Thursday, August 19, 2010

Prop. 8: A Long History or a New History?

Proponents of Proposition 8 recently asked the trial court to block same-sex marriages while they consider taking an appeal. In opposition to the request, attorneys for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger argued that allowing same-sex marriages “is consistent with California’s long history of treating all people and their relationships with equal dignity and respect.” Huh? Does California really have a long history of treating all people with equal dignity, or have the learned counsel for the Governor chosen to re-write history to justify their position?

Regarding the history of American Indians in California from 1849 to 1879, historian Hubert Howe Bancroft writes “that part of the early intercourse between aboriginal Americans and Europeans which belongs to history may be briefly given, short work was made of it in California. The savages were in the way; the miners and settlers were arrogant and impatient; there were no missionaries or others present with even the poor pretense of soul saving or civilizing. It was one of the last human hunts of civilization, and the basest and most brutal of them all.” (see www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/5views/5views1c.htm).

The gold rush era was also a time of less-than-dignified treatment for Chinese-Americans. In 1886 the United States Supreme Court held that a City of San Francisco ordinance prohibiting laundries in wooden buildings, unless a permit was obtained, was applied in a discriminatory fashion against Chinese. (Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886) 118 U.S. 356). Although most of the city’s wooden building laundries were owned by Chinese, not one of them were granted a permit whereas only one non-Chinese was denied a permit.

In 1946 the United States District Court for the Central District of California found that the Westminster school district’s segregation of Mexican-American schoolchildren into separate “Mexican schools” was unconstitutional. (Mendez v. Westminster, 64 F.Supp. 544 (C.D. Cal. 1946). The district court’s ruling was affirmed on appeal, aided in part by an amicus curiae brief by Thurgood Marshall, who later became Supreme Court Justice, and whose experience in this case contributed to the landmark holding in Brown v. Board of Education. (see Strum, Mendez v. Westminster: School Desegregation and Mexican-America Rights (2010), and Ettinger, A Leader in the Fight Against School Segregation, Daily Journal (July 8, 2010) p.6).

The war years also saw the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans, who were rounded-up and placed in internment camps. (see Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944). Inspired by a desire to prove their loyalty, many young Japanese-Americans enlisted in the armed forces, and the Japanese-American soldiers of the 442 Infantry Regiment became the most-decorated regiment in the history of the United States Armed Forces, earning 18,000 individual decorations. The 442nd and the 100th Battalion from Hawaii, another Japanese-American unit, earned a total of 21 Medals of Honor. The price these young men paid to overcome suspicion and earn equal dignity was high. The 442nd/100th sustained 9,486 wounded and over 600 killed, the highest casualty rate of any American unit during the war.

After WWII, the Cold War began. During this period one can recall the revisionist history proclaimed by Communist party leaders, a re-writing of history that was laughable. Today we have President Ahmadinejad of Iran denying that the Holocaust ever occurred. We just laughed at him, but now we have counselors wiping clean the pages of history in order to make their cause seem righteous by association with the past, a past that didn’t exist. Who’s laughing now?

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