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California reparations: Great-granddaughter of racism victim in Golden State says no. Here’s why


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California is debating whether or not to pay all Black residents who descend from slaves as a lot as $1.2 million every – to atone for the horrific injustices that their ancestors suffered. San Francisco has proposed a $5 million cost to every Black resident.

However – California was by no means a slave state. Nor was San Francisco ever a slave metropolis.

California does have a sordid historical past of mistreating its massive yellow inhabitants. For greater than a century after Chinese language immigrants started arriving for the Gold Rush across the 1850s, they confronted open discrimination and unabashed hatred on this state. 

LA resident holds up sign demanding reparations for slavery

Walter Foster, 80, holds up an indication because the Reparations Process Drive meets on the California Science Heart in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2022. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Occasions by way of Getty Photographs)

My paternal great-grandfather lived in Northern California as a laborer across the flip of the century. 


Below the logic of the present reparations proposals, descendants of early Chinese language immigrants to the Golden State, like myself, needs to be eligible for reparations as effectively. That we aren’t even included within the dialogue demonstrates the absurdity of the reparations motion. That reparations are mentioned severely in any respect additional reveals the perils of policymaking primarily based on racial grievance and advantage signaling. 

Upon their arrival in California, early Chinese language immigrants labored on farms and orchards, toiled in coal mines and gold mines, and operated laundries. With out them, the transcontinental railroad wouldn’t have been constructed. They have been important in creating the abalone and shrimp industries. By 1870, some 63,000 Chinese language people lived in america, 77% of them in California. 

In brief, Chinese language immigrants have been indispensable to a lot of California’s success. Regardless of that, the Golden State’s Chinese language not solely labored below slave-like circumstances, they have been compelled out of cities (in accordance with one account, within the mid-1850s, not less than 168 communities expelled their Chinese language neighbors); they weren’t allowed to personal property; their youngsters have been banned from attending public faculties; they weren’t allowed to marry White folks; and the courts denied them equal safety below the regulation.

In 1882, the Chinese language Exclusion Act turned the primary regulation limiting immigration primarily based on race or nationality. Seven years earlier than that, the Web page Act basically banned the immigration of Chinese language ladies into america. 


Throughout that period, Chinatowns in numerous California cities have been burned to the bottom in clear acts of arson. White vigilante mobs burned down Chinese language houses and attacked Chinese language folks within the streets.

California’s prohibition of Chinese language land possession was not revoked till 1952. Chinese language within the state confronted discriminatory lending practices effectively after that, prompting Betty Chu, the primary Chinese language American feminine lawyer in Southern California, to discovered East West Financial institution in Los Angeles in 1973 with the mission of serving the Chinese language group. 

Indisputably, rampant racial discrimination in opposition to Chinese language immigrants, like my great-grandfather, colours California’s historical past. 

The main points of what he did, the place he labored, and when he was listed below are hazy as a result of U.S. regulation prohibited his household in southern China from becoming a member of him and made it troublesome for him to depart and return to this nation. A number of generations of his descendants knew little about him, although I now know for sure that he was considered, within the eyes of White Californians, as not solely a second-class citizen, however a second-class human.

reparations task force meets

Jovan Lewis listens because the California Reparations Process Drive meets on the California Science Heart in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2022. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Occasions viaGetty Photographs)

Born in Communist China, I immigrated to the U.S. with my mother and father after I was 10 and grew up in Oakland. All of us dwell in California right this moment. It was my great-grandfather who labored and suffered within the Golden State. It was my great-grandfather who lived by way of the vicious discrimination and mistreatment in California. Ought to my father obtain reparations for his grandfather’s struggling? Ought to I? 

The reply is obvious: completely not.

Nobody who mistreated my great-grandfather continues to be alive. My great-grandfather is not alive. It will be immoral, on the deepest stage, to power Californians who bear no accountability in any respect for the actions of their ancestors, to pay tax {dollars} to their fellow residents whose ancestors suffered. 

In 2014, California apologized for supporting the Chinese language Exclusion Act and comparable laws, and the U.S. Congress issued an expression of remorse. 


In 2021, San Jose formally apologized to Chinese language immigrants and their descendants for the 1887 arson of its Chinatown, acknowledging the town’s position in “systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia and discrimination.” 

That very same 12 months, Antioch apologized for its mistreatment of Chinese language immigrants – who needed to construct tunnels to get dwelling from work, as they have been banned from metropolis streets after sunset.

Such apologies, and U.S. apologies for slavery and mistreatment of American Indians, are acknowledgments of previous sins coupled with a promise to not repeat them. And the spectacular successes of Chinese language Individuals throughout the nation present the perfect reminder that the racist legal guidelines and practices of the previous can not cease right this moment’s progress. 


The battle in opposition to modern-day injustices – resembling overt discrimination in opposition to Asian candidates in increased training – will proceed, however my great-grandfather little doubt would have been happy to know that his future great-granddaughter could be a graduate of an Ivy League college and Stanford Regulation College, and would lead organizations defending the American ultimate of equal alternative. 

Advocacy for reparations are in vogue right this moment – however as Individuals and as Californians, allow us to by no means power one group of individuals to repay one other group of individuals to atone for the sins of others. Allow us to not obsess over grievances of the previous however try, right this moment, to deal with one another equally, no matter race, ethnicity, colour or nation of origin.



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