Is SB 1070 a Modern “Chinese Exclusion Law”?

A cartoon from a nineteenth century newspaper, detailing contemporary anti-Chinese immigrant sentiment

Last month, Arizona passed an insidious piece of legislation known as SB 1070 — a law that makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime and empowers state and city police officers to conduct immigration checks. While supporters of the law claim that it only enforces federal immigration guidelines, the fact of the matter is that SB 1070 is little more than a modern-day Chinese Exclusion Law.

How ironic is it, than, that SB 1070 was passed within days of the start of Asian American Heritage Month?

In 1858, the Chinese Exclusion Law (not to be confused with the later federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) was part of a series of laws passed by California city and state governments that attempted to address the so-called “problem” of Chinese immigrants by making life virtually impossible for a Chinese immigrant. Coupled with laws that taxed foreign miners, prevented the ringing of gongs, and banned the wearing of queues (the fashion of the day for Chinese men) in city prisons, the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1858 made it a state crime for a “Chinese” or “Mongolian” person to land in a California seaport. This is eerily similar to the text of SB 1070, which charges illegal immigrants with a misdemeanor crime of trespassing in the state of Arizona if they are found to be within Arizona state borders.

While SB 1070 (read the full text) does not specifically target Latino men and women (and, indeed, the law may affect any person of colour who appears to be of the same ethnicity as common illegal immigrants — including South Americans and Asians), it is virtually certain that SB 1070 will institutionalize racial profiling particularly against Latinos because of Arizona’s position along the U.S.-Mexico border. In essence, Arizona is attempting to affect federal immigration policies using state laws to name and target undesired immigrants, just as California attempted to do more than a century ago.

Furthermore, the Chinese Exclusion Law made it a state crime (punishable by a hefty fine or imprisonment) for any person transporting an immigrant to a California seaport. Specifically, the text of the Chinese Exclusion Law reads:

…it shall be unlawful for any man, or person, whether captain or commander, or other person, in charge of, or interested in, or employed on board of, or passenger upon, any vessel, or vessels, of any nature or description whatsoever, to knowingly allow, or permit, any Chinese or Mongolian, on and after such time, to enter any of the ports of this state, to land therein, or at any place, or places, within the borders of this state, and any person of persons violating any of the provisions of this act, shall be held and deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be subject to a fine in any sum not less than four hundred dollars, nor more than six hundred dollars, for each and every offence, or imprisonment in the county jail of the county in which the said offence was committed, for a period of not less than three months, nor more than one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Again, this passage is virtually indistinguishable from SB 1070, which applies a punishment to any person who knowingly transports an illegal immigrant into the state or anywhere within the state using any form of motor vehicle.

But what hammers the similarity home, for me, is that SB 1070, like the Chinese Exclusion Law, was not passed in isolation by their respective state governments. More than 150 years separate SB 1070 from the Chinese Exclusion Law, yet both the spirit and the practice of targeting immigrants is the same: in response to a perceived influx of immigrants of colour, a flurry of city and state laws are passed in rapid succession to make life unlivable for the targeted immigrant community. In Arizona, SB 1070 is joined by other laws coming down the pipeline that target aspects of the Latino community here in Arizona, specifically HB 2281 which was conceived of to target a publicly-funded Mexican-American high school studies program. Furthermore, state laws requiring employers to use E-Verify to determine the immigration status of prospective employers are, in spirit, the same as California’s law of 1862 — called An Act to Protect Free White Labor against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage the Immigration of the Chinese into the State of California — which instituted a fine for any Chinese person who was deemed to be in competition for “White” jobs (i.e., if they were employed as anything other than a rice, tea, sugar or coffee farmer). In both cases, fears that people of colour are taking up all the jobs fuel the passing of laws that limit employment opportunities for the targeted immigrant groups.

While it is tempting to dismiss Arizona as a progressively whacko state, history teaches us that state governments are the testing grounds for federal legislation. The Chinese Exclusion Law codified an anti-Chinese sentiment that, thirty years later, was institutionalized as the more well-known Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Chinese Exclusion Act specifically prevented any Chinese person from being able to naturalize as an American citizen, and it is widely criticized as being the most Draconian immigration law in American history. Furthermore, it introduced a new form of legislative codespeak with which to target Chinese people — as aliens ineligible for citizenship. Following the CEA of 1882, subsequent local and state laws could be pased affecting aliens ineligible for citizenship that would target the local Chinese community without ever having to refer to race or ethnicity.

