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Issues in Immigration

Issues in Immigration

February 5, 2018

By Kin Cheung

On March 26th, the 196-seat ArtsQuest Theater was filled to near capacity for an advanced screening of The Chinese Exclusion Act. The film examines the historical debates and context that led to discriminatory laws enacted against immigrants along racial and ethnic lines.

After the screening, Mary Lui, a historian interviewed in the film, Beth Lew-Williams, author of a recent monograph on the topic, and John K. Smith, a researcher of immigration and labor in the Lehigh Valley area, discussed how the legacy of racist laws haunts immigrants today. The panel was moderated by Joel Nathan Rosen, Director of Communications and Media Studies at Moravian College.

The fate of DACA recipients is still uncertain. The speakers made explicit that what is legal is not necessarily ethical. The rhetoric against “illegal” immigrants assumes a just standard for regulations. However, history shows countless examples of unfair and prejudiced systems that continually change. Chinese-Americans used the 14th amendment to win rights currently taken for granted, such as birthright citizenship. Ultimately, the film asks what it means to be American.

The free public screening was co-organized by faculty from Lehigh University (Thomas Chen), Muhlenberg College (Kammie Takahashi and Irene Chien), and Moravian College (Kin Cheung). It was sponsored by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Lehigh Valley Engaged Humanities Consortium Public Events Grant,and a range of disciplines from the three institutions: Communications and Media Studies, History, Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology, Asian Studies, Modern Languages, Global Religions, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Flyers were distributed to community members with resources to follow up on immigration, local and national.

Moravian College's Reeves Library owns a copy of the 240-minute festival cut of the film. The PBS documentary premiers on May 29th, 2018.