Michael M. Ego Gold Medal to honor Chinese-American WW II veterans
President Donald Trump signed into law the Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act on Dec. 20, after the act had passed unanimously on Sept. 12, by the U.S. Senate (S.1050) and unanimously on Dec. 12, by the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2358).
Educating the populace about American history is an ongoing process. Asians in America is one topic that has received limited attention — in school textbooks, in classroom discussions, etc. Thus, there has arisen misinformation, stereotypes and biases about Asians in America.
One historical fact is that when in 1941 the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, 20,000 Chinese-American veterans responded to the call to serve in the United States military. Unlike the segregated Japanese-Americans (442nd Infantry Regiment) or African-American (Tuskegee Airmen and 92nd Buffalo Soldiers) service members who served in the U.S. military during the war, Chinese Americans served in every capacity within the armed forces, even when the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was still intact for much of the war. Chinese-American men and women enlisted in large numbers, demonstrating their loyalty and patriotism despite a history of discrimination.
Institutional racism and personal discrimination has not impeded Chinese-Americans from fighting in every U.S. military conflict since the Civil War. Chinese-Americans are the only U.S. minority group not previously recognized for their military service during World War II. Native Americans and Navajo Code Talkers; Tuskegee Airman; Montford Point Marines; Women Air Force Service Pilots; Japanese-Americans and Filipino veterans have all been recognized for their service during World War II with Congressional Gold Medals.
After the war, similar to the experiences of the Japanese-Americans veterans who fought in the European Theatre with distinction, Chinese-Americans continued to face racism and discrimination, where many could not find a job in their professional or vocational field because they were Asians in America. Many ended up starting a laundry business, opening Chinese food eateries, and working in several service industries due to biases they faced, in spite of the fact they had served as military personnel during World War II.
The enactment of the law stipulates for the creation of one gold medal, which would be given to the Smithsonian Institution and be available for display elsewhere, particularly in locations associated with the veterans. The Chinese-American World War II veterans commitment and sacrifice to our country demonstrated an extraordinary sense of patriotism. Many have passed away in the years since the end of World War II, with approximately 50 still living. The recognition by the U.S. Government to honor these individuals may touch directly the 35,000 persons of Chinese ancestry and their families residing in the Nutmeg state. Let us join them in saluting the World War II Chinese-American veterans.
Michael M. Ego is professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Asian and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut, Stamford.