Essay on Chinese Immigration

This essay has a total of 3054 words and 13 pages.

Chinese Immigration

Michael Gillaspie
American History
Ms. Rankin
15 December 2003
Chinese Immigration

In many aspects, the motivations for the Chinese to come to the United States are similar
to those of most immigrants. Some came to "The Gold Mountain," and others came to the
United States to seek better economic opportunity. Yet there were others that were
compelled to leave China either as contract laborers or refugees. The Chinese brought with
them their language, culture, social institutions, and customs. Over time they made
lasting contributions to their adopted country and became a vital part of the United
States population (Immigration Station).

Upon hearing the word of gold in California, thousands of Chinese, mostly young male
peasants, left their villages in the rural countries to become rich in the American West.
Few actually were able to strike it rich, and laws were put on immigrants who tried to
strike it rich. The law was a high tax, $10, on miners who were immigrants to discourage
them from venturing into the mines. When their pursuit at wealth through the gold mines
failed, they then decided to become laborers. They were recruited to extract metals and
minerals, construct a vast railroad network, reclaim swamplands, build irrigation systems,
work as migrant agricultural laborers, develop the fishing industry, and operate
highly-competitive manufacturing industries. During this time, 1890, the Chinese
population in the United States was about 110,000. During this great flood of immigrants
into the United States, anti-immigrant attitudes and stereotypes began to form (A Brief
History).

Angel Island
Most immigrants entering the country came through New York, and passed through Ellis
Island, the famous immigrant station located in New York harbor. It was necessary to build
a new station on the west coast. The new station was to be located 1 mile east of Ayala
Cove, in California. This place was called Angel Island, or the a€œGuardian of the
Western Gate.a€� This set of buildings was primarily set up to control the number of
Chinese that entered the United States. It was primarily a detention center, because
Chinese were not allowed into the United States, due to the Exclusion Act of 1882
(Immigration Station 1)

Figure 1. Shows why it was easier to go to California, rather than to take a longer trip.
If going to New York, they might even have to sail around the edge of South America
(Gillaspie 1).

The Chinese Exclusion Act
Throughout most of 1880s to the 1960s, only Chinese diplomats, merchants, and students and
their wives or husbands were allowed to travel to the United States. Others such as
peasants and workers were not allowed to enter due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
This Act set a precedent by being the first law to ban a specific group from the country.
It included many rules and regulations, including a ban on Chinese laborers entering the
country, and punishment for anyone who tried to sneak or transport Chinese into the
country. It was impossible to absolutely prevent Chinese immigration from occurring, but
America tried its best to limit the number that entered. The shared opinion of many in the
United States during this time felt that the Chinese were inferior, for they did not
realize the bigger picture and the actual effect that Chinese would have on the United
States. The American and the Chinese governments agreed that the immigrants were
endangering the government and economy of China. This led them to limit, regulate, or
suspend the residency of Chinese in the United States (Archives 2). The only people they
could not keep out were the Chinese who already had family in the United States.

Many believed the reason the American government decided to adopt this act in the first
place, was due to hatred towards Chinese. Governor Greg Bilger of California
wrote,a€�We dona€™t like these contract a€œcooliea€� laborers, avaricious,
ignorant of moral obligations, incapable of being assimilated, and dangerous to the public
welfare living in the same area as usa€� (Norton 3). He used this to help his
political campaign, because he was not the only one who did not like the Chinese. Many
workers did not like the Chinese, while they left their jobs to search the mines for their
riches of gold; the Chinese filled their spots, with cheaper, more efficient labor.



Paper Sons and Paper Daughters
Chinese who desired to enter the country but were without true fathers in the United
States became "paper sons" or "paper daughters." They bought papers which identified them
as children of American citizens. Because official records were often non-existent, an
interrogation process was created to determine if the immigrants were related as they
claimed. The papers the immigrants bought included detailed family information which they
studied in order to pass their interrogations. Questions could include details of the
immigrant's home and village as well as specific knowledge of his or her ancestors.
Interrogations could take a long time to complete, especially if witnesses for the
immigrants lived in the eastern United States. They might study for hours on end because
one slip of the wrong information, maybe accidentally stating personal information, might
cause the interrogator to get suspicious causing them to be sent back to China, with their
hard work and extensive time being lost (Immigration Station 3).

Social and Political Bondage
Because the Chinese Americans were deprived of their democratic rights, they made
extensive use of the courts and diplomatic channels to defend themselves. The Civil Rights
movement in the 1960s, particularly the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 brought in a new period in Chinese American
immigration. Now Chinese Americans were liberated from a structure of racial repression.
The Civil Rights Act restored many of the basic rights that were earlier denied to Chinese
Americans. Under these new laws, thousands of Chinese people came to the United States
each year to reunite with their families. Young Chinese-Americans joined together to
demand racial equality and social justice.


Figure 2. Chinese Immigration to the United States (Luu 4)
Between the years of 1880-1960, immigration was low, but once the Immigration and
Nationality Act was passed, immigration skyrocketed. Equally significant are two types of
Chinese immigrants that have been entering the United States since the 1970s. The first
type consists of highly select and well-educated Chinese. The second type is made up of
thousands of Chinese immigrants who have entered the United States to escape either
political instability or repression throughout East and Southeast Asia. Others are ethnic
Chinese from Vietnam and Cambodia who became poverty-stricken refugees. They have run away
from such threats as "ethnic cleansing."

Economic development and racial exclusion defined the patterns of settlement for the
Chinese Americans. Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, the patterns of settlement followed
the patterns of economic development in the western states. Since mining and railway
construction dominated the western economy, Chinese immigrants settled mostly in
California and states west of the Rocky Mountains. As these industries declined and
anti-Chinese feelings intensified, the Chinese fled into small import-export businesses
and service manufacturing industries in such cities as San Francisco, New York, Boston,
Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. By the early 20th century, approximately
80% of the Chinese population was found in Chinatowns in major cities in the United
States.

Assimilation was never a viable choice for Chinese Americans, who were excluded and denied
citizenship because they could not be easily absorbed into the white mainstream. By
congressional and judicial decisions, the Chinese immigrants were made ineligible for
naturalization, which made them politically disenfranchised in a "so-called democracy" and
exposed them to violations of their Constitutional rights. Legally discriminated against
and politically disenfranchised, Chinese Americans established their roots in Chinatowns,
fought racism through aggressive litigation and participated actively in economic
development projects and political movements to modernize China (Anderson 28).
Assimilation was seen as being impossible. In the nineteenth century, most Chinese
immigrants saw no future in the United States for themselves. With this mentality, they
developed a high degree of tolerance for hardship and racial discrimination and maintained
an efficient Chinese lifestyle. This included living modestly, observing Chinese customs
and festivals through family associations, and sending consistent remittance to parents,
wives, and children. Parents tried to drill Chinese language and culture into their
children, send them to Chinese schools in the community or in China, motivate them to
excel in American education, and above all arrange marriages.
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