Chinese Immigration to the United States


In many respects, the motivations for the Chinese to come to the United States are similar to those of most immigrants. Some came to "The Gold Mountain," and others came to the United States to seek better economic opportunity. Yet there were others that were compelled to leave China either as contract laborers or refugees. The Chinese brought with them their language, culture, social institutions, and customs. Over time they made lasting contributions to their adopted country and tried to become an integral part of the United States population.

Chinese immigration can be divided into three periods: 1849-1882, 1882-1965, and 1965 to the present. The first period began shortly after the California Gold Rush and ended abruptly with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. During this period thousands of Chinese, mostly young male peasants, left their villages in the rural countries to become laborers in the American West. They were recruited to extract metals and minerals, construct a vast railroad network, reclaim swamplands, build irrigation systems, work as migrant agricultural laborers, develop the fishing industry, and operate highly-competitive manufacturing industries. At the end of the first period, the Chinese population in the United States was about 110,000. 

Throughout most of the second period (1882-1965), only diplomats, merchants, and students and their dependents were allowed to travel to the United States. Otherwise, throughout this period, Chinese Americans were confined to segregated ghettos, called Chinatowns, in major cities and isolated regions in rural areas across the country. Because the Chinese were deprived of their democratic rights, they made extensive use of the courts and diplomatic channels to defend themselves. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, particularly the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 brought in a new period in Chinese American immigration. Now Chinese Americans were liberated from a structure of racial oppression. The former legislation restored many of the basic rights that were earlier denied to Chinese Americans. Under these new laws, thousands of Chinese people came to the United States each year to reunite with their families and young Chinese Americans mobilized to demand racial equality and social justice. Equally significant are two types of Chinese immigrants that have been entering the United States since the 1970s. The first type consists of highly select and well-educated Chinese. The second type is made up of thousands of Chinese immigrants who have entered the United States to escape either political instability or repression throughout East and Southeast Asia. Others are ethnic Chinese from Vietnam and Cambodia who became poverty-stricken refugees. They have run away from such threats as "ethnic cleansing."

Economic development and racial exclusion defined the patterns of settlement for the Chinese Americans. Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, the patterns of settlement followed the patterns of economic development in the western states. Since mining and railway construction dominated the western economy, Chinese immigrants settled mostly in California and states west of the Rocky Mountains. As these industries declined and anti-Chinese feelings intensified, the Chinese fled into small import-export businesses and service manufacturing industries in such cities as San Francisco, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. By the earlier twentieth century, approximately over eighty percent of the Chinese population were found in Chinatowns in major cities in the United States.

Assimilation was never a viable choice for Chinese Americans, who were excluded and denied citizenship because they were deemed nonassimilable by the white mainstream. By congressional and judicial decisions, the Chinese immigrants were made ineligible for naturalization, which made them politically disenfranchised in a "so-called democracy" and exposing them to violations of their Constitutional rights. Legally discriminated against and politically disenfranchised, Chinese Americans established their roots in Chinatowns, fought racism through aggressive litigation and participated with active roles in economic development projects and political movements to modernize China. Assimilation was seen as an impossibility. In the nineteenth century, most Chinese immigrants saw no future in the United States for themselves. With this mentality, they developed a high degree of tolerance for hardship and racial discrimination and maintained an efficient Chinese lifestyle. This included living modestly, observing Chinese customs and festivals through family associations, sending consistent remittance to parents, wives, and children. Parents tried to drill Chinese language and culture into their children, send them to Chinese schools in the community or in China, motivate them to excel in American education, and above all arrange marriages. The Chinese also joined social organizations and family associations that represented collective interests and well-being of persons with the same family names. These organizations acted to arbitrate disputes, help find jobs and housing, establish schools and temples, and sponsor social and cultural events. Their activities brought mixed blessings to the community. At times, these organizations became too powerful and oppressive, and they also obstructed social and political progress.

Protestant and Catholic missionaries came into the unique Chinese American ghettos, establishing churches and schools and trying to convert and assimilate the Chinese, as well as recruit Chinese Americans to support and work for their causes. Those Chinese Americans who were exposed to a segregated but American education very quickly became aware of their inferior status. Many became ashamed of their appearance, status, and culture. Self-hatred and the need to be accepted by white society became their primary obsession. This meant that they had to reject their cultural and linguistic heritage and pursue "Americanization." This would entail adoption of American values, personality traits, social behaviors, and conversion to Christianity. Between efforts of the missionaries and political reformers, many churches and political parties were established and sectarian schools and newspapers were founded. Schools and newspapers became some of the influential and enduring institutions in Chinese America and also played an important role in introducing ideas of modernity and nationalism to Chinese culture and the Chinese.

Many types of food and items related to Chinese food have been introduced to the American society and used at the present time. Chinese tea was a popular beverage in eighteenth and nineteenth century America. Since the 1960s, Chinese cuisine has been an integral part of the American diet as well. Chinese restaurants are found in small towns and large cities across the United States. Key ingredients for preparing Chinese
food are now found in all chain supermarkets, and lessons in Chinese cooking are regular features of national television. Chinese take-outs, catering, and chain restaurants have been commonplace in many cities. American households now routinely use Chinese ingredients such as soy sauce and ginger. They employ cooking techniques, such as stir frying and own Chinese utensils such as the wok and the cleaver.

