Last month, Melrose Leadership Academy’s fifth graders traveled to San Francisco’s Chinese Historical Society of America. We walked to a nearby playground in Chinatown before we visited the new permanent exhibit “Chinese Americans: Exclusion/Inclusion.”
We took a bus across the Bay Bridge from Oakland. I took some pictures. I included the photo gallery here. (The individual photos are from the gallery.)
San Francisco’s Chinatown is a popular tourist destination, but its history is often overlooked. Chinatown was almost lost after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act restricted the number of people who could become legal citizens. Americans enforced the restrictions. During the field trip, the students learned how some of the immigrants were tested at Angel Island and other sites.
The new exhibit asks, “What does it mean to be American?” This is a recurring question for our country. It seems that some people are allowed to sail across oceans and land on our shores and become Americans. Other people were brought here as slaves or traveled as immigrants and excluded from citizenship.
Americans want to believe that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, but it is not that simple.
When children are given the chance to play together freely, they learn how to enjoy each other. I don’t want to over-romanticize youth; young people can be cruel, but not as cruel as adults. Adults create cruel systems. Some people learn how to function in systems that were not designed for their success.
I decided to post on May 9th, because the abolitionist John Brown was born on this day (in 1800). Why isn’t he more popular? Andrew Jackson has become popular again (as has Alexander Hamilton). Our culture hasn’t lost it’s interest in appropriation, and yet, I haven’t seen anyone appropriate John Brown… not even white people. Is John Brown too violent or too militant? I do not have the answer, just a sinking feeling that some of us do not know what it means to resist when other people are excluded.
The 135th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act was May 6, 2017. (For more perspective, read Kat Chow’s recent article.)