Folks who are better scholars of American immigration law than I have compared SB 1070 to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, but I think the parallel is better drawn to California’s Chinese Exclusion Law of 1858. In both cases, the state oversteps its jurisdiction and attempts — and arguably succeeds — in influencing federal immigration statutes by passing Orwellian state laws that criminalize immigration into its borders. And, in both cases, we see these laws enacted during a time of fervent anti-minority anger (than against Chinese, now against Latinos) and as part of a series of state and local laws targeting specific minority groups.

The only difference here is that whereas the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1858 paved the way for the devastating Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which stayed in effect for 60 years until it was repealed in 1943 by the Magnuson Act which finally allowed people of Chinese descent to naturalize as American citizens), there is still time to interrupt the sentiments that allowed SB 1070 to pass from making it to the halls of the federal legislature.

To that end, Asian Americans cannot remain quiet about SB 1070. Our community has lived the consequences of SB 1070, and the nearly 100 years of institutionalized racism that a law like SB 1070 introduces against a minority people. This is the very month when we are supposed to remember our history — so let us do just that: we cannot allow America to forget the lessons that our history teaches.

Lost With “Lost”

Because nothing says 'castaway on a deserted island' like a strappy metallic dress and a tailored suit...

Spoiler Alert! This post is about last night’s episode of “Lost”. If you haven’t seen it, you live under a very big rock with no electricity. If you plan on not being a pop culture dweeb and actually catching this episode before you catch a bad case of spoiler, do not read on.

You have been warned.

Has “Lost” jumped the shark?

Okay, perhaps this is an over-reaction from a devoted fan who has followed the show from the beginning, but last night’s episode may have finally convinced me that Lost has lost all appeal.

For those of you who need a refresher of what happened last night (or, I guess, for those of you who just would rather read a spoiler than watch the show), three of the main characters of Lostwere offed last night: Sayid, Sun and Jin.

That’s right, three.

That’s 75% of the Asian American actors on Lost who just found themselves written out of the main storyline. And all of them were killed in a single episode. Ken Leung has got to be downing multiple shots of tequila for making it out of Lost‘s little Asian American massacre last night.

Now, obviously, I’m upset primarily because Sun and Jin were, by far, my favourite characters on the show. I rooted for Sun and Jin through three seasons of emotional turbulence, when these two star-crossed lovers were separated by geography, time, and the apparently sadistic nature of the show’s writers.

But last week, we were treated to a touching (if somewhat melodramatic) reunion between Sun and Jin. Finding one another moments before being captured by Charles Whidmore, Sun and Jin hugged, kissed, cried, and inexplicably chose to communicate with one another in stilted English. Fans of Sun and Jin were delighted — we had been tortured by the prolonged separation of these two characters, and we believed that they would get to enjoy their “togetherness” for at least an episode. Perhaps one (if not both) might even make it off the island to care for their child, Ji-Yeon.

But, no. Lost just doesn’t work like that.

Having been reunited for only about twenty minutes of on-screen time (and about half a day or so of Losttime), Sun and Jin are brutally killed in the episode’s big reveal: Fake Locke’s smoke monster (i.e. “Locke Monster”) devised an elaborate plot to murder all six of the candidates at once by luring them into the submarine and blowing it up with some C4 set on a timer. With nowhere to run, the candidates were sure to die in the resulting explosion, leaving Locke Monster free to leave the island.

Now, Sayid’s death I actually have no problem with. His angsty “maybe I’m evil — no, wait, I’m not — err, than again, maybe I am” character arc was a wee bit annoying, so I wasn’t too sad to see him go. This wasn’t made any better by Naveen Andrews’ patented “evil intensevacant stare” that he was using to convey his character’s general badness. Furthermore, in both the main universe and in the Sideways universe, Sayid is a sociopath, which hardly makes him lovable. While I’m unconvinced that his final actions truly redeem his character as good, it was nice to see Sayid cut the puppet strings for the final few minutes of his life and try to run the bomb away from the other Losties. Sayid’s character was a statement regarding the influence of individual choice when it comes to morality; despite having taken orders all his life (and adapting his moral code to not conflict with those orders), Sayid’s final sacrifice is a conscious choice fueled by his personal moral code. To that end, Sayid’s death shows the final evolution of his character — he goes from an unquestioning torturer with emaciated personal morality to a self-sacrificing (anti-)hero who dies for something he believes in.

