Friday, September 12, 2008

Ethnic Groups (1)

Topic: The Chinese Immigrant Experience

During the early into mid-nineteenth century, there was an exodus of unskilled male workers from China, who migrated to California and the western states seeking work. These Chinese newcomers were young, half of them unmarried, and they hoped to return soon with enough to take care of their families. These men would find work in mines, railroads, and farmlands. The Gold Rush on the west coast was the prime attraction to the Chinese immigrants. For the Chinese women that came into this country, few such opportunities existed. Many would be forced into becoming prostitutes.

The American miners and laborers in California soon began to resent these hard working Chinese. Competing with their extreme thriftiness and willingness to labor for low wages, they were branded as coolies. The Americans accused them of robbing the white laborer of his bread. Hate was directed against the Chinese immigrants especially when an economic depression hit the United States in the 1870s. The public was in an uproar, demanding control of the influx of Chinese immigrants, resulting in Congress passing The Chinese Exclusion Act; May 6, 1882.

The Chinese were not readily accepted by the United States. They were allowed into this country only grudgingly.

"The number of Chinese who came to the United States from 1848 to 1852, when they began to come as a result of the gold discoveries, is estimated at 10,000. From 1852 to 1854 the excess of arrivals over departures amounted to 31,861. During the next 15 years the annual departures were about as great as the annual arrivals; 1868 showed a net gain of 6876, and from that year down to 1876 the net gain was about 11,000 per annum. "(14)

" Early Asian immigrants often fled homeland tragedies only to encounter harsh repression and legalized discrimination upon their arrival in the United States."

From 50,000 Chinese in 1860 , immigration to America increased to 108,000 by 1880. The Chinese immigrants were employed to build the Transcontinental Railroad. "The Union Pacific began construction of their rail in Omaha, Nebraska working west. The Central Pacific began in Sacramento, California working towards the East. The Transcontinental Railroad was a vision of a country but was put into practice by the 'Big Four': Collis P. Huntington, Charles Cocker, Leland Stanford and Mark Hopkins. The benefits of this railroad were enormous for the country and the businesses involved. The railroad companies received between 16,000 and 48,000 per mile of track in land grants and subsidies.The Chinese worked under grueling and treacherous conditions for less money than their white counterparts. However, this great American accomplishment could not have been achieved without the extraordinary effort of Chinese-Americans. ( 26)

Most of the (poorly treated) immigrants went to California, while others went to live in New York. The West Coast Gold Rush was the prime attraction to many Chinese immigrants. Mine owners and railroad builders imported the Chinese to work in the mines and to help build the railroads. Heightened racial tensions remained at explosive levels between the white settlers in California that were miners and laborers, and the hard working Chinese who were their competitors whose extreme thriftiness and willingness to labor for low wages were threatening. The Chinese were branded as coolies, which represented an inferior or servile class of people.

Tens of thousands of Chinese were employed by the Southern Pacific Railroad and Union Pacific. The Chinese would take whatever job was available, no matter the low wages, such as houseboys, laundrymen, gardeners and fishermen etc. The Chinese immigrants found it very hard in the beginning to assimilate to the American culture. "Chinese sojourners maintained a psychological and social separateness from American society by maintaining the values, norms, and attitudes of their homeland, and men still dressed according to Chinese custom with long queues (braids), felt slippers, cotton blouses, and little round hats" (24).

"Since very few Chinese women were allowed to join their husbands in the United States and Chinese men were forbidden by law to marry whites, there was little opportunity for them to have families and many of the immigrants returned to China or to other more hospitable places. By 1924, the total number of Chinese in the United States had dropped to fewer than 62,000" (24).

Their shortages of women led them to intermarry with South European whites, Indians and Mexicans, the intermarriages resulting in California passing a law in 1903 banning interracial marriages. "In 1882, President Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act suspending the coming of Chinese laborers for ten years; this eventually became permanent and providing for stringent rules of enforcement.

There have been dark moments in American History which traces back to intolerance and prejudices by the American people against immigrants of which still exist in these current days. Often stereotyped and discriminated against, many Chinese immigrants suffered verbal and physical abuse because they were "different."

"The Chinese Must Go!!!"
The Chinese Massacre of 1871

Also there have been descriminatory Lawmaking and Restrictions on Chinese Immigrants
Chae Chan Ping v. U.S., 130 U.S. 581 (1889): This case involved a resident non citizen who left the U.S. with a document allowing his return: Congress voided the reentry documents while Chae Chan Ping was on the boat back to the U.S. Fong Yue Ting V. U.S.,149 U.S. 698 (1893)

Senator George C. Perkins of California, in response to the outcry from his body of voters in 1906 , exclaimed: "The Chinese must go! Bringing with them slavery, concubinage, prostitution, the opium vice, the disease of leprosy, the offensive and defensive organization of clans and guilds, the lowest standard of living known, and a detestation of the people with whom they live and with whom they will not even leave their bones when dead, they form a community within a community and there live the Chinese life " (25).

Others disagreed vigorously: "It is unfortunate that local prejudices against the Chinese-American were permitted to mar an otherwise praise-worthy record." (Harvey Wish)

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