Transcript: Remarks by Rep. Mike Honda on H.R. 683 expressing regret for Chinese exclusion laws

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of House floor remarks by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) on H.R. 683 “Expressing the regret of the House of Representatives for the passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act” on June 18, 2012:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 683, the resolution expressing the regret of the House of Representatives for the passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“A century and a half ago, the Chinese were used as cheap labor to do the most dangerous work: laying the tracks of our transcontinental railway and building the California Delta levees. They strengthened our nation’s infrastructure only to be persecuted when their labor was seen as competition and when the dirtiest work was done.

“In 1848, when gold fever spread across the Pacific Ocean, many thousands of young Chinese came in boats to Gold Mountain to California. In 1861 to 1865, there was a civil war in this country there were over 50 Chinese-Americans who battled each other in this civil war and that went unnoticed.

“In 1863, construction of the transcontinental railroad commenced. With the discovery of silver in Nevada in 1865, many of the white workers left the railroads to search for silver.

“To fill the labor shortage, Charles Crocker, one of the big four investors of railroad and the man responsible for constructing the western portion of the railroad, began hiring Chinese immigrants. Crocker’s famous justification was, ‘They built the Great Wall of China, didn’t they?’

“For the promise of $25 to $30 a month, the new workers endured long hours and harsh winters in the Sierra Nevada mountains. While working in the Sierra’s, Chinese workers were hung in baskets over cliffs 2,000 feet above raging rivers to blast into the impenetrable granite mountains to make way for laying the tracks. Once they bore holes and stuffed them with dynamites, they had to be pulled back up before the fuse exploded, endangering the lives of everyone on both ends of the rope. And sometimes these poor souls in the basket were not drawn up safely because there was no faith in the timing of the fuse. Hence the origin of the phrase, ‘You ain’t got a Chinaman’s chance.’

“By 1867, 90% of the workers were Chinese. And by 1869, over 11,000 workers were Chinese. On the National Historic Site of the Golden Spike at Promontory, Utah, where on May 10, 1869 the final spike was driven, sits a plaque commemorating the attainment and achievement of the great political objective of binding together by iron bonds the extremities of the continental United States by rail link from ocean to ocean.

“However, neither in Thomas Hill’s famous painting nor the historical photos of the last spike are the face of the 11,000 Chinese workers visible. One wonders where were these 11,000 workers? Perhaps they were given the day off on that day.

“Though absent in these visual historical depictions, the Chinese left an undeniable and indelible mark in the history of California and in the largest story of binding this country ocean to ocean.

“Upon the railroad completion, the Chinese settled in the California Delta to help with the levee construction, thus advancing California’s agricultural development.

“The passage of anti-Chinese law illustrates the xenophobic hysteria of this country’s shameful chapter of exclusion. We cannot vilify entire groups of people – we learned that – because it is politically or economically expedient. The great thing about humanity is that we have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes.

“In closing, Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that this resolution is on the floor today. Acknowledging and addressing these injustices throughout our nation’s history not only strengthens civil rights and civil justices but doing so brings us closer to a more educated nation and a more perfect union.

“Thank you.”


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