Every person who lives in America is either an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant. Though we may not consider it, it is a fact that everyone here has come from some other place. The majority of immigrants have come to America voluntarily. Seeking a change they envisioned America as country thriving with different opportunities. For the immigrants it was a chance at a better life, not only for themselves, but for their children. It is estimated that over sixty million people have immigrated to America and it is this immigration that has built America into a “melting pot.
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America is a country thriving with varies ethnic, cultural, religious, and economic identities. It is this “melting pot” that makes America so unique and cherished by those who live here. On the other hand there are unpleasant aspects of immigration, which include the hardships faced in order to reach America and the struggle to gain acceptance. During 1850 to 1930, immigration was increasing and was welcomed in order to supply the demands of the Industrial Age. Chinese immigrants came to America in search of labor, thus proving to be hard, diligent laborers, only to be discriminated against and treated unjustly.
The reason for immigration is commonly referred to as the push-pull theory. It says that certain factors must be present at both sides in order for immigration to occur. The factors present at the homeland must push immigrants to leave, and factors present at the other end must attract immigrants and pull them to a new place. For the Chinese it was the need to provide for their families that pushed them and the gold and labor that pulled them. The Chinese were the first Asians to immigrate to America.
Most Chinese immigrated as sojourners, immigrants who from the beginning intended to return to their homeland. In the mid 1800’s many unskilled Chinese began their journey to the West, particularly California, arriving in vast numbers just after the discovery of gold in California in 1849. Between 1850 to 1882 more than 300,000 Chinese immigrants, mostly impoverished peasants crossed the Pacific and headed for America, the promise land. The majority of Chinese immigrants were from the same region, Canton, which is located in South China.
More than ninety percent of those who left China were male, mainly because of Chinese social custom, which instructed women to remain at home with their families. A number of Chinese immigrants were unable to pay for their voyage to America, therefore, they acquired the help of a work broker in order to immigrate. Just like the African slaves, the immigrants signed contracts guaranteeing that they would work for a certain amount of years in exchange for paying their way to America. These arrangements enabled thousands of Chinese to have a chance at a better life in America.
The immigrants under this contract were known as “coolies,” a Hindu word meaning “unskilled laborer. During the 1850’s a vast majority of “coolies” chose to immigrate to California. Between 1840 and 1900 about 2. 4 million Chinese left their homeland. Many Chinese entered America through an immigration station at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. From Angel Island the majority of Chinese immigrants set out in search of the gold in the West, which included California, Nevada, and Oregon. This discovery of gold was the main attraction of Chinese immigrants.
It was a factor that set off the voyage to America among the Chinese. Even though a large percentage of Chinese immigrants became miners, it was a difficult job for them, because of the hostility from White miners. The White miners forced the Chinese into working mines that were already picked over and left abandoned. However, with hard work the Chinese still managed to remove what gold remained from the mines. Their determination and diligence only seemed to evoke even more hostility from the Whites amongst the Chinese.
The Whites soon frequently and continually harassed and attacked the Chinese. Resulting from this escalating violence was a series of discriminatory laws passed by the State of California. It reduced the Chinese to second-class status and purposely put them under legal penalties that no other group encountered. When the Gold Rush ended in 1860, many Chinese immigrants found jobs with the nations railroad industry. When the Union Pacific Railroad began its construction of its western part in 1864, thousands of Chinese laborers were hired.
It was the Chinese who the Central Pacific Railroad Company hired to build a railroad over the harsh western land that would eventually link America’s east and west coasts together. The Chinese were extremely hard workers, conquering the granite mountains and gorges of the Sierra Nevada and Rockies. They also encountered dangerous working conditions, such as being lowered from mere rope held baskets, suspended between earth and sky, and sustaining the harsh winter of 1865-1865, which was recorded as one of the worst winters.
The Chinese were meager in their way of life, dressing poorly and having simple living quarters. They also were willing to sacrifice less pay than White workers in order to earn a nominal amount of money. Thanks to the work of the Chinese the railroad was completed in an incredible amount of time. The United States government signed the Burlingame Treaty with China in 1868, in order to guarantee that Chinese immigration would continue to America. This treaty supplied the railroad company large amounts of workers, however, resulting was the growing movement to keep the Chinese out of America.
