Commentary: California's shameful history with Chinese immigrants

We didn't know. We weren't part of it.

That's what many newcomers and younger Californians can justly say about the century-long exclusion of the Chinese from legal immigration, citizenship and ownership of property.

They had no part in making citizenship illegal for Chinese laborers who mined the Mother Lode, worked farms and built the transcontinental railroad and levees – a situation that changed only in 1943. And many can honestly say that they didn't know that non-citizen Asians have been able to own property in California only since 1952.

They can reasonably say that they were not involved in the local ordinances and burnings that drove the Chinese from Sacramento and towns in the Sierra foothills, the Sacramento Valley and the Delta in the 1880s.

So why not just let that history go, move on?

This is a live question today because California legislators have passed a bipartisan resolution to "express regret for past discriminatory laws and constitutional provisions."

This isn't mere symbolism. The debate itself has been valuable. The reality is that California and the nation today face heated discussions about immigration — and can learn from Chinese immigrant experience. We need to understand it, confront it and not fall into the same traps that ensnared earlier generations of Californians.

For a century, California went out of its way to enshrine anti-Chinese sentiment in law. Even The Bee promoted that disgraceful agenda.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.