By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer

The first measurable snowfall of the season didn't deter approximately 500 people from attending the second of five lectures being presented at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul as part of this year's History Forum titled "We The People: Americans and the Constitution." The lectures present an opportunity to examine our ongoing national struggle to understand, live with and live up to our greatest founding document: the U.S. Constitution.

The first of the History Forum lectures was held in November and was presented by social historian, Ernest Freeberg and covered the topic of The Right to Dissent. On Dec. 3, 2011, Erika Lee, Professor of History and Director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Minnesota, presented the second lecture of the series titled To Be a Citizen.

In her introductory remarks, Lee presented some background on various federal citizenship laws that lead to adoption of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution on July 9, 1868, along with how Chinese were treated prior to this Amendment up through 1882 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur.

Although the 14th Amendment was intended to extend legal citizenship and constitutional protections to the newly-freed slaves, there was simultaneously a campaign afoot to prevent another group – the Chinese – from achieving citizenship and securing the same rights.

One person who challenged the Chinese exclusion laws was a 23 year-old cook from San Francisco named Wong Kim Ark. In 1894 he traveled to China to visit his parents but was refused re-entry to the U.S., the country of his birth, by the Chinese Exclusion Acts. The Act denied citizenship to the American-born children of Chinese parents and prevented Wong from returning home. Instead, he would be deported to China, a nation where he had never lived. Wong Kim Ark decided to fight back, asserting the constitutional right of people born in the United States as provided for in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, also known as the "citizenship clause," which states that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."

On March 28, 1898, Justice Horace Gray, writing for the majority, issued the decision upholding Wong Kim Ark's claim to U.S. citizenship under the 14th Amendment.

While this decision has forever changed our nation of immigrants, legislation such as the Immigration Act of 1924 continued to cast a shadow over immigrants and it wasn't until 1943 before the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the Magnuson Act.

Following her presentation, Lee answered questions from the audience which included one that asked who funded the legal costs. While the attorneys were not paid, other expenses were mostly funded by Chinese family organizations and individuals. Lee then made herself available at the gift shop for book signings. As noted earlier, in addition to her positions at the University, Lee is the author of two award-winning books, Angel Island: Immigrant to America (2010) and At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era. Information on these books can be obtained at

Amazon or other book retailers.

Supplementing Lee's oral presentation, was an excellent 17-page booklet of material prepared by the Minnesota History Center.

The Minnesota History Center Forum will continue with 3 additional lectures:

A Free Press. Jan 21: With distinguished journalism scholar Jane Kirtley.

Religious Freedom. Feb. 18: With notable historian and author, Bruce Dierenfield.

Lincoln, the Civil War and the Constitution. Mar. 17: With Pulitzer Prize-wining historian, Mark J. Neely.

The History Forum has been expanded this year. Each lecture is now held twice on each date, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Individual tickets and series passes on sale now at 651-259-3015 or www.minnesotahistorycenter.org/forum.

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