ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDERS Part of the sad reality for minorities and many immigrants—among them Asian and Pacific Islanders—to the United States is racial discrimination and prejudice. Racially restrictive laws have ranged from those that affect all non-white populations, including Asian and Pacific groups, to those that target specific Asian groups. Prior to the 1950s, Asian immigrants were denied the right to become naturalized citizens—a right granted to all other immigrants to the United States. Laws in many states forbade marriages between non-whites (including Asians) and whites, although social pressures were probably the major impediment to interracial marriages. The Chinese Exclusion Law of l882, which remained in effect until 1943, barred additional Chinese laborers from entering the United States and prevented Chinese aliens from obtaining American citizenship. A 1909 law denied citizenship to 50,000 persons from Arabia because they were considered Asians. Japanese laborers were brought to the United States in lieu of Chinese laborers until 1907, when the Gentlemen's Agreement with Japan curtailed Japanese immigration temporarily; and the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, known as the "Japanese Exclusion Act," banned immigration of Japanese laborers. Perhaps the most tragic instance of racial discrimination was Executive Order 9066 of 1942, which forced Japanese immigrants, including two-thirds who were American citizens mainly from the west coast, into internment camps under the guise of military necessity. This experience cannot be described without noting the heroic efforts of many religious, such as the Maryknoll fathers, brothers, and sisters, who accompanied the Japanese internees to the camps and stayed with them. Without such loving ministry, many Japanese American Catholics might have felt abandoned and left their Catholic faith.
While legal provisions have changed, discriminatory actions by individuals and groups sadly perdure. Throughout history, Asians in the United States, native-born and immigrant, have been characterized as "permanent aliens," a race of foreigners given externally imposed labels and racial identities and only referred to in passing or even omitted altogether in classic immigration history. Asian and Pacific contributions in building the nation have been mostly unrecognized and ignored. The recent episodes of racial attacks against Asian persons and businesses in Los Angeles and Detroit are tragic reminders of the ongoing need for conversion against any form of racial discrimination.
Some Asian immigrant groups are still relegated to jobs that pay low wages, require them to work long hours, and provide substandard working conditions and unfair labor practices. To escape from such exploitative conditions, some Asian entrepreneurs resort to establishing small businesses in their own communities, sometimes with the help of affirmative action programs, through which Asian and Pacific Americans also have obtained college and advanced degrees.
To face the pastoral challenges of ministering to and with Asian and Pacific communities, steps have been taken by the Church at the national, diocesan, and parish levels. The following is a brief chronology of significant measures.
1975: Resettlement of refugees from Southeast Asia becomes a priority of the U.S. bishops' department of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS). The work of refugee resettlement continues in more than one hundred dioceses to this day.
1982: To establish a fraternal channel of communication and collaboration, bishops of the United States send delegates to the meetings of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences—a practice that continues today.
1989: The bishops' Committee on Migration and the national MRS office convene diocesan directors and leaders to discuss the pastoral care needs and opportunities for the Asian and Pacific communities in the United States.
1990: The first national consultation with the Asian communities is called by the National Catholic Educational Association. Involvement in this awareness-raising on the part of the MRS Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (MRS/PCMR) led to the hiring of more Asian and Pacific persons as diocesan and national MRS staff.
1994: The first national gathering of Asian and Pacific Catholic leaders in Menlo Park, Archdiocese of San Francisco, is convened by MRS/PCMR.
1994: A network of diocesan directors involved in Asian and Pacific ministry is established.
l997: A National Task Force is convened by the Committee on Migration to study contributions, issues, concerns, and common trends in the Asian and Pacific communities.
1997: The Committee on Migration organizes a symposium on the Church in China, which is attended by sixteen bishops from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) (now called the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB]).
1999: The Second Asian Pastoral Experience Program to the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan/Thailand is conducted.
1999: A Convocation on Asian and Pacific Concerns is organized by the University of Notre Dame Institute of Church Life. Three bishops participate.
1999: Five bishops led by the president of the NCCB visit Vietnam.
2000: Many Asian and Pacific leaders actively participate in diocesan jubilee celebrations and the national gathering Encuentro 2000, which was held in Los Angeles.
In many dioceses, offices or ministries focus on pastoral care for Asian and Pacific communities as well as support apostolates for particular ethnic groups. Some dioceses have begun annual Asian and Pacific gatherings that strengthen the unity of all the communities and celebrate their traditions and cultures. In addition, a few seminaries have conducted workshops on the Asian presence and spirituality.
Some bishops have established Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese parishes or missions. Pastoral centers for small ethnic communities, such as the Cambodian, Hmong, Khmhu, Laotian, Samoan, and Tongan communities, have been organized in several dioceses, and multiple pastoral centers in different parts of the country provide ministry to the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese Catholics. These centers not only offer catechesis, Bible studies, prayer services, and linguistically appropriate religious education materials, but also provide a place for members of these communities to experience their own language and culture and to affirm their own cultural and ethnic roots. Special tribute must be given to priests, religious, and lay leaders from the United States who have worked hard to learn Asian languages and cultures in order to become more effective ministers.