But Sun and Jin’s death? Now, we’re just talking bloodlust when it comes to Lost‘s writers.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lost producers said that Sun and Jin died because they felt the need to establish, without a shadow of a doubt, the evil-ness of Locke Monster. “There is no ambiguity,” says [Lost executive producer Carlton] Cuse. “He is evil and he has to be stopped.”

But, after having watched last night’s episode, that excuse seems a little thin. I was pretty convinced that Locke Monster was downright evil when we realized that he had trapped all six candidates in an underwater metal cigar tube with four bricks of C4. Whether everyone had died, or only Lapidus (talk about an underwhelming death scene, by the way — it’s only a shade better than Ilana’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it death), the insidiousness of Locke Monster’s plan was inescapable.

And so, we’re left with Sun, trapped in a sinking submarine and pinned down by debris following Sayid’s self-sacrifice. Jin tries desperately to free Sun with his bare hands (if ever a man needed a class in introductory physics — use a lever, dude) while Jack is forced to abandon the couple to save an unconscious Sawyer. Sun urges Jin to leave and save himself, Jin tells Sun that he will not leave her again, and then they drown.


I’m sure the show’s producers weren’t thinking about the image conjured by killing all three prominent Asian American actors on Lostin a single 60-minute episode. I’m sure they weren’t considering the fact that, by offing Sayid, Sun and Jin, Asian Americans lost three of only thirteen primetime TV regulars portrayed by APIA actors (that’s roughly 25%, folks) — all in one night. And, I’m sure Lost producers weren’t deliberately giving the bird to all the fans who were skeptical of Sun and Jin in the first season — when Asian American activists worried that Jin was abusive and Sun lacked any hint of a feminist backbone. And, yes, it is nice to see an Asian couple on American primetime television serve as the symbolic Romeo and Juliet.

But, still! Just ‘cuz Shakespeare killed his star-crossed lovers in a symbolic (if ultimately empty) gesture, doesn’t mean that Sun and Jin had to suffer the same fate.

I’m going to watch this Lostthing through, but what’s going to keep me tuned in without Daniel Dae Kim’s love-hate relationship with clothing?!?

Happy Asian American Heritage Month

Have you hugged an Asian, today?

The month of May is Asian American Heritage Month, a time to learn, remember and celebrate the culture and history of the Asian Pacific Islander American community. Have you hugged an Asian, today?

Lincoln Denounces Racist Attack Ad

Incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln says that her accusation that opponent Bill Halter supports outsourcing isn't racist, but that another group's making the same accusation is.

I wrote last week about a political attack ad airing in Arkansas (link contains video), criticizing senatorial hopeful Bill Halter who is running against incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln in this year’s Democratic primary. The ad, created and paid for by Americans for Job Security, picks up on one of the Lincoln campaign’s talking points and uses stereotypical caricatures of Asian Indians to accuse Bill Halter of supporting outsourcing to India.

Turns out that Lincoln’s campaign couldn’t handle the heat drawn by the ad. Over the weekend, Lincoln’s campaign joined Halter in denouncing the ad as “offensive”. Here’s the full story:

Halter, Lincoln condemn outside group’s TV ad
Associated Press – May 1, 2010 4:04 PM ET

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, are condemning an advertisement that uses Indian actors and images to raise claims that Halter outsourced jobs.

Lincoln and Halter both criticized the ad, reportedly made by a Virginia-based group called Americans for Job Security. A telephone message left at the group’s office was not immediately returned Saturday.

The ad began appearing online on Friday, and has been condemned as featuring stereotypes of Indians. Halter’s campaign said the group has purchased more than $780,000 worth of airtime in the state starting Monday.

Lincoln called the ad offensive, and Halter’s campaign said it should never air.

Lincoln has raised the outsourcing claims against Halter over a company where he once served on the board of directors. Although the company said it saved costs by opening a Bangalore office, there is no evidence that it cut American jobs to do so.

Act Now! If you think this was pretty racist, I’m sure the Halter campaign would love to hear about your disdain in the form of a $5 donation.

This Stereotype Affects You, Too

I recently agreed to blog on, a large progressive activism site, as one of their regular Race in America contributors. Here’s my first post over there:

This Stereotype Affects You, Too

We all intuitively know that stereotyping based on race is harmful. But surprisingly, there are comparatively few studies that examine how stereotyping occurs — and what is indirect effects might look like.

A new study, though, suggests that stereotyping is a psychological process that actually promotes a broader “stereotyping” attitude that affects all minority communities, not just the ones being actively stereotyped. In other words, my stereotype is your stereotype, too.

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