House Votes to Oust Term ‘Oriental’ from Federal Law

By Sheryl Estrada

Rep. Grace Meng represents the Sixth Congressional District of New York encompassing the borough of Queens. She is the first Asian American member of Congress from New York State. Photo credit:

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation this month removing all references to “Orientals” in federal law and will replace the term with “Asian American Pacific Islanders.”

“The word ‘Oriental’ is an offensive and derogatory term that should no longer be used by the federal government,” Rep.Grace Meng (D-NY), co-sponsor of the bill,said in a statement. “Nobody in our country, regardless of ethnicity, should be referred to in an insulting manner by the government.It no longer has a place in federal law, and I look forward to the day when it’s finally gone for good.”

There are two remaining sections the U.S. Code in which the term “Oriental” is used: Title 42, section 7141 on minority economic impact and Title 42,section 6705on land grants. The other outdated definitions for minorities,from the late 1970s, will be updated as well.

“As far as we know these are the only two remaining sections of the code that have these terms, so hopefully that will take care of that,” Meng told NBC News. “We’re technically ‘AAPI,’ so we’re replacing it with all those four words: Asian American Pacific Islanders. We want to be as inclusive as possible.”

In 2009, when Meng was a member of the New York State Legislature, former New York Gov. David A. Paterson signed into law legislation to eliminate the use of the term Oriental in reference to persons of Asian or Pacific Islander descent in all forms or documents used by state government. Washington State banned the term being used in official documents in 2002.

Chancellor and Dean of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law Frank H. Wu explained the history of the term in the U.S.

“It’s associated with a time period when Asians had a subordinate status,” Wu, a former law professor at Howard University,said in an interviewin 2009. “For many Asian Americans, it’s not just this term: It’s about much more. It’s about your legitimacy to be here. ‘Oriental’ is like the word ‘negro.’ It conjures up an era.”

Wu,author of “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White,”explained the term is linked to old stereotypes of Asians, such as exoticism, during an era when the U.S. government passed exclusion acts to keep Asian people from entering the country. The exclusion acts weren’t abolished until 1952.

In a statement, co-sponsor of the bill Rep.Ed Royce (R-CA)said,”‘Orientals’ is an offensive and antiquated term, especially so when referring to America’s vibrant Asian American community.”

Related Story: Report: Whites No Longer Majority, Asians Largest Immigrant Group

Since 2011, Asia has been the largest source of recently arrived immigrants. Asians are predicted to surpass Latinos in 2065 as the largest immigrant group.

In the report”Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065,”released in September, The Pew Research Center provides an analysis of census data and population projections.

The authors state that over the next 50 years, the majority of U.S. population growth will be linked primarily to new Asian immigration, followed by new Latino immigration.Immigrants will account for 88 percent of the population growth, or 103 million people by 2065, as the nation grows to 441 million.

Related Story: Report: Asian American Buying Power to Hit $1 Trillion by 2018

A Nielsen report released in June shows that in 2014 the buying power of Asian Americans expanded from $718 to $770 billion and is expected to increase to $1 trillion by 2018.

According to Betty Lo, vice president, Community Alliances & Consumer Engagement at Nielsen(No. 42 on theDiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list), Asian Americans are trendsetters.

“Asian Americans are focused on the future, trendsetting and leading the way in technology, digital entertainment and fresh food while maintaining strong ties to their cultural heritage,” Lo said. “Increasingly ambicultural, Asian Americans’ cultural identities are shaping the mainstream market.”

The Meng-Royce legislation to remove the term Oriental is included in theNorth American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act.

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