Politics & Government

California lawmakers craft apology to Chinese Gold Rush immigrants

SACRAMENTO — It's not a pretty history.

But, two California legislators say, it's time to admit it and apologize for how Chinese immigrants were treated during and after the Gold Rush.

Assemblymen Paul Fong and Kevin de León are sponsoring a resolution that recognizes Chinese laborers for mining ore, building levees to create farmland and constructing — at great peril and for less pay than whites — 80 percent of the western half of the transcontinental railroad.

While the Chinese toiled, the assemblymen say, California's 19th-century politicians passed law after law segregating the Chinese and, when their labor was no longer in high demand, tried to drive them out.

Assembly Concurrent Resolution 42 calls for an apology for forcing the Chinese to pay higher taxes on gold than whites; barring them from holding certain jobs, owning property or testifying in trials; and segregating them and forbidding them from marrying whites or bringing family from China.

California politicians, the authors also note, were instrumental in persuading Congress to pass the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred more Chinese immigration.

"It's a shameful chapter in California legislative history," said Fong, D-Cupertino, who is of Chinese descent.

"We should recognize this as part of our history," he said, "say our regrets and move on."

Fong's great-grandfather worked in California, but when Fong's grandfather wanted to immigrate to the state in 1939, the only way he could do it was with fake papers identifying him as the Chinese-born son of a family in California that pre-dated the Exclusion Act, Fong said.

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