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Making time to celebrate the Chinese community’s place in state history


Making time to celebrate the Chinese community’s place in state history

May 09, 2023 | 7:18 pm ET
By Jerry Cornfield
Making time to celebrate the Chinese community’s place in state history
Sen. Keith Wagoner, left, and his wife, Wen, greet Gov. Jay Inslee before he signs a bill designating January as Chinese American/Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. (Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)

A new law enacted Tuesday aims to educate students about the culture, contributions and struggles of the state’s Chinese community.

The bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee designates January as Chinese American/Americans of Chinese Descent History Month and encourages public schools to set aside time to delve into their lives, history and achievements since the founding of the state.

Inslee said it will mean “celebrating influential figures such as Bruce Lee and former Governor Gary Locke while also reflecting on the somber history of mistreatment and abuse that Chinese Americans endured here.”

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5000, called it “a great day, the culmination of years of trying to do this bill to recognize people who deserve recognition.” Four years to be precise.

A former senator, Hans Zeiger, made the first attempt to establish Chinese American History Month in 2020.

Wagoner, whose wife is Chinese American, picked up the baton and introduced a similar bill the past three sessions. This year’s version was two paragraphs long. It sought to change the title to Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.

His reasoning was tied to the surge in violence against Asian Americans in recent years across the nation. He felt it important to make clear those attacked were Americans.

House Democrats blocked the bill each of the past three years.

Their reasons were complicated. Some Asian American members of the Democratic caucus thought the tribute  should be held during a different month.

Others disliked the public bashing dished out by a group pushing the bill, Washington Asians for Equality, which angered folks with paid billboards last year blasting House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, for not holding a vote on the measure.

This past session, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, whose district includes Chinatown-International District, had a bill to designate January as Chinese American History Month. In a compromise, both Chinese American and Americans of Chinese Descent wound up in the title. Santos voted against the bill as did Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, who is Korean-American.

“It’s a very emotional moment. We didn’t think it would take so long,” Linda Yang, executive director of Washington Asians for Equality, said following the bill signing. “Today is a good day.”

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She said there’s some money in the budget for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop curriculum materials for school districts. Ultimately, it will take a greater investment, she said.

“Our goal is to really have Americans of Chinese Descent curriculum available to students in all K-12 schools,” she said.

Washington will be the only state with a month-long recognition of its Chinese community, Wagoner said.

“Others may have a day or a week but nobody has a month,” he boasted.