Senate panel advances Wagoner bill to recognize history, contributions of Americans of Chinese descent

Click here to watch the full hearing on SB 5000.

Today the Senate State Government and Elections Committee voted unanimously to advance Sen. Keith Wagoner’s measure designating January as Americans of Chinese Descent Month.

“Recognizing the history and contributions of Americans of Chinese descent has been and will continue to be very important to me,” said Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, who has been working on the issue since 2020.

“While I am sponsoring this measure, this bill is not my bill; it was brought to me by the Chinese-American community.

“It is a natural fit for our state. We should be leading the nation on this because we are deeply connected to Chinese-Americans through our history on the West Coast, in the Pacific Northwest, and specifically in Washington state. Some of that history is dark and disappointing – we need to acknowledge that – but a lot of that history is optimistic and hopeful.”

Wagoner pointed to the Tacoma Expulsion and the federal Chinese Exclusion Act as tragedies, but also noted that the state has also had some great accomplishments, highlighting that the nation’s first Chinese-American governor, Gary Locke, was elected in Washington. He also told the committee that the Magnuson Act, which was proposed by then-U.S. Rep. (later Sen.) Warren G. Magnuson of Washington, was the first substantial attempt to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act and repair some of the damage it caused.

Senate Bill 5000, the first measure introduced in the Senate for the 2023 legislative session, would designate January of each year Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. The bill would also encourage public schools to designate time for appropriate activities in commemoration of the state’s complicated history with the Chinese community – the good and the bad – and to remember and honor the many contributions and achievements made by the Chinese-American community.

The measure is similar to Senate Bill 5264, which Wagoner introduced in 2021. That bill passed the Senate 48-0 in 2022, but the House of Representatives failed to bring it up for a vote.

Emily Shi testifying on SB 5000.

Several members of the Chinese-American community voiced strong support for this year’s version of the bill.

Testifying before the State Government and Elections Committee earlier this week, Emily Shi, a Chinese-American student in the Lake Washington School District, spoke in support of the bill, but questioned why the bill had not also been supported in the House.

“I’ve testified twice for having Americans of Chinese Descent History Month. It is a great bill and I do not understand why it has been delayed for three years,” said Shi. “The delay of the bill is unacceptable.

“Chinese-Americans have made many important contributions to the U.S., but were often mistreated. …We deserve a month-long period of recognition that does not overlap with other Asian history months. January is a fitting month because it is an important month to the Chinese.”

Kan Qiu of Bellevue testified there is broad support for designating January as a month of recognition for Chinese-Americans. “People from all walks of life wholeheartedly embrace [the proposal], from fifth-generation Americans to recently-arrived new immigrants across the state,” he told the committee. “In the [Seattle] Chinatown International District, more than 1,000 people living, working and doing business there signed our petition asking for January to be established as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.”

Linda Yang with Washington Asians for Equality testifying on SB 5000.

Linda Yang, with Washington Asians for Equality, urged lawmakers to support the bill, and shared the significance of January to the Chinese-American community.

“The designated month must be meaningful to the Chinese-Americans, so the community will embrace it every year; no other month fits better than January,” said Yang. “In the Chinese culture, the celebration of Chinese New Year lasts almost a month, and the preparation always starts in January.”

Also testifying in support of the bill were Dr. John Parker, Superintendent at Central Valley School District; several Chinese-American students from across the state; and other concerned citizens. Eighty-four people signed in as favoring the bill. No one signed in as opposed. The measure carries no cost.

Wagoner told committee members that when he first introduced the bill, it was in part a response to the violence targeted at Asian-Americans. A compilation of hate-crime data, published by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, revealed that anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339 percent in 2021 compared to the year before.

The 2020 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates there are approximately 5.5 million people of Chinese descent in the United States, an increase of 51 percent since the 2000 census. Washington is home to the seventh-largest population of Americans of Chinese descent in the United States. The 2020 ACS documented 173,693 people of Chinese descent living in Washington, an increase of almost 80,000 since the 2010 census.