OLYMPIA — This January, in public schools across Washington, students may spend time learning of the contributions of Chinese-Americans in this state’s history.
And achievements of Americans of Chinese descent as well.
A bill headed to the governor for signing would designate January as Chinese American/Americans of Chinese Descent History Month and encourage acknowledging of the state’s complicated history with the Chinese community.
The mission “is to provide our schools the tools, our students the education and our citizens the long overdue recognition they deserve,” said Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5000.
It’s been an unexpectedly difficult journey for the legislation.
Wagoner introduced a bill the past three sessions. This year’s version was two paragraphs long. It sought to make it Americans of Chinese Descent History Month.
His reasoning is tied to the surge in violence against Asian-Americans a couple years ago. He felt it important to make clear those attacked were Americans.
House Democrats blocked the bill each year. This year, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, had a bill to designated January as Chinese-American History Month. In a compromise passed by the House, both are in the title.
The Senate concurred with the change last week.
“This is an important day for me. I feel like it is a great victory although the bill comes back from the House with language that I think is complicated and unnecessary,” he said ahead of the vote. Then, adding with a smile, “I thought the bill we sent over was perfect.”
He dished out many thanks, including to Washington Asians for Equality, whose members actively and vocally lobbied for the bill every year.
“It is long overdue,” said Linda Yang, the executive director. “We are thankful to everyone who supports this bill, from legislators to people who signed our petition, to students who worked on multiple projects on the history of Americans of Chinese descent. We especially want to thank Senator Wagoner for his persistence in seeing this bill passed.”
While not going into detail, she noted what’s been learned in the three-year effort to get the bill across the finish line is “appalling.”
It was no secret some House Democrats didn’t want the bill to pass because of the group’s politics and tactics. The group led the effort to turn back an affirmative action initiative sought by Democrats. And on this bill, the group ticked off some folks when they paid for a billboard targeting House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.
Wagoner said in his floor speech he took some “slings and arrows along the way. I learned I was considered by some — not in this body — not an appropriate sponsor because of the color of my skin. That was deeply disappointing to me.”
But, he concluded, “This body has supported me and the people that we’re trying to help here 100 percent all the way.”
Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, praised Wagoner’s leadership and voiced support for the final language.
“The compromise … I think it represents the importance of recognizing when individuals wish to be called by a certain name or pronoun we do that. It’s not difficult to do that and in fact it’s the respectful thing to do.”
If signed, the bill will take effect in July.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;
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