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Chinese American Racism

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Introduction

"You demand every privilege for Americans in China but you would deny the same privileges to Chinamen in America, because in your opinion the presence of the Chinese among you is a menace to your civilization." (qtd. in Hoobler 65) Between 1840 and 1900, about 2.4 million Chinese left their homes for the United States because of the grinding poverty at home. Many Chinese heard tales of California, and envisioned dreams of striking it rich. (Wu 27) Unfortunately, instead of finding gold in California, the Chinese found a place of discrimination and hatred. When first arriving in the United States, the governor of California welcomed the Chinese, saying that the Chinese were "one of the most worthy classes of our newly adopted citizens." (Hoobler 49) Within a month, that same U.S. governor was calling the Chinese "coolies," a term for enslaved or indentured servants, and he demanded that the U.S. pass a law to keep them from working in the mines. (Hoobler 49) But why the sudden change in opinion? Upon entering the United States, the Chinese were perceived as frail and weak. However, after building roadbeds and laying the track of nearly every railroad from Texas to Alaska, the Chinese were not seen as frail but rather as strong competitors. (Sinnot 14) Not only were the Chinese strong but they were willing to work for low wages and Americans became frightened that Chinese laborers might take their jobs and deprive them of their chance to make a living. ...read more.

Middle

Americans said the Chinese were filthy, smelly criminals and opium addicts. (Mizell 40) To make matters worse, competition for jobs became even fiercer when a severe economic depression hit the United States during the 1870s. (Wu 39) Jobs were hard to come by and it was frustrating enough for Americans to compete against Americans for jobs, but now it was Americans competing against the adroit Chinese. In San Francisco there were three workers- two white and one Chinese- for every job. (Wu 39) Americans would shout, "The Chinese Must Go!" (Wu 37) Most Americans adamantly insisted that jobs belong to white Americans, and in a time when everything seemed to be going wrong, the Chinese were an easy target to blame. Once again, along with this Chinese animosity, came violence. On October 1871 a mob in Los Angeles shot and hung twenty Chinese men and by 1876 the governor of California declared that there was "an irrepressible conflict between the Chinese and ourselves-between their civilization and ours."(Wu 39) Drawings pictured the Chinese with slanted eyes and long pigtails, with barbaric customs and inhuman habits. (Wu 42) Residents everywhere were openly hostile to the Chinese, in hopes that they would leave, which would thus provide Americans with more job opportunities. (Mizell 43) However, despite all of the insults and abhorrence, the Chinese continued to flood into the U.S. and between 1868 and 1878 about 12,000 Chinese arrived each year, most of them under the contract labor system. ...read more.

Conclusion

Because of all the discrimination they were being subjected to during the 19th century and beyond, many Chinese immigrants were now on their way to moving east of the Rocky Mountains by the 20th century. By the 1940's, most of the Chinese immigrants had migrated towards the east of the Rocky Mountains. During this time, the discrimination and racism that the Chinese were fighting against gradually died down and halted for the most part. Although this change took place during the mid-20th century, it does not take away the pain and suffering the Chinese immigrants had gone through all the way through the 19th century and beyond. Looking back, the Chinese immigrants who had originally migrated from China over to California in hope of striking it rich would most likely be skeptical in their choice to do so. Coming to America to escape poverty, the Chinese were looking for a means of survival and job opportunities. Unfortunately, what they found when they arrived was an agglomeration of covetousness and hatred, which led to the many years worth of racism and discrimination. The Chinese were so industrious and successful in the West that Americans began considering them rivals and even threats for the jobs that they were being offered so quickly. The Chinese were not only skillful and inventive, but they were willing to work for extremely low wages, thus making them prime candidates for jobs. Consequently, Americans resented the success of the Chinese and believed that the Chinese were unjustly stealing their jobs. This jealousy and hatred is what led to a struggle for Chinese Americans to advance economically in the face of racism and discrimination. ...read more.

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