COMING TO PBS MAY 2018
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. Unlike any other law in American history before or since – except for subsequent measures extending it for well more than half a century – the act uniquely singled out by name a single race and nationality for special treatment: making it illegal for Chinese laborers to enter America on pain of imprisonment; for Chinese nationals to become citizens of the United States; and for Chinese immigrants already here to leave the country and re-enter it.
Repealed after 61 years in 1943, but still de facto in effect as late as 1968, this landmark piece of legislation – and the dramatic social, political and economic circumstances behind its enactment, implementation and eventual repeal – forms a remarkable lens through which to explore key aspects of American culture, society and evolving national identity – at a critical phase in U.S. history, as America grew from a fledgling republic to a global superpower.
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 will examine 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 has had, and continues to have, on American culture and identity.