California Apologizes to Chinese Americans

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What's in an apology? Some expressions of remorse are commonplace — we hear them on the playground when kids smack each other on the head, or they land in your inbox after a friend forgets your birthday. It's the grand-scale apologies, it seems, that are harder to come by.

On July 17, the California legislature quietly approved a landmark bill to apologize to the state's Chinese-American community for racist laws enacted as far back as the mid–19th century Gold Rush, which attracted about 25,000 Chinese from 1849 to 1852. The laws, some of which were not repealed until the 1940s, barred Chinese from owning land or property, marrying whites, working in the public sector and testifying against whites in court. The new bill also recognizes the contributions Chinese immigrants have made to the state, particularly their work on the Transcontinental Railroad. (Check out a story about the Asian-American experience in late–20th century California.)

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    Michael Barton - 7/22/2009

    How can legislators authentically apologize for something they didn't do? Were the descendants of the Chinese victims asking for an apology? Might those descendants be asked to express gratitude that their ancestors were able to migrate to the US in the first place? What historic event will the legislature apologize for next? The San Francisco earthquake? The San Andreas Fault? Spare us the faux morality.