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Immigration Policy Reports: Chinese-Americans Continue to Excel
from American Immigration Law Foundation

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, suspending further entry of most Chinese Immigrants to the United States and completely preventing Chinese without family already in the U.S. from entering the country. Not until 1943 was it repealed, but it took until 1964 when the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed for the last barrier to Chinese Immigration to be toppled, initiating a new era in the history of America's melting pot. Chinese-Americans have made significant gains in the 20th Century, especially in the arena of politics.

Hiram Leong Fong

On August 24 1959, Hiram Leong Fong stood at the podium of the U.S. Senate and took the oath of office. For Chinese-Americans this was a momentous occasion on the account of Senator Fong being the first Chinese- American elected to the U.S. Senate. Senator Fong's life exemplifies the American Dream.

In 1872, Senator Fong's parents left the Province of Kwangtung China to pursue their dreams in Hawaii. Senator Fong, or as he was then known, Hiram, had a humble introduction to life; his father an indentured laborer on a sugar cane plantation and his mother a maid. The couple supported their family of eleven children on their combined wages of $12 a month.

At the young age of four, Hiram was obliged to help supplement the family's income by shining shoes, selling newspapers on the street, and caddying at a local golf course. Amidst such difficultly, Hiram graduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu. He then worked his way through the University of Hawaii, managing to find enough time to be the editor of the school newspaper, as well as a member of the debate, rifle, and volleyball teams.

Hiram worked and eventually saved enough money to attend Harvard Law School. He recalls returning home in 1935, with ten cents in his pocket. Upon his return to Honolulu, he served the people of Honolulu in the city government. Later he went on to found the law firm of Fong, Miho, Choy, and Robinson - the first multiracial law firm in Hawaii. Over the next two decades Hiram proved himself a savvy businessman. His shrewd investments would lead him to financial success as a multimillionaire. Even so, when World War II broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force where he rose to the rank of major.

At the conclusion of the war, Hiram returned to politics, serving 14 years in the territorial legislature. In 1959, when Hawaii became the fiftieth U.S. State, its citizens elected him to one of the two new Senate seats. During Senator Fong's three terms, he had opportunity to tour numerous Asian countries, to encourage understanding and to promote trading relations between the United States and the emerging Pacific Rim nations. Throughout his tenure, he has promoted Hawaii as an example of a multiracial society that works for the benefit of all. Though retired from politics in 1976, Senator Fong continues to serve the public. Presently, he manages a 725-acre garden that was opened to the public in 1988. The garden is the result of 35 years of planning and planting. Senator Fong still works several hours a day in the garden along side his wife.

David Wu

On November 3, 1998, David Wu became the first person born in the Republic of China (Taiwan) to win election to the United States House of Representatives. Rep. Wu is the third Chinese-American to ever be elected to a seat in the House.

David Wu was born in Taiwan on April 8, 1955 and was raised in the northern city of Hsinchu until 1961 when he, his mother, and two sisters moved to rejoin his father, Wu Ke-chang, who was studying in Troy, NY. David went on to graduate from Stanford University in 1977 with a double major in biology and biochemistry. In the fall of the same year he began medical school at Harvard; however, he later decided that he preferred law and pursued a degree from Yale University, graduating in 1982.

In 1988, he co-founded the firm of Cohen and Wu, where he promoted mainly high tech clients and small businesses in Northwest Oregon. David prides himself on the fact that he helped to build new businesses that continue to flourish and provide high-growth jobs for people in that area. Rep. Wu has long been involved in the American political scene. He served on the Portland Planning Commission and a former chair of the Portland Democratic Campaign Committee.

Throughout his career, Rep. Wu has shown an allegiance to his morals and ideals. For instance, In July 1999, he voted in favor of legislation ending normal trade relations with China because of the country's human rights record despite that his district's most profitable corporate constituent, Nike, Inc. stood to lose greatly from such a policy change. (China supplies about 32% of Nike's footwear, making it the company's largest supplier.)

Rep. Wu's stance on the bill was centered on his personal beliefs about individual rights. "The risk is that we really loose track of who we are and what we stand for as Americans and Oregonians," he said in an interview. Although the measure was defeated, one colleague praised Wu's leadership on the bill for defying both powerful economic interests and conventional wisdom. Notwithstanding his success, the Congressman has not forgotten his past and how his family received an opportunity to come to America. Rep. Wu credits President John F. Kennedy's leadership in reforming immigration quotas in the early 1960's as the main reason why his family was able to come to the United States. Rep. Wu has rejected those who denigrate government, by saying that,"he knows first hand how public policy can change a person's life." 1


Both Senator Fong and Rep. Wu are exemplary role models for future generations of Chinese-Americans. Their service and leadership have proven beneficial to not only their immediate communities, but also the nation as a whole.

Prepared March 2001


1 The Bulletin's Frontrunner, March 26, 1998

About The Author

The American Immigration Law Foundation was established in 1987 as a tax-exempt, not-for-profit educational and service organization. The Foundation's mission is to promote understanding among the general public of immigration law and policy, through education, policy analysis, and support to litigators. AILF is governed by a Board of Directors and a Board of Trustees.

Working closely with leading immigration experts throughout the country, AILF has established three core program areas: the Legal Action Center, the Public Education Program, and an Exchange Visitor Program. Through these programs, the Foundation sponsors numerous awards programs, publishes policy reports, engages in impact litigation, and provides policymakers and the public with complete and accurate information about the benefits of immigration.

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