White workers resented the Chinese because they were willing to work for a less amount of money as opposed to the White workers even though they performed the same tasks. Angry Whites blamed the Chinese immigrants for lowering wages and raising unemployment among the rest of America. Outraged men and women formed anti-Chinese groups and supported politicians who pledged to deport Chinese workers. For example in 1870 a nominee of the California Workingmen’s party ran for office with the campaign slogan “Chinese must go. ”
The anti-Chinese attitudes forced Chinese immigrants into enclaves. In California there was a small section where Chinese immigrants established an enclave in which their culture could be preserved and flourish. This enclave was known as Chinatown in San Francisco. Other immigrants established enclaves in different parts of America, however not any of them were as precise as Chinatown. Almost all of Chinese workers lived in Chinatown, including both the rich and the poor. Even when an immigrant was gaining economic status they still did not move out of this particular enclave.
The Chinese did not want to leave the enclave because the hostility that Whites held towards them made it impossible. Ironically it was this separatism that was held against them as the Whites claimed the Chinese were excluding themselves from the rest of society and not properly assimilating into society. During the 1870’s anti-Chinese attitudes increased in America. Those who were against Chinese immigration made unfathomable and outrageous charges against them. They claimed that they were foreign invaders and were unable to assimilate into the mainstream society.
In Rock Springs, Wyoming, Los Angeles, California, and Tacoma, Washington, angry groups of Americans destroyed Chinese neighborhoods by burning them to the ground. They killed a numerous amount of people and forced the survivors out of their homes, trying to save their own lives. In 1870 the Federal Naturalization Act was established. This act limited naturalization to only Whites and Africans, which in turn meant that out of all the immigrants to America, it was only the Chinese who were prohibited from becoming a citizen. All prejudices demonstrated in America reached the highest levels of the United States government.
In 1882 Congress and the President passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was the first and only act to prohibit a certain ethnic group from immigrating to America. The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese from immigrating to the United States for ten years. This act also denied naturalization to all Chinese in America and refused to allow Chinese to return to America if they left to visit China. The Exclusion act however was biased, allowing only economically privileged Chinese, who were mostly merchants and students, into America.
In 1982 the Gentry Act extended the Chinese Exclusion Act by another ten years. Finally in 1904, the Chinese Exclusion Act was extended until further notice. During this time the United State government was becoming increasing suspicious of all Chinese who desired to enter the country and especially of those who were claiming to be the sons of American citizens. Immigration inspectors held thousands at Angel Island for weeks, sometimes even months until they thoroughly satisfied to the officials that they were in fact belonging to America.
In 1888 Congress passed a law, which regulated the falsification of a birth certificate from the United States. This act was the Scott Act, which prevented re-entry into the United States by any Chinese who returned to his homeland of China even just for a visit. This act also prohibited any Chinese from receiving citizenship. Despite the passing all of these laws there was still a strong reaction in the United States between 1917 and 1965. It went so far as to federal commissions recommending that the country restrict immigration and enforce certain qualifications for entry into the America.
For instance, in 1917 the Dillingham Commission suggested that immigrants should be literate and that no eastern Asian countries be permitted into the United States, from countries such as China, Japan, and Korea, which were commonly referred to as the “barren zones. ” Resulting in 1917 was Congress passing a law that required a literacy test for immigrants, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. As a result of all these laws, the number of Chinese legally entering the United States fell from 22,781 in 1876 to 10 in 1887.
Until 1940, a few thousand Chinese immigrants continued to come to the United States every year, either as immediate relatives of United States citizens, or they immigrated illegally. Some came as traders, who were not excluded from all of the laws. Others came as United States citizens because their Chinese parents had been born in the Unites States. Though Chinese immigrants were in search of a new beginning and a chance at a better life, they found that it was a lost search. They came to America as diligent hard workers, only to face the prejudices and unjust treatment of the people.