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Acknowledging Chinese American History: Seattle’s Connections to Senate Resolution 201

October 12, 2011


Chinatown’s Beautiful Pagoda by Dryad & Sprite Photography from our Flickr pool

In a city like Seattle with a vibrant Chinatown/International District neighborhood, it may be easy for some to forget (or remain unaware of) the historical wrongs which affected its population. The U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval of Resolution 201 yesterday, which apologizes for anti-Chinese discriminatory laws—most notably the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—may change that. Though a Massachusetts senator sponsored the resolution (along with Washington’s own Senator Patty Murray), it’s important to remember that anti-Chinese laws had a direct impact on immigrants living in Seattle, as well as Tacoma, Olympia, and Bellingham and other parts of the Northwest.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (and its subsequent extensions over six decades) shaped the population of Seattle’s Chinatown, limiting all immigration from China and denying all Chinese already living here the right to naturalized U.S. citizenship. Efforts to expel Chinese laborers were “successful” in Tacoma and Bellingham, leading to national notoriety of (ahem) “the Tacoma method.” Officials from these cities have apologized and used various forms of reconciliation, paving the way for national recognition of the impact of Chinese immigration laws. These laws were not repealed until 1943, and no official government apologies have appeared at the federal level until now.

Members of the Chinese Expulsion Remembrance Project have worked together across four Western Washington cities (Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Bellingham) in order to make sure that we do not forget. Here in Seattle we can also look to McGraw Square Plaza that honors Washington’s second governor as a defender of Seattle’s Chinese American community. Information about Washington’s Chinese American history is available at the Wing Luke Museum and the Washington Historical Society (here as a downloadable 3-page pdf). And more broadly, Jean Pfaelzer’s book Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans also provides a good overview of expulsion and reparation efforts on the West Coast.

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