Assembly Speaker John Perez killed the Senate bill restoring affirmative action on Monday after howls of outrage from Asian Americans when they realized the bill imposed a quota system on how many of their children could go to public colleges and universities. Perhaps the Speaker’s next move should be to require courses in California history for all legislators before they do this again.

They might start with the year 1878 which begins a long and sordid history of “Yellow Peril“ anti-Asian policies that includes Asiatic coolieism, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Alien Land Acts, all of which were intended to repress California’s Chinese and Japanese populations.  Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, restoring affirmative action, while not as extreme, clearly fits into a long pattern of resentment at the success of Asians in California, by taking aim at the number of Asian students at our public colleges and universities.

Interestingly, it was the progressives and the working men’s political parties who pushed “Yellow Peril” hysteria in these years because Chinese and Japanese were taking jobs away from hard working white men, and it is progressives today who want to reduce Asian populations in the schools in the name of “diversity”.

In 1878, California’s new constitution forbad the hiring of Asian workers.  It read in part: “No corporation now existing or hereafter formed under the laws of this State, shall, after the adoption of this Constitution, employ directly or indirectly, in any capacity, any Chinese or Mongolian. The Legislature shall pass such laws as may be necessary to enforce this provision. No Chinese shall be employed on any State, county, municipal, or other public work, except in punishment for crime.”

Just in case the sentiment remained unclear this section was added: “The presence of foreigners ineligible to become citizens of the United States is declared to be dangerous to the well-being of the State, and the Legislature shall discourage their immigration by all the means within its power. Asiatic coolieism is a form of human slavery, and is forever prohibited in this State, and all contracts for coolie labor shall be void.”

In 1882, at California’s urging, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to stop Asian immigration to the United States and California followed up with further laws that required ghettoizing all Chinese into Chinatowns where they could conduct no businesses outside their own communities (except, oddly enough, Chinese laundries, and that was only after the US Supreme Court threw out a San Francisco anti-Chinese laundry statute.)

This seemed to solve the problem of “Asiatic coolieism” but then a new problem arose, the arrival of thousands of Japanese immigrants in California.  These were rural people who soon owned prosperous farms.  Again California progressives sprung into action.

The Progressive movement of the early 20th Century idealized the yeoman farmer, always at the mercy of big banks and railroad barons.  Japanese farmers were part of the problem, again taking jobs away from white farmers, so in 1913, California enacted the first of two Alien Land Acts.  The Acts prohibited “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning or leasing agricultural land.  This applied to Japanese farmers who thanks to earlier laws were not eligible for citizenship.  The 1913 Act passed the State Senate by a vote of 35 to two, and the Assembly 73 to three.  It was signed into law by Gov. Hiram Johnson, who has made stopping Japanese immigration part of the Progressive platform.

However, by 1920 it was clear there were loopholes in the Act (immigrant Japanese were transferring land to their American-born children), so a second and much tougher Alien Land Act was passed by an initiative that year.  The vote was 668,438 for the new Act and 222,086 against.  Further legislation to close more loopholes passed in the 1920s, and in the 1930s the California Attorney General spent considerable time prosecuting Japanese who tries to evade the Act.  The overall problem was finally solved in the 1940s with the internment of California Japanese by Gov. Earl Warren after Pearl Harbor.  That led to confiscation of many Japanese-owned farms.

Righting these wrongs took many years after the war.  The Alien Land Acts were invalidated in 1952.  It was not until 1988 when President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act that America apologized for the internments and authorized payments to the internees.

By now a new problem had arisen.  Immigration from Hong Kong and Taiwan, refugees from Vietnam and Indochina, and an influx of subcontinent Indians led to a huge increase in California’s Asian population.  These new immigrants placed great store in higher education, and the Asian population in California’s higher education boomed.  A new class of liberals and progressives saw this as denying admission to what they like to call “underrepresented minorities.”  Affirmative action rules were enacted that imposed a de facto quota system, much like the Jewish quotas of the 1920s, to reduce the number of Asians in higher education.

Affirmative action was outlawed in California by a ballot measure in 1996, much to the consternation of liberal and progressive groups.  They are now sponsoring SCA 5 to restore affirmative action in higher education.  The ethnic make-up of student bodies at the public universities show what has happened since affirmative action was repealed 18 years ago.

A UCLA study showed that Asians made up 37 percent of enrollees at UC Berkeley in 1995; by 2005 that percentage had risen to 46 percent.  Interestingly, black and Hispanic enrollments fell for a while but have begun to rise in recent years.  White enrollment at UC Berkeley fell from 36 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2005.  During this same period, whites as a percentage of eligible California high school graduates has also declined.

UCLA concluded by noting that: “Asian American students were the major beneficiaries of the elimination of affirmative action…. Clearly in an open admissions process where affirmative action does not enter into enrollment decisions … Asian American students compete very well.”

Supporters of SCA 5, which included all Democrats in the State Senate until the recent uproar, argue that “underrepresented minorities” need preferences because their enrollment numbers are not keeping up with population growth.  But the only way to solve this is to reduce the number of “overrepresented minorities” and that would be Asians.   It is quite remarkable that California public policy in 2014 would be aimed at the same ethnic group its policies targeted in 1878, 1882, 1913 and 1920.  This time, however, the descendants of the victims of the Yellow Peril are effectively fighting back.