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It happens everyday before our very eyes. Occurring since long before we can remember, immigration has now become a common place idea. People move because of various reasons such as opportunity, persecution, or just plain wanting a new life. The reasons for immigration are important, as well are the results that arise from that change in location. The United States is widely known to harvest the most immigrants from around the world, but more specifically, the immigration of the Chinese around gold rush time in California. Many accounts of this historical event are told, but are depicted in an interesting fashion throughout the book Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthanne Lum McCunn. One sees the life of a Chinese woman after moving to the United States and the effects this change had on her and the people around her. Most Chinese males that immigrated to America were assumed to have the lust for gold, while many of the females were known to come only for their husbands or as companions. This research paper will investigate the true reasons for the migration of the Chinese to the United States. Additionally, the reaction of the United States, and how it embraced these immigrants will be studied.
Chinese law prevented the Chinese from immigrating to America just to start a new life. This is the reason why it is assumed that most Chinese went just to find gold or some sort of work. .There was no law preventing [the Chinese] from going overseas to find work x as it is stated in Chinese in America (18). Men were recruited as laborers to work in places where black slaves had been freed. This was a method of replacing the slave labor with cheap labor through the use of Chinese immigrants. The first of these men that left from China were called .coolies, x and soon many other countries started to recruit these coolies as cheap labor. Even though conditions aboard the ships sent to transport the new immigrant workers were horrible, the men still decided to come to America to find work. The response from the Americans was mixed. .The American miners who had not wanted to share the gold with [other] miners were upset at the flood of Chinese newcomers. They were glad of the services that the Chinese provided such as boarding houses, general stores, restaurants and laundries. But they did not want to share the gold fields x (Chinese in America, 24). Bias against the Chinese soon arose, and people targeted the Chinese to try and steal their gold. By 1882, an Exclusion Act was created, hoping to send the immigrants home. The cries of .the Chinese must go x and .yellow peril x were heard among the white population (Tan 38). The Americans obviously did not appreciate them when they started to grow.
Many of the women that had migrated went for reasons different from that of the men. Many went with their husbands to live there. Some women did not even go at all. They were called sau sang gwa, or grass widows. They stayed in China while their husbands lived overseas. According to Judy Yung, many of the women that went to America were sent to be prostitutes or slave girls. She tried to interview some of these girls, but many would not admit to this past life. Yung states that she .was less
successful finding ex-prostitutes and mui tsai (domestic slave girls), probably because no one wanted to be identified as such or there were few women still alive to talk about that experience. In one instance, after a great deal of trouble, [she] finally tracked down the author of an oral history paper on a mui tsai that [she] had found in a university library, only to be told [the author] wanted to hold on to her grandmother’s story and develop it into a book someday x (Yung, .Giving Voice to Chinese American Women). In McCunn s book, Thousand Pieces of Gold, the main character, Lalu Nathoy, was sold as a slave where she was to be sent to America as a prostitute. This was common for Chinese women to go overseas. Years later, after Americans stopped exploiting Chinese women, China itself enslaved young women. Young Chinese women, basically girls, are brought to America under the assumption that they will be working for Americans, yet when they arrive, they are enslaved by Chinese sweatshops in America (Cerami, 16). These women did not have it any better than the male miners sent from China.
The first reaction from these waves of Chinese immigrants to America was a positive one. The city of San Francisco embraced the arrival of the first Chinese immigrants. The Californians did not feel intimidated by them (Chinese in America, 70). The Americans included the Chinese in many of their celebrations and parades and were getting along well with them. This soon changed. Soon, gold miners were becoming angry at the over abundant supply of Chinese workers. An Anti-Chinese Movement had commenced. Ridiculous laws were passes such as the Sidewalk Ordinance of 1870. This law .prohibited people who used poles to carry merchandise from walking on the sidewalk x(Chinese in America, 77). This was meant specifically for the Chinese since the Americans used wagons or carts to carry goods. The Cubic Air Ordinance of 1871 .required each adult to have at least 500 cubic feet of living space. Since Chinatown consisted of only seven square blocks, there was severe overcrowding x (77). Many times, 12 people were crammed into one room, so many Chinese were punished for breaking this rule. The Laundry Ordinance required that people use wagons drawn by horses to transport laundry. Obviously again this is directed towards the immigrants, therefore punishing them. Other such nonsense laws were passed, in hope that the Chinese would move back to China. This was not the end of the Anti-Chinese Movement.
Hostility arose in the Americans toward the Chinese. One man, Dennis Kearney, was known for saying the following: .We must drive every greasy-faced coolie from the land they re keeping us from getting jobs. The Chinks must go! x (Dowdell, 56). Kearney would make malicious speeches about the Chinese and would attack them. Everyone had forgotten that the Chinese were quiet, hard-working, law-abiding people, and they only concentrated on the bad. .Chinamen Must Go!, The Yellow Peril, Chinese Take Jobs From Whites! x were all headlines of the newspapers during that time (Dowdell, 56).
Gangs of roughnecks began attacking any Chinese they saw on the streets. It became popular to catch Chinese and chop off their queues. They robbed and killed many Chinese and burned their homes and businesses. The violence spread all through the Western States. When a white man was killed in a police raid in Los Angeles Chinatown, a huge mob destroyed Chinese houses and businesses. They killed at least 22 Chinese including women and children. They also hung 50 persons from the lamp posts by their queues (Chinese in America, 78-79).
Violent behavior such as this would continue, without any punishment to the Americans by law enforcement officers. Still the Chinese did not go home because then their families would not have money to survive. Instead, many Chinese scattered themselves across the country in different states. The Anti-Chinese Movement slowly died down as all rules against Chinese, one by one, were being declared unconstitutional.
The reasons why the Chinese came to the United States were justified. Immigration was not illegal. The Chinese came to the United States with this purpose: to find a way to make money so that they may support their families back home. They had no intention of stealing any gold or jobs from the Americans. They figured that there was plenty to go around in California, but obviously the Californians didn t think the same way. The reaction to this immigration, however, was not justified. Of course the Americans felt overwhelmed from all the Chinese that continuously came to the United States, but I felt that a different approach could have been taken in cutting down the amount of immigrants. Immigration issues in current times are handled much differently. Several years ago, California had the same problem with immigration from Mexico. A reasonable proposition was formed to help control the flow of immigrants. Little injustice occurred, and those who inflicted it were punished. America can use the past example of what happened in the late 19th century with Chinese immigrants as a precedent for immigration problems in the future.
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