Bill to Remove ‘Oriental’ from U.S. Law Passed by Senate; Measure Now Heads to President

WASHINGTON — Legislation sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) that would remove the offensive and outdated term “Oriental” from federal law was unanimously passed May 9 by the Senate.


Reps. Grace Meng and Ed Royce


The bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Feb. 29 by a vote of 376-0, now heads to President Obama, who is expected to sign the measure into law.

H.R. 4238 would strike all references to “Oriental” – which still appear in Title 42 of the U.S. Code – and replace the word with “Asian Americans.”

“The word ‘Oriental’ is a derogatory and antiquated term and the passage of this legislation will soon force the United States government to finally stop using it,” said Meng. “I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for understanding that the time has come for our government to no longer refer to Asian Americans – or any ethnicity – in such an insulting manner. Repealing this term is long overdue. ‘Oriental’ no longer deserves a place in federal law, and very shortly it will finally be a thing of the past.”

“‘Orientals’ is an offensive and antiquated term, especially so when referring to America’s vibrant Asian American community,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Brea), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and an original co-sponsor of Meng’s bill. “Using this term in federal law lends it a legitimacy it doesn’t deserve. I applaud Congresswoman Meng for her leadership and persistence on this important issue, and look forward to the president joining our efforts to strike these terms from the books.”

“Updating derogatory references in federal law is long overdue,” said Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), who sponsored the legislation in the Senate. “Our country’s diversity makes us strong, so it is imperative that this language is changed as soon as possible. I thank my Senate colleagues for joining me in support of all Americans, and Rep. Meng for her steadfast advocacy.”

Meng’s bipartisan bill, when it was approved by the House, passed with 76 co-sponsors, including every member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).

Title 42 of the U.S. Code consists of federal laws that deal with public health, social welfare and civil rights.

In 2009, Meng – when she was a member of the New York State Legislature – passed legislation into law that eliminated the use of “Oriental’ in all official New York State documents.

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