With the closing of A/PIA Immigration Awareness Week, we present this year’s UAAO Executive Board annual board photoshoot as an opportunity to raise awareness regarding former University of Michigan president James B. Angell’s role in the creation of the Chinese Exclusion Act, how this established precedence for longstanding anti-Asian rhetoric in the United States, and UAAO’s stance as an Asian American advocacy group on campus.
We present this year’s UAAO photoshoot: “Can you recognize Angell with all of our Colors?”
The U.S. legislation created by James B. Angell, the former University of Michigan president that we commemorate when we participate in any institutional entity named after him, such as simply walking through Angell Hall, played a foundational role in U.S. exclusion of Chinese immigrant populations. This period of Chinese exclusion paved the way for the xenophobic propaganda that has pervaded many facets of Asian American discourse.
The Angell Treaty, drafted by James B. Angell and signed by U.S. Senate on November 17th, 1880, paved the way for the Chinese Exclusion Act. In this treaty, Angell advocated to severely limit Chinese immigration to the United States, with justification that Chinese immigrants were unassimilable and threats to white racial purity. The Angell Treaty amended the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868, which had sought to expand the right to free immigration and held provisions for Chinese citizens. Instead of supporting the pre-existing effort to expand the rights of the Chinese immigrant communities working on the transcontinental railroad, the Angell Treaty was signed as U.S. law in 1881, ending free Chinese immigration into the United States. The success of the Angell Treaty became an outlet for the agendas of anti-Chinese lobbyists, culminating into the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that barred the immigration of Chinese laborers. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first U.S. immigration law to ban an entire ethnic group.
The Chinese Exclusion Act separated marriages, prevented the formation of families, and trapped Chinese laborers who intended to return to their homes in China. In this time, Asian populations had never asked to be American. The Angell Treaty of 1880 not only set precedence for Chinese American exclusion following 1882 through the demonization of this immigrant population, but also an era of pan Asian American exclusionary legislation.The Chinese Exclusion Act was later expanded into the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 that barred all Asian immigration, except for migrant labor from the Philippines, a U.S. colony at the time. The Immigration Restriction Act was not amended until 1965. Angell’s abuse of power, which furthered a xenophobic and white supremicist agenda, produced and perpetuated several harmful perceptions that affect our Asian American identity, from perpetual foreignness to the model minority myth, which our community is still left to navigate. The era of Asian American exclusion can be understood as a catalyst for Asian and American to be put together as a political identity. We reclaim political exclusion when we say Asian/ American, Asian-American, and Asian American.
To Stand in Angell is to Stand in Resistance.
UAAO looks onto the University’s historical involvement in Asian American exclusion with only revulsion. While our history books have propagated these exclusionary practices to have been acceptable in the time period, we reject such claims in consideration of the Chinese immigrant populations whose detestments to exclusion were never considered in the White centric history that we remember the Chinese Exclusion Act by. President Angell’s actions only become admissible by accepting a history of silencing Asian Americans through exclusion of our populations.
Silencing and excluding Asian Americans was not acceptable in 1880, nor will it ever be.
Any commemoration of Angell, such as naming institutional entities after him, monumentalizes Asian American exclusion. As the Asian American population has grown and diversified to occupy 15% of the undergraduate population on campus, UAAO now stands to record and reclaim that the University’s involvement in Asian American exclusion is unacceptable.
We take this stance to denounce Angell’s history of advocacy for the Chinese Exclusion Act, and we are in protest of the pervasive xenophobic rhetoric that can never be separated from any commeroration of xenophobic history. Remembering the history of Angell is a reminder to now stand up for the rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. We still have an obligation to resist the American purist ideology that is still championed in courtrooms and on campuses alike. At the University of Michigan, the histories we use to educate ourselves is our choice, and the awareness of our counterstory is our reconciliation. In local and national immigration injustices, it is still our decision to remain complicit or to Stand in Resistance.
You must recognize Angell with all of our Colors.
If you are interested in reading more about the Angell Treaty, Chinese Exclusion Act, or the origins and impacts of some Asian American stereotypes, we have linked our sources below. UAAO encourages our membership to continue to research and engage in discussion on the University’s role on Asian American exclusion.
UAAO Executive Board of 2019-2020 (pictured):
Co-Chairs: Dim Mang and Cristina Guytinco
Advocacy Chair: James Lee
Community Historians: Anna Dang and Tiffany Lee
External Relations and Programming: Sanghamithra Kalimi and Swathi Komarivelli
Internal Programming: Michelle Byun and Amina Khan
Finance Chairs: Don Hua and Jialin Zhang
Photo Series Photographer: Samuel So
Description written by: Anna Dang and James Lee, minors in A/PIA Studies