The Chinese Exclusion Act
On May 6th, 1882—on the eve of the greatest wave of immigration in American history—President Chester A. Arthur signed into law a unique piece of federal legislation. Called the Chinese Exclusion Act, it singled out as never before a specific race and nationality for exclusion, making it illegal for Chinese workers to come to America, and for Chinese nationals already here ever to become citizens of the United States. It is a deeply American story about immigration and national identity, civil rights and human justice; about how we define who can be an American, and what being an American means. The film examines the economic, cultural, social, legal, racial and political dimensions of the law; the forces and events that gave rise to it; and the effect it had, and continues to have, on American culture and identity. The Chinese Exclusion Act explores in riveting detail this little known, yet deeply resonant and revealing episode in American history—one that sheds enormous light on key aspects of the history of American civil liberties, immigration, and culture—during one of the most formative periods of U.S. history.