Jan 31, 2023

Chinese Americans March in Austin, Call for Withdraw of Bills

Reporting Texas

Almost 300 people join the march calling the community to stop Chinese hate in Texas Memorial Lawn on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. (Jinpeng Li/Reporting Texas)

“Stop racism! Stop fascism! Stop Chinese hate! Stop Asian hate!” protesters yelled, shouted and chanted. Almost 300 people speaking English and Chinese from Austin, Houston, College Station and from across the state gathered in front of the State Capital Sunday. 

“We are angry and disappointed at a series of bills, such as SB147 and SB552, which are blatantly racist bills that target normal people who came to study, work, and live in Texas,” said Katheryn He, a graduate student in finance at Harvard University.

Senate Bill 147 would prohibit citizens, governments and entities from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia from purchasing land in Texas. And Senate Bill 552, filed by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would ban the “hostile foreign governments” and citizens of these four countries from access to agricultural land.

The  proposed bills act as extension of the Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act passed in 2021, which banned all deals with companies from the four countries related to critical infrastructure statewide. It was in response to a Chinese real estate billionaire who purchased land near the Laughlin Air Force Base located east of Del Rio.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said in a statement she was concerned by “growing ownership of Texas land by some foreign entities.” But according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2021 land report, Chinese investors own 383,935 total acres of U.S. farmland, which is slightly less than 1% of foreign-held acreage. The bill does not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. 

A couple holds a sign to protest the bills at the Texas State Capitol. (Jinpeng Li/Reporting Texas)

But the protestors’ anger and despair goes beyond the bills, questioning politicians’  anti-Chinese stance. This comes at a time when there’s been a rise in hate crimes targeting Asians. People who joined the rally said Gov. Greg Abbot’s attitude spurred a new cycle of consternation and fear among the Chinese American community.

“This is a new Chinese Exclusion Act,” said Duan Liu, a Texas A&M University staff member who has lived in Texas for over 30 years. Liu was referring to the 1882 Act which denied Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S.

This demonstration brought out a sizable but often silent minority. Some people, like Liu, couldn’t imagine themselves going to their first rally and chanting their first protest slogans until an article was widely shared on WeChat, the Chinese messaging app, calling all Chinese Americans to voice concern about the SB147 bill. 

The protesters voiced concerns over proposed legislative bills and the rising rates of anti-Asian hate crimes. Jinpeng Li/Reporting Texas

Yunfan Yu, a 33-year-old Austin-based engineer, said he didn’t realize how serious this bill was at first. “I’m not concerned about politics,” said Yunfan. “I researched them and feel I should assume greater responsibility, if I keep silent, then who else can I expect to express their support to us?”

He reached out to his company’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion department and held a discussion about these two bills. “My colleagues felt unbelievable. They asked why the bill included clear discrimination can still exist, even the governor supports it.”

One of the biggest cheers of the rally came when State Rep. Gene Wu, a democrat out of Houston said, “America is the beacon on the hill that welcomes all people from all over the world.”

“All races, one nation!” someone in the crowd yelled, then drowned in one whistle to another.

A woman hands a yellow whistle to a protester at the Texas State Capitol on Sunday, Jan. 29. Yellow whistles represent the self-protection and solidarity in Asia community. (Jinpeng Li/Reporting

Attorney Chuck Guo, an advocate of the rally, encouraged all Chinese Americans to join the wave of protest. “I’m afraid of the domino effect. If Texas passed this type of bill, how about Florida? Many GOP-controlled states will follow it.” Arkansas State also filed a similar bill last week.

Guo thought this was an opportunity to show solidarity for fellow Chinese Americans, “U.S. citizens, green card holders, visa holders.”

People who joined the march told Reporting Texas the bills also have a catastrophic impact on the region’s economy.

“We brought in $44.8 billion in sales receipts and are the biggest business minority group contributing to Houston’s economy,” said May Wang, a board member of the Asian Chamber of Commerce Houston. “The bills are small-minded and don’t represent heroes as I know Texas to be.”

Qianqian Ku, who has served eight years in the United States Navy and is now a realtor in Austin, said she feels disappointed with the bills. “It will directly impact my clients,” said Ku, “I think it’s ridiculous because Texas passed too many acts to attract talents from other states, even other countries, but now, the elites face evictions.”

Texas Legislature Online shows Senate Bill 147 and Senate Bill 552 currently in “filed” status, which means it has not been assigned to a committee.