The Asian Experience In America Essay, Research Paper
There have been people from many different countries, nations, and religions who have decided to migrate from other places to the United States throughout history. But perhaps none have come in more mass than the Chinese. With declining economic and political conditions at home, many literally saw coming to the United States as a “golden” opportunity. Once arriving here though, many found out it wasn’t as opportune as they thought.
The immigration of Asians to America was a big part of American History. This is especially true for the Chinese because they were one the first minorities to immigrate to the U.S. in mass. Asians are still the fastest growing minorities in the U.S. to date. Since their arrival, various laws and treaties have been constructed which have changed the face of American History. Asians are still known more for what happened to them more so than they are for their contributions to American History.
After being dubbed “Gold Mountain” in the 1840’s, California attracted fortune seekers from all over the world. “Between 1840 and 1880, approximately 370,000 Chinese immigrated to Hawaii and California” (Daniels 8). Many saw America as the land of opportunity. During the California gold rush starting in 1848, many Chinese came to the U.S. hoping to strike gold and return turn home rich. In 1852 alone, more than 20,000 Chinese immigrants set foot in San Francisco. There was a foreign miner’s tax imposed, which drastically reduced the number of gold miners. While some did manage to strike gold, many of them failed in their attempt and ended up becoming laborers. “The census takers in 1860 found that virtually 100 percent of the Chinese in the Continental United States were still living in California” (Chan 28).
Shortly after arriving in California and Hawaii, many of the Chinese realized that they were not going to strike it rich but they had no money to return home. “Many landed such jobs as farm workers, domestic servants, cooks, common laborers, laundry, and cannery workers” (Groliers). Some of them came out better off landing jobs as labor contractors, merchants, and restaurant operators. “Those remaining became grocers, herbalists, interpreters, and letter writers to cater to the needs of their fellow countrymen”(Groliers).
Many of the Chinese laborers were part of the railroad crews that built several railroads including the transcontinental railroad between 1865 and 1869. “In 1867, two thousand Chinese railroad workers decided to strike for a week” (Chan 92). At it’s peak, more than 10,000 Chinese workers worked on the transcontinental railroad.
One of the biggest problems the Chinese had to face here was having very few rights if any rights at all. They endured racism and discrimination from a lot of people and there we no laws to help them. There was no aspect of their lives that was left unaffected. The San Francisco school system was segregated, and with all the racial tension, San Francisco opened a school for Chinese children in 1857. After years of Anti-Chinese violence in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the school closed in 1871. The anger carried over into the workplace. Many people felt that the Chinese were taking all of the opportunities and jobs. The Chinese were hit especially hard during the economic depression. Many would refer to Asians as Chinks and tell them to go back to where they came from. The Chinese were blamed for causing the economic decline and were in some cases beaten and killed. “Violence against Asians surfaced in the early 1850’s” (Chan 48). It was especially hard for the Chinese because they were not allowed to testify against non-Chinese in court. Many Chinese were attacked during the Anti-Chinese movement. So many of the assailants were not prosecuted. Many of the employers and interviewers would not even consider Chinese for jobs. This was especially true for Chinese women. “Women were not allowed to work as sales representatives” (Takaki 94). Very few women were hired in any fields outside of cooking, waitresses, and dishwashers.
“In 1868, the Burlingame Treaty between the U.S. and China guarantees protection of civil rights for the Chinese living in America” (Takaki 118). This brought some help to them but because of an earlier law they could not become citizens. A couple of years later in 1870, the Federal Civil Rights Act was passed. This would increase the rights of Chinese living here and give them more status and legal support.
The United States in 1875 places limits on how many Chinese women will be allowed to migrate to the U.S. “By 1887, only 5 percent of the Chinese in America were females” (Daniels 17). Many males left families behind hoping to make money to bring their wives and kids to America. Many though were unable to bring their families here either because of financial reasons or because of the immigration limit on Chinese women.
“In 1884, attempting mainly to stop Chinese prostitution, the United States government totally prohibited Chinese women from immigrating to the U.S.” (Daniels 44). The original plan enacted by President Grant was to make the transportation of women to or from the U.S. for purposes of prostitution illegal. “But the act was incapable of being enforced” (Daniels 44).
