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The Word ‘Oriental’ Will No Longer Have A Place In Federal Law

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Before he left for his trip to Vietnam and Japan, President Barack Obama signed a bill to strip the use of the term “Oriental” to describe Asian Americans from federal law. The move follows the elimination of the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” from the U.S. Library of Congress earlier this year.

The bipartisan bill, originally sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), would replace all references of the term “Oriental” with “Asian Americans” in two sections of U.S. code written in the late 1970s to define minorities in the arenas of public health, social welfare, and civl rights.

One of those sections of federal code relates to how the Department of Energy’s Office of Minority Economic Impact describes minorities as “a Negro, Puerto Rican, American Indian, Eskimo, Oriental, or Aleut or is a Spanish speaking individual of Spanish descent,” The Hill reported. The other section relates to the description of minorities by the Local Public Works Capital Development and Investment Act as “Negroes, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts.”

“The term ‘Oriental’ has no place in federal law and at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good,” Meng said in a press statement. “No longer will any law of the United States refer to Asian Americans in such an offensive way, and I applaud and thank President Obama for signing my bill to get rid of this antiquated term. Many Americans may not be aware that the word ‘Oriental’ is derogatory. But it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land.”

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“After months of advocacy in both chambers of Congress, derogatory terms in federal law will finally be updated to reflect our country’s diversity,” said Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), a co-sponsor of the legislation in the Senate.

Meng’s bill, which the president signed into law on Friday, would also replace “Negro” with “African American;” “Spanish-speaking” as “Hispanic;” “Eskimo” and “Aleut” as “Alaska Natives;” and “Indian” as “Native American.” She also previously helped to pass legislation to eliminate the use of “Oriental” in all official New York State documents.

The passage of the law is the latest indication that the American public has been moving away from using offensive and outdated descriptors in official government documents. In the case of the terms “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien,” both the state of California and some news agencies have already curbed their practice.