ORLANDO, Fla. — A history of Asian discrimination was written into law across the United States, and Florida was no exception.
Florida is the very last state to remove laws from the constitution allowing Asians to be banned from owning property. And it wasn’t removed until 2018.
Though the language is not overt, this is targeted to a specific ethnicity.
Although there was no explicit mention in Florida’s constitution of Asians, “aliens ineligible for citizenship” is a term that has only applied to Asians in the U.S.
“History lessons and everything that we had in school, never really touched much on the Chinese exclusion acts from the 1800s,” said attorney Don Nguyen.
The U.S. Supreme Court expanded that law in 1923 to make all Asians ineligible for citizenship, but the laws have been slowly reversed since the 50s and 60s.
Which is why Nguyen, whose clients include restaurant owners in Orlando’s thriving little Saigon neighborhood, was surprised to learn Florida’s “alien land law” was still in the state constitution when he moved here.
“I do think it’s very important to get language like that off of the books – if nothing more than for symbolic reasons to rectify a past wrong,” Nguyen said.
Asian attorneys like Nguyen who tried and failed to do so for a decade finally scored a win around two years ago.
Bundled with two unrelated issues on Amendment 11, it finally passed.
But now, Nguyen said education is vital to showing Floridians why that law was ever in place in the first place and how that is especially relevant today.
“It’s almost cyclical, and you see it now. When people are displaced, and they’re scared, instead of looking for the underlying problem, we try to scapegoat people,” he said.
In this case, it’s a group of people Nguyen said are finally finding and using their voice.