Throughout history, Chinese people have been migrating to USA in search for greener passage. From 1826 to 1950, they were booking their passage on ships like occidental and oriental steamship company, and pacific mail Steamship Company to travel. The money that they required to fund their journey was mostly borrowed from family members, commercial lenders or district associations. The first Chinese people to arrive in Los Angeles were men, who specialized in manual work. Their work mainly included gardening, laundry, road builders or ranch work. The migration of Chinese people from china was localized and controlled through parts of china annexed as colonies. Mainly these parts included Macau, Hong Kong and the Treaty ports, which allowed foreign merchants to trade. Some of the activities which took place between 1826 and 1950 are as followed.
1826-1848 the gold era.
Majority of Chinese migrated to the U.S after they heard of the gold mining, which was famously known as “Gum Saan." This was after California gold rush had begun, which became the center of world attention. Discovery of gold in the mountains of western United States attracted many people from china and the world in general. Only a small number of people left china as free migrants, as they paid for their own way. Most of them left china as contract laborers enlisted by labor recruits or the government. While others left china on the credit ticket system, whereby they were expected to pay their debts, once they reach U.S. Famine and civil war in china were part of the things that propelled them to migrate (Chang, 19). They decided to go and work in the United States so that they can earn a living and send some money back at home to their families. They arrived in San Francisco harbor and settled, what led to the growth of Chinatown.
1849-1868 transcontinental railroad.
The Chinese men who had migrated from china worked on the transcontinental railroad, since most of them agreed to lower-paying wages than the locals. Because of their endurance in the rough and dangerous conditions, they were given the responsibility of laying down the trails for the so that western railways. It was one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of the 19th century by the U.S. It is estimated to have been completed in 1868 at a very quick pace. In the wild western territory, only a few Chinese women dared to venture. Most of them were going there for the sex trade.
1870-1881 anti-Chinese violence.
With the end of the gold strikes and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Chinese people become the target of a decade violence and discrimination in Los Angeles. Since many Chinese held big positions in the laundry business and agricultural sector, they flourished and their living standard improved. In effect, they expound their territory to take up more buildings. Their population increased to over 3000 people. The exclusion act which was passed by the U.S congress put to an end the high growth of Chinese people (Chang, 31).
1882-1850 the Chinese exclusion act.
In 1882, the U.S congress passed Chinese exclusion act, which reduced the number of Chinese people migrating to United States. This act chased out the popular anti-Chinese favor, and the fear of overpopulation of Chinese persons in the U.S. The statics conducted in the United States revealed that more than 322,000 Chinese came to U.S between 1882 and 1850. It is important to note that this fact was among the turning points for the America, as America was known to welcome all immigrants (Chang, 87). America decided to shut down the doors to the Chinese laborers who wanted to migrate. As for Chinese offenders, they faced deportation or imprisonment, and America citizenship was denied to Chinese immigrants who were already in U.S.
Exclusion act froze Chinese community and prevented them from growing or assimilating into the U.S society. It forced the Chinese immigrants to form their own organization to keep business going. The law also prohibited Chinese from owning any piece of land. However this forced them to lease or rent units for their homes and businesses. After some years, this created problems. Since Chinese were not allowed to own their own property, a few of them maintained their properties. As a result it led to a decline in the overall appearance of Chinatown (Chang, 101). The Chinese never cared about how the town looked like since the locals had pushed them to the corner.
1851-1892 act of prohibiting the coming of the Chinese people to the U.S.
Another exclusionary legislation was amended that prohibited the coming of the Chinese people from china to United States, which was passed in 1892. This act allowed the Chinese laborers to travel back to their home country and reenter the U.S without any hardships. However, they were to provide certificates to proof of their right to be in the U.S. The penalties were deportation or imprisonment in case someone did not provide this document (Chang, 241).
Around 1890, the population of women increased and most of them faced harsh conditions. It resulted to most of them turning to prostitution as a way of making a livelihood. Chinese sex trade became a lucrative business in United States. In 1870, census showed that about 61% of 3536 Chinese women in Los Angeles were doing prostitution as an occupation. It was after that census that police, press and legislature single out Chinese prostitution for criticism. A law passed in California brought together churches to help the state reduce the Chinese prostitution. Legislators of America used the prostitution issue to make migration of Chinese women more difficult.
1851-1905 United States and the cases of Chinese.
During this period, Chinese file over ten thousand cases challenging laws and practices that had been designed to harass them. It is because they recognized that the constitution offers protection to all persons who live in the United States and not merely its citizens. The Supreme Court in the end heard their cases, which led to the amendment of the constitution. The Supreme Court established the department of labor and commerce as the final level of the appeal process for the immigrants (Chang, 311).
Chinese associations were formed that mediated disputes, and they began participating in health, education and other services. During this period of 1851 to 1906, the Chinese formed national Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA). This umbrella body defended the legal and political rights of the Chinese people who were living in the U.S. CCBA helped in filling court cases from the municipal level to supreme courts fighting discriminatory treatment and legislation. This organization also took cases to press; they also worked closely with the government institutions along with Chinese diplomats to protect the right of their people.
1906-1910 The San Francisco earthquake and paper destructions.
A big earthquake and citywide fire in San Francisco led to the destruction of many immigrant records. In effect this gave leeway for Chinese to bring more of their friends and family from china to America. With the absence of documents, the Chinese who were living in Los Angeles could claim to have been born and raised there, making themselves citizens.
1910-1924 immigration act and interrogation of Chinese.
In this period, Chinese immigrants were interrogated thoroughly at the immigration station in San Francisco. In order for a Chinese immigrant to be permitted to enter U.S, they had to pass through the Gauntlet of the San Francisco. Majority of these immigrants were detained for more than one month in agony of suspense and isolation, which resulted to some being return to their home country (Chang, 402). Immigration act went further excluding all categories of Chinese settlers and extending the restrictions to other Asians from migrating to U.S.
1925-1950 act to repeal all Chinese exclusion acts.
An act to repeal the exclusion of Chinese was implemented and put into practice during this period. The act lifted restrictions against Chinese people and give Chinese people a chance to be considered as American citizens. Immigration and nationality act ended Asian exclusion from immigrating to the U.S. A system of preference was started based on skills and family reunification. Laws of preventing Asians from becoming citizens were removed. Population Estimation of Chinese in Los Angeles between 1826 and 1950.
Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Penguin, 2004.