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U.S. House Votes to Remove the Word ‘Oriental’ from Federal Law

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove two instances of the word "Oriental," along with other dated references to minorities, from federal legislation. The proposal was co-sponsored by Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Ed Royce (R-CA).

Meng co-authored a similar law in 2009 as a member of the New York State Assembly.

"We're technically 'AAPI,' so we're replacing it with all those four words: Asian American Pacific Islanders," Meng told NBC News. "We want to be as inclusive as possible…As far as we know these are the only two remaining sections of the code that have these terms, so hopefully that will take care of that."

The language in the legislation that would be removed by Meng and Royce's amendment, which is contained in the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, goes beyond just Asian Americans. The instances in the U.S. Code relate to attempts in the late '70s to define the term "minority."

In Title 42, section 7141, on minority economic impact, the definition reads: "(A)ny individual who is a citizen of the United States and who is a Negro, Puerto Rican, American Indian, Eskimo, Oriental, or Aleut or is a Spanish speaking individual of Spanish descent."

In Title 42, section 6705 on land grants, minority is defined as "Negroes, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts."

"Our ethnicity, our identity cannot be described as 'oriental,'" Meng said. "That essentially means nothing about ones origin. And it's not about being politically correct. There are some people who use the term without bad intent. The point is to make sure that federal law as it is written is using accurate and factual terms and labels."

The Obama administration has said it would veto the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, sponsored by Republican Congressman Fred Upton, "because it would undermine already successful initiatives designed to modernize the nation's energy infrastructure and increase our energy efficiency," according to a White House memo.

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