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Commentary: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Posted 6/3/2010   Updated 6/3/2010 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Capt. Cormick Wong
753rd Electronic Systems Group

6/3/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Born in Hong Kong, China, I first came to the United States when my family immigrated to California in 1990. Right after high school, I enlisted in the Air Force in order to serve this great country. But my path would not be possible if not for the millions of Chinese Americans who came before me and paved the way for generations that followed.

The first documentation of the Chinese in the U.S. can be traced back to the 18th century. At that time, most were men who were merchants, students, or former sailors seeking jobs in the U.S. Large scale immigration did not begin until the California gold rush, when thousands of Chinese, mostly from the Guangdong province in China, flooded the West Coast in search of fortune.

After the gold rush of the 1860s, the majority of these Chinese Americans found work in the railroad industry and made significant contributions to the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The railroad network connected the Eastern United States with California on the West Coast and provided the country with a modern and efficient form of transportation that revolutionized the social fabric and economy of the country. Later, Chinese Americans were also vital in building the expansion of the railway network further into the American West.

During World War II, Chinese nationals were allowed to become naturalized citizens as the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 was signed into law. This marked the first time since the Naturalization Act of 1790 that any residents of Asian descent were permitted to be naturalized as U.S. citizens. Since then, separate Chinese immigration quotas have been maintained for Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and have resulted in the steady stream of immigrants from those respective areas. Today, there are over 3.5 million people of Chinese origin living in the United States.

The first Chinese Americans experienced a great deal of personal hardship and established their way of life at great personal sacrifice. But their perseverance and hard work definitely broadened the opportunities for the generations of Chinese and Asian Americans that came after them. If not for them, I would not have the honor in serving in this great Air Force.

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