Thoughts on “Forbidden Citizens”

Published in Chinese in “Pivot” Magazine:

The United States has a history of over 200 years based on the nation-building principles of freedom, democracy, and equality.  However, for a long period of time, it legislated continuously to forbid the Chinese from entry, remove the political rights of the Chinese who had already entered, and actively exclude all Chinese.  Few understand this shameful legislative history, including current legislators in Congress.

Martin Gold, nicknamed Lao Ma or Old Horse in Chinese, used his more than 40 years of rich legal experience to write a thorough 600-page book, Forbidden Citizens (, about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and related laws, filling a huge void in history.  It also has strong educational implications.

This is a very good book.  It describes vividly and in great detail the debate of then-current conditions and fundamental principles, placing you as if in the middle of the situation.  As early as 1868, the U.S. and China signed the Burlingame Treaty to establish friendly relations.  Peoples of either nation could travel freely at any time, even reside permanently.  China received a commitment that in the U.S. Chinese people would be granted the rights and privileges accorded to citizens from the most favored nation. This was a rare equal treaty for China at that time.  However, such a good scene did not endure; change began to occur less than two years after the signing of the treaty.  The Old Horse who knows his way, Lao Ma, started his book from 1870 Congressional debates that led to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.  Finally, in 1943, more than 10 Chinese Exclusion statutes were repealed.  The book systematically and concisely describes the main characters involved, their motivations, and their inter-connections.

When you read the words of racial hatred from some legislators, you grind your teeth and want to join the debate.  When you read how a lonely legislator tried to defend justice and fairness, you wish you could move forward and give him a lift.  When you read the dire warnings of some legislators from more than a hundred years ago, you realize how applicable they are today.

During the more than 60 years of Chinese Exclusion laws, U.S. population increased 2.5 times from less than 50 million in 1880 to more than 132 million in 1940.  During the same period, Chinese in America dropped 25% from more than 105,000 to less than 78,000.

Lao Ma’s grandfather came from Tsarist Russia to the U.S. in 1908 during the peak period of immigration.  He and his grandfather had always been close.  He understands his grandfather’s passion for America’s freedom and equality, but also realizes the distinction had his grandfather been Chinese instead of European.  Lao Ma’s words and actions are in synchrony.  He joined the 1882 Project led by Asian American community organizations and Congresswoman Judy Chu, providing pro bono legal advice and service.  Together they successfully pursued the passage of Senate and House resolutions in 2011 and 2012 to express regret towards all Chinese Exclusion laws and their legislation, adding a huge exclamation mark to the bitter history of Chinese Americans.  The legal costs exceeded one million dollars, but Lao Ma insists that his action was “labor of love” and did not receive a cent for his services.  This book is the crystalized product of his “labor of love.”

The U.S. Constitution requires that Congress must keep and publish a journal of its proceedings except for security matters.  With information digitization, all Congressional records since the founding of the Republic may now be viewed and researched at the Library of Congress website and other websites.  Video records were added in recent years.  Lao Ma was able to make use of these resources and the nation’s transparency policies to write his book.  Effective use of “Big Data” to improve transparency and governance is an exemplary practice for other nations.

It is obvious that a monolithic government cannot create freedom, democracy, and equality for a diverse population.  Congress has already expressed apologies to the Native Americans, African Americans, Hawaiians, and Japanese Americans for its legislation and behavior in the past.  The U.S. government itself will not take initiative to review its mistakes in the past.  The success of the recent Chinese American initiative was a combination of the leadership of Congresswoman Judy Chu and fellow politicians, unified planning and actions by Asian American community organizations, and the help and support of true friends such as Lao Ma.

In the long run, we must educate, especially the younger generations, to remember and review the lessons of history in order to understand current affairs.  Lao Ma’s book and the web-based timeline application are applicable educational tools for both the U.S. and China.

The U.S. is not a perfect nation, but it learns and makes corrections from its past mistakes.  As such, it is an ever improving nation towards freedom, democracy, and equality.
NOTE: This reviewer used a combination of 37 small stories to compose a web-based timeline application about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and related laws ( to assist you to browse through some of the contents in Chinese before acquiring Lao Ma’s book in English.

This blog in Chinese at
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Obama 78.0%, Romney 21.8%

There are less than 40 days left till the election of the next president of the United States.

According to the 2010 decennial census, Asian Americans represent about 5 percent of the U.S. population.  They have been the fastest growing racial group in the nation, increasing by 43 percent from 10.2 million in 2000 to 14.7 million in 2010.  They are expected to vote in record numbers this year.

