Law : Asian Americans

Dr. Parveen Chopra, Founder and President of the Asian American Coalition USA Inc (left, first row), Governor David Patterson (third from left), Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver (fifth from left) and others

On Wednesday September 9, 2009 Governor of the State of New York David Paterson signed Bill No. A7698 into law at his executive office in New York City that bans the use of term “oriental” in documents used by state agencies, public authorities and municipalities when referring to persons of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Grace Meng and Senator Craig Johnson and it passed both houses of the State of New York unanimously. Governor Paterson said that New York State champions the rights of immigrants and “I wonder why it was not passed earlier”. Assemblywoman Grace Meng said the word “oriental” is derogatory and offensive in the category of race. No state agency, public authority or municipality shall use the term “oriental” to identify or denote persons of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage.

The word oriental has been used with negative connotations. New World College Dictionary says that when used to describe a person as “oriental” it denotes a sense of disparagement.

Dr. Parveen Chopra who was invited by Governor Paterson to witness the signing of this bill indicated that it will remove another way of expressing bias or prejudice in government establishments and records and will help Asian-Americans to live bias free fuller life like all other Americans. There must be equity and balance in justice system for all Americans. Eliminating the use of word “oriental” in criminal justice services will free the system of its bias. Dr. Parveen Chopra served as a Commissioner of Human Rights for two decades and currently serves on the New York Civil Liberties Board. He is also currently the President and founder of Asian American Coalition USA Inc. that was founded in 1988 and has leaders from fourteen Asian countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan in USA. 

Earlier, the state of Washington had passed a law (in 2002) prohibiting the use of word “oriental”. A Korean War orphan described in Seattle Times that the word “oriental” was first used to signify everything east of London and later to characterize people with flat noses, small eyes, black hair and mysterious ways.

October 2009

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