During the early morning hours of April 18, 1906, a powerful earthquake rocked
San Francisco, California. As a result of the quake, several fires broke out all across the city. “The fires, more than the actual quake had a profound effect on the Chinese population in America” (Takaki 29). The fires destroyed a great portion of the city’s immigration records. San Francisco was the biggest entry spot for the Chinese immigrants entering the United States. “The city of San Francisco also housed the largest Chinatown in America” (Takaki 30). Chinatown was hardly the place anyone would want to be. But because of prejudice and lack of resources, it was difficult for Chinese to obtain housing outside of Chinatown. It was an overcrowded ghetto with deteriorating living conditions. In many instances, families shared one room. “More than three-quarters of the residences had no heating and more than four-fifths failed to meet San Francisco’s housing Standards” (Takaki 53).
It would be these conditions that would ultimately lead to the turnaround of Chinatown. After hearing that people were living under such inhumane conditions, many people were drawn to Chinatown to see for themselves. Chinatown had become a tourist attraction. Tourism brought money to Chinatown. During the San Francisco earthquake, Chinatown was destroyed and was rebuilt from the ground up. It would be afterwards that Chinatown would really become the major tourist attraction that it still to this day.
With the sudden destruction of San Francisco’s immigration records, the door was opened for more Chinese immigration. Chinese men living here were claiming to be born in the U.S. making them citizens. Since the records were destroyed, the local authorities had no way to prove otherwise. And since they were now considered U.S. citizens, they were allowed by law to bring their families over from China. Before the earthquake there were very few Chinese females in the U.S. After the earthquake, there was a tremendous increase in Chinese females. “More than 10,000 Chinese women entered the United States between 1907 and 1924” (Chan 31). That alone increased the female population to 20 percent. In attempts to handle the new overflow of Chinese immigrants, in 1910, the government established Angel Island Immigration Station in the San Francisco Bay.
The immigrants coming to California claiming to be family members of Chinese here were held at Angel Island. They were asked a series of questions to test their knowledge about their so-called families. “To prepare for these examinations, they studied crib sheets during their voyage across the Pacific Ocean from China” (Takaki 32). They were named “paper sons” because there was nothing proving that they were actually family members of the people they were claiming to be related to. “They were asked names and birthdays of everyone in the family, as well as details about marriages, deaths, and family history” (Takaki 33). The newcomers were detained in barracks while they were awaiting interrogation. The barracks were overcrowded and unsanitary. Once interrogated, they were some would be immigrants that didn’t fare so well. “About in ten was sent back to China” (Takaki 36).
A decision reached by the United States congress in 1924 totally banned all immigration from Asian countries. The ban lasted for almost twenty years before being lifted in 1943.
By the 1920’s laundry was the largest industry for Chinese workers in the U.S. This was a sharp increase from 1860 where only 2.6 percent of Chinese workers were in the laundry industry. “Chinese Laundry was invented America, there were no commercial laundries in China” (Takaki 41). Many Chinese were almost forced into this industry because it was one of the few jobs that presented them an opportunity. As the years passed, the number of Chinese laundries rapidly increased.
Chinese laundry spread out to Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and other cities where Chinese laundry hadn’t existed. The Chinese faced opposition in the laundry industry. In New York, larger laundries owned by whites were making attempts to drive the Chinese out of business. Whites introduced equipment such as washing machines and steam presses. “To compensate for the lack of equipment, the Chinese offered lower prices and extra services” (Chan 40). The white laundry operators were upset and called for a boycott of the Chinese. They took it even further when they persuaded lawmakers to pass a law requiring all laundry operators to pay a 25-dollar per year registration fee. “The Chinese formed and independent laundry association called the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance” (Takaki 49). It was only then that the Chinese laundry workers were able to improve their situation.
World War II broke out in Europe in 1939. In 1941, the U.S. decides to join the war. The ban on Chinese immigration is partially lifted and Chinese are urged to join the military although they are not considered naturalized citizens. “Congress in 1943, fully lifts the ban on Chinese immigration and also permits them to become naturalized citizens” (Daniels 17). Asians are now allowed to hold political office. Chinese now also have the right to vote.
The Immigration Act of 1965 allows for a second wave of Asian immigrants. “20,000 Chinese were permitted each year to enter the United States” (Takaki 103). Families of Chinese immigrants already living here were permitted to move to the United States as well. Between 1965 and 1984, 419,000 Chinese came to the U.S. This was greater than the total number of people that immigrated the whole previous century. By 1985, New York’s Chinatown, which had never had more than 15,000 people at one time, was now home to 100,000 Chinese immigrants. The second wave, unlike the first, was comprised of more females than males. Females accounted for fifty-two percent of those who immigrated between 1965 and 1975. “Of the 300,000 foreign college students in the U.S. in 1980, half of them were Asian countries.