Asian Americans are present in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, ranging from a low of 0.6 percent in the state of Montana to a high of 38.6 percent in the state of Hawaii.   Their recent voting patterns showed a strong trend: where Asian Americans are present in relatively high percentage in a state, the state tends to vote for the Democratic candidate, and vice versa.  The figure above confirms this pattern.
Based on the most recent CNN electoral map, among 19 states whose Asian American population is at least 2.9% of its state population, 14 are solidly for or leaning towards Obama, accounting for 189 electoral votes.  Among the 18 states with no more than 1.6% Asian Americans in its population, 15 are solidly for or leaning towards Romney, accounting for 99 electoral votes.  Although the number of states is about the same for each candidate, Obama enjoys an advantage in electoral vote count because Asian Americans tend to live in urban areas of states that are large in population. 
Seven of the 9 “toss-up” states are in the middle range where Asian Americans make up between 1.7% and 2.8% of the state population.  
Based on this observed relationship, Biao Yang, a graduate student in statistics at George Washington University, constructed a multinomial logistic regression model to first predict the chance of a candidate winning the electoral votes of each of the 9 “toss-up” states and then applied the estimated probabilities to run 100,000 computer simulations on who will win the ultimate electoral vote count.
The result: Obama’s chance of winning the November 6 election is estimated to be 78.03%, and Romney 21.84%.  The probabilities do not add up to one because a tie of 269-269 may occur with 0.13% probability.   Biao’s predicted electoral vote count is 284-254 in favor of Obama.
We will find out how good these predictions are on November 7.
Asian Americans can have an important influence on the outcome of the November 6 presidential election.  However, regardless of their preference for political party or candidate, they have to register and vote to make a real difference.

Counting Flush Toilets to Advance Democracy

About 3 million households are randomly selected and asked question 8b in the American Community Survey (ACS) every year:
“Does this house, apartment, or mobile home have a flush toilet?”
The Census Bureau collects the survey data and reports the statistical summaries.  However, a few Congressmen recently cited this question as an example of how ACS invades our privacy and violates our constitutional rights.  The House of Representatives passed a bill last week to eliminate funding for the ACS although the Census Bureau cannot publish my or your personal response to the question until 72 years later.  Strong laws are already present to protect our personal privacy.
Questions about flush toilets first appeared in the 1940 census.  There were originally 5 choices about the availability of shared or private use of indoor flush toilets, indoor non-flush toilets, outdoor toilets, or no toilet at all. Progress over time reduced them to today’s one question.
Will we miss the flush toilet and ACS data?  You bet.
Plumbing data are still essential components for the development of public assistance for housing and fair market values; public health officials use the data as an indicator of areas in danger of ground water contamination and waterborne diseases. One of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to reduce by half the proportion of the world’s population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation including flush toilets by 2015.  We have made tremendous progress in the last 72 years, but much of the rest of the world is not as fortunate as we are in using flush toilets.
For those of us who have experienced squatting on a plank above an 8-foot hole to provide biological relief, a flush toilet is an important part of the life, liberty and happiness that we have been pursuing.
Eliminating the ACS “would cause massive disruptions in the federal government,” according to Andrew Reamer, a research professor at the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy.  The Washington Post describes the House action “among the most shortsighted measures we have seen in this Congress.”  In terms of cost savings, “eliminating the ACS is like declining to buy stethoscopes in order to reduce health-care expenses.”  The New York Times calls it “know-nothingness at a new level.”
Availability of flush toilets is only one of the important indicators derived from the ACS.  In addition to helping to determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in public funds are distributed each year, ACS provides vital socio-economic indicators that collectively describe the current state of the American people and society and measure progress by comparing with past results including demographics, education, disabilities, employment and family – who we are and where we have been as a people.
Among the questions asked in the first U.S. census in 1790 were the number of slaves and all other free persons in a household.  These questions are no longer asked because we have outgrown their relevance.  One day the question on flush toilets will also become obsolete; it will be replaced by other questions as we continue to evolve and grow as a democratic nation.
Making wise use of data and continuing to inform the citizenry promote good governance and have enhanced the American democratic process for more than two centuries.  Eliminating rigorous, scientific collection of national data of economic, social, and demographic significance such as the ACS can only degrade the public’s understanding of complex, dynamic trends in our society.   Without such reliable data, the formulation of public policy would then be based on speculation, conjecture and ignorance which is not in our nation’s best interest.