Very few Chinese Americans now wear traditional Chinese clothing. On special occasions, some traditional costumes are worn. On Chinese New Year's Day, elders sometimes wear traditional Chinese formal clothes to greet guests. Sometimes, as seen in movies and television, Chinese styles find their way into American high fashion and Hollywood movies. In regards to the celebration of Chinese holidays, most Chinese Americans today observe the major holidays of the Chinese lunar calendar. The most important holiday is the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, which is also a school holiday in San Francisco. Family members get together for special feasts and celebrations. 

Most of the Chinese immigrants arriving in the United States knew only various dialects of Cantonese, one of the major branches of Chinese spoken in the Zhujiang delta. The maintenance of Chinese has been carried out by a strong network of community language schools and Chinese-language newspapers. With the arrival of new immigrants from other parts of China and the world after World War II, almost all major Chinese dialects were brought to America. Most prominent among these are Cantonese, Putonghua, Minnan, Chaozhou, Shanghai, and Kejia. The best part is that one common written Chinese helps communication across dialects. Today, Chinese is maintained through homes, community language schools, newspapers, radio, television, and foreign language classes at mainstream schools and universities.

The majority of Chinese Americans could be characterized as practicing some form of Buddhism or Taoism, folk religions, and ancestral worship. In general, the Chinese are pragmatic in their approach to life and religion. They are somewhat superstitious, in that they believe in doctrines called fengsui, which are supposed to help in organization of a home. They also worship through their ancestors, folk heroes, animals, or their representations in idols or images, as if they are gods. To these representations they offer respect and ritual offerings, burning incense, ritual papers, and paper objects to help maintain order and bring good luck. Above all, Chinese respect other people's religions as much as they respect their own.

Although the Chinese immigrants in the late nineteenth century faced many hardships, they had a profound effect on America. Primarily, the Chinese supplied the labor for America's growing industry. Chinese factory workers were important in California especially during the Civil War. They worked in wool mills, and cigar, shoe, and garment industries; twenty-five occupations in all. Chinese entrepreneurs started their own factories, competing with the white people. The Chinese provided a quarter of California's labor force. Chinese labor was also sought elsewhere in America, on the east coast and in the south to substitute for the now freed slaves. Chinese labor was sought after mainly because they supplied cheap labor. The worldwide effort to abolish slavery was aided by the Chinese cheap labor. The Chinese were also the first to stake claims in California gold fields prompting many to relocate to the west. With the gold rush, the Chinese were prompted to exploit other western state resources, providing products of use to the American society. The Chinese began the era of railroad building. The Central Pacific Railroad Company employed about 15,000 Chinese to construct the Transcontinental Railroad. The numerous railroads the Chinese built in America helped open rich resources in many of the states. The Chinese converted much of the land they settled in into rich farm land. Chinese cultivating, planting, and harvesting in vineyards, orchards, and ranches were useful by supplying great numbers of fruits and vegetables. Their skills were recognized and imitated on other farms. The west, no longer dependent on the east for products, could now produce their own products with the help of the Chinese.

After observing the struggles and hardships that the Chinese immigrating to America faced

and encountered, one may realize that to move from one's homeland and slowly assimilate into a new culture while holding on to traditional customs, ethnicity, and culture is not an easy task. This task involved persistence, patience, and perseverance. Most importantly, the Chinese contributed themselves and their heritage to this melting pot known as America.
 
 

SETTLEMENT UPON IMMIGRATION; URBAN OR RURAL
Throughout this period of immigration Chinese Americans were confined to segregated ghettos, called Chinatowns, in major cities and isolated regions in rural areas across the country. Economic development and racial exclusion defined the patterns of settlement for the Chinese Americans. Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, the patterns of settlement followed the patterns of economic development in the western states. Since mining and railway construction dominated the western economy, Chinese immigrants settled mostly in California and states west of the Rocky Mountains. 
As these industries declined and anti-Chinese feelings intensified, the Chinese fled into small import-export businesses and service manufacturing industries in such cities as San Francisco, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. By the earlier twentieth century, approximately over eighty percent of the Chinese population were found in Chinatowns in major cities in the United States.
 
 

CONTRIBUTIONS THEY MADE
Although the Chinese immigrants in the late nineteenth century faced many hardships, they had a profound effect on America. Primarily, the Chinese supplied the labor for America's growing industry. Chinese factory workers were important in California especially during the Civil War. They worked in wool mills, and cigar, shoe, and garment industries; twenty-five occupations in all. Chinese entrepreneurs started their own factories, competing with the white people. The Chinese provided a quarter of California's labor force. Chinese labor was also sought elsewhere in America, on the east coast and in the south to substitute for the now freed slaves. Chinese labor was sought after mainly because they supplied cheap labor. The worldwide effort to abolish slavery was aided by the Chinese cheap labor. The Chinese were also the first to stake claims in California gold fields prompting many to relocate to the west. With the gold rush, the Chinese were prompted to exploit other western state resources, providing products of use to the American society. The Central Pacific Railroad Company employed about 15,000 Chinese to construct the Transcontinental Railroad.The 
numerous railroads the Chinese built in America helped open rich resources in many of the states. The Chinese converted much of the land they settled in into rich farm land. Chinese cultivating, planting, and harvesting in vineyards, orchards, and ranches were useful by supplying great numbers of fruits and vegetables. Their skills were recognized and imitated on other farms. The west, no longer dependent on the east for products, could now produce their own products with the help of the Chinese.
 
 

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