By Rev. Norman Fong

October 30, 2017

In 1978, I got married in Hong Kong! We were so happy and I was so excited to bring her to San Francisco Chinatown. My wife is a bit shy, so I can’t post our wedding picture, but she’s so beautiful! We had some difficulty with the US Consulate in Hong Kong because I was just a seminary student back then and only made $300 a month. During the interview, I was told that there was some immigration rule that I had to prove I could afford to support my new wife. I said: “What?” It was called the “public charge” requirement meaning that any new immigrants could not use public welfare. I was very upset and had to get letters from congressional reps. Also, since I was going to move back to work at Cameron House, I needed a letter of sponsorship. I couldn’t believe that could be enforced on me as a US Citizen.

A few months later, my wife did join me and we reunited at the airport. I didn’t have a car yet but my friend drove us around and we went to see my mom who was working in Chinatown. Later that evening, I decided to take her to a movie at the North Point Theater… There was a long line and so I said: “It must be a good movie!” We joined the line, not knowing what the movie was about… As we got closer to the movie poster – we saw a big Egg with the word ALIEN on it. She asked me “What’s ALIEN Mean?” Now, before you laugh at me and think I’m really stupid, remember, we just went through immigration stuff, so I responded: “Well, you’re an ALIEN” (as in resident alien).

After about half an hour into the movie, a monster popped out of someone’s stomach… and immediately, my wife punched me on the arm and said: “I’m an Alien?!”

In many ways, back then in 1979, ALIENs were becoming seen as “monsters” to many Americans. At that time, luckily, I was working at Cameron House leading a new summer school program for new immigrant youth called B.A.P. (the bilingual afterschool program). I got to teach E.S.L. youth to be PROUD of our history as Chinese Americans who were a part of San Francisco since its beginnings! We sang “This land is your land, this land is my land” every week! “My dad came in 1919 as a farm worker. Did you know that the Chinese built up much of California’s agricultural fields? Not just the railroad…”

In the following years, there were many hearings on immigration as more Congressional leaders tried to stop even “legal immigration”. I remember flying out to Washington DC a few times to try to protect immigration (because the Chinese were excluded from 1882 to effectively 1965).

I remember all the Chinatown leaders fighting to save the “Brothers & Sister’s category” which some congressional leaders said America is just for the nuclear family – not brothers & sisters. I got to fly to Washington DC with Anni Chung, Yvonne Lee, Asian Law Caucus, Professor Bill Hing etc. to lobby for the preservation of immigration… Mabel Teng was co-president of the Committee to save the 5th preference… The Chinese Benevolent Association & Tommy Ng threw a big luncheon to raise the money for our trip. I loved our community’s unity!

Recently, I flew out to Washington DC again to join a few hundred Asian Pacific American leaders from across the country and almost every Chinatown was represented. We protested once again to preserve immigration (there’s a bill to cut legal immigration in half) and of course to protest the Muslim ban, the Mexican Wall and to help save the “Dreamers” from being deported. The Trump administration is stirring up the old “Aliens as monsters” motif again. We should be proud of America as a “Nation of Immigrants” as John F. Kennedy wrote.

Washington DC Protest with Congresswoman Judy Chu & Congressman Ted Lieu

Current exhibit at the Chinese Historical Society

Make sure you come to the Chinese Historical Society in San Francisco to see the Chinese Exclusion Act History.

The waves of immigrant exclusion have returned in force, but we have a long history of resistance and communities joining hands in defending the rights of immigrants. We are standing on the shoulders of people who have courageously fought for justice! Together, we shall overcome the current chaotic situations!

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on October 29, 2017

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