the inscription. Photo by Ed Tepporn, AIISF.

On Saturday, May 7, the commemoration committee sponsored “Standing Strong for Inclusion,” a program of speakers and film screening of “What’s Your Real Name?” and “Carved in Silence” by Felicia Lowe.  This was followed by a community ritual developed by artists Summer Mei Ling Lee and Stephan Xie in collaboration with the Lotus Taoist Institute.  Please view the short speeches by Joyce Lam, the Rev. Norman Fong, Lowell High student Dennis Casey Wu, Janice Li, Jean Pham, and law professor/activist Bill Hing.

Francis Wong closed out the ceremony with this performance, which is interwoven with images of Angel Island descendants and Chinese American immigrants.

A critical component of our commemoration is youth involvement for it is the next generations that must continue the fight for social justice. Thus, part one of “The Conversation from Vincent Chin to George Floyd” will be convened on June 18 at the Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative, 800 Grant St., San Francisco.  This facilitated discussion will draw the links between historical anti-Asian laws and the overarching structure of white supremacy and settler colonialism that constrained options for people of color and other oppressed groups in the U.S.  Part two of “The Conversation” will take place in July and plans are still in development for this youth-directed forum.

We do not know where the country will be at in five years or ten years as major commemorations will once more be needed, but we do know that we refuse to be erased from history. We refuse to be silent about the racist history of the U.S. for only by speaking the truth can we lay the groundwork for true reconciliation and healing.  We rise from the ashes of a sad and sorrowful past and like a flame burning brightly we move forward into the future.

Author’s bio:  Eddie Wong is a longtime activist/artist in the Asian American Movement. He is the editor/publisher of East Wind ezine.

Cover Photo:

European and Chinese immigrants arriving at Angel Island Immigration Station. Image projected on Building B at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. Historical photo from Calif. State Parks. Image by Felicia Lowe.

 

2 Comments

  1. Ravi Chandra on May 18, 2022 at 7:58 am

    Thank you Eddie. I loved these concluding lines:

    “We do not know where the country will be at in five years or ten years as major commemorations will once more be needed, but we do know that we refuse to be erased from history. We refuse to be silent about the racist history of the U.S. for only by speaking the truth can we lay the groundwork for true reconciliation and healing. We rise from the ashes of a sad and sorrowful past and like a flame burning brightly we move forward into the future.”

    Thank you for creating a space for us to affirm who we are to ourselves and who we can be to each other. It is corrosive to be in contact with racism, imperialism, and abuse of power. We have to reconstruct ourselves by remembering the past and recognizing our current moment. These times are *defining* for our journey. No one can sit on the sidelines or be reticent. Yes, some in our community will have to step up and push past fears. Others will have to find ways to negotiate new understandings and new experiences in their relational contexts. But we have to raise our voices against hatred and bigotry, and demand that this country finally live up to its stated ideals. Let America Be America To Me, as Brother Langston wrote.

    Solidarity always, and always learning and listening,
    Ravi

  2. Lotus Yee Fong on July 10, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    Eddie, I’m sorry I missed this event to commemorate the CEA but I did make it to Angel Island beforehand.
    Thanks for sending me the link. I’ve been hoping to hold an event in the CACA Grand Lodge on May 6 and/or December 17
    to make the cause known of why Chinese American Citizens Alliance was formed as N.S.G.S. Native Sons of the Golden State.
    We should show Julie Soo’s WONG Kim Ark documentary and now there is an NPR National Public Radio hour-long radio documentary
    on this case which became the 14th Amendment.

    If we take all the immigration and refugee issues from the Asia Pacific, both historic 1800s thru to more recent policies, we can paint the
    picture of how Manifest Destiny and the Open Door has led to what is now called the Indo-Pacific to be the foundation of U.S. Empire and
    what the Pentagon calls Full Spectrum Dominance or U.S.-led Western hegemony. Abe’s recent assassination adds to the mix.

    Thanks for eastwindzine and your interview with Ben Tong.

    Lotus

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