story | Aaron Pang, Guest Contributor

photo | National Museum of the U.S. Navy

On Jan 27th US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned travellers from a seven predominantly Muslim countries. While Yale-NUS exists halfway across the world, the order itself held the potential to affect our students abroad and should be deeply unsettling for all of us.

Asian Americans have seen Trump’s immigration order before. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 left a severe mark on Asian American History. From the end of the Civil War to the middle of WWII (when China became a wartime ally), it barred the entry of ethnically Chinese people into the United States regardless of their country of origin. Naturalization of already present Chinese immigrants was also outlawed. Twice upheld by the Supreme Court, the act was preceded by a series of legalization that threatened Chinese immigrants with imprisonment and even deportation for the pettiest of crimes. As a result Chinese enclaves sprung up in what we now know as “Chinatown”s across metropolitan areas. Racism was codified into law and it sent out a clear message: Chinese persons are unwelcome.  

Trump’s latest executive order eerily recalls this dark period. Legal residents of the country and even dual citizens of the US will face immense scrutiny upon re-entry. Even then, the Chinese Exclusion Act did not go so far as it held provisions allowing students, teachers and tourists into the country. Trump’s ban, much like his campaign, lacks such nuance.

As an immigrant to Canada myself I was taught at an early age to assimilate. We enjoyed Chinese New Year alongside Thanksgiving, eating burnt turkey as well as burnt nien-gao. I played hockey, learnt French and sang in choir, all in an effort to fit in. My parents did all that they could to Canadianize my family, showering us with love and possibilities that we simply didn’t have elsewhere.

As someone who’s gone through the whole process of migrating elsewhere I empathize with those affected by the recent bans. Families similar to mine who turned right at the 49th parallel were told a big and abrupt “fuck you” to all their contributions. They have been taught that their positions within American society ultimately remained precarious, their very futures irrelevant even in spite of all their efforts to be accepted. The livelihoods of immigrants, many who risked their lives coming to America, now are in the tiny hands of a president more interested in pageant shows than intelligence briefings. Proper procedure and extreme vetting is more akin to a farcical game show now, where the prize is hours of detainment at the nearest airport.

Enshrined within the constitution is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all – not just Americans. How that manifests itself is up to us and President Trump. While Asians in America  today face little of what our forebears have, it is our duty to ensure the same tragedies of history are not repeated again. It took Congress 60 years to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act; I wonder how long it’ll take to finally defeat Trump’s immigration ban permanently.

Those interested in helping our refugees and immigrants across the US and elsewhere should contact either Maggie Schuman or Meredith Jett  about their Wednesday Night phone banking sessions.

The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: yncoctant@gmail.com

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