Surprisingly, Asian Americans have been in America for over 150 years. They are as diverse as the immigrants from Europe, ranging from China, Japan, Cambodia, Korea, Philippines, India, Vietnam, and Laos are. When many people think of American Immigrants, Asians are on the last of their lists. From all of these countries, China is well known front runner of American immigrants. China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations. It influence have reverberated throughout Asia. Its presence is felt in many of the surrounding cultures. The Chinese people have tried to keep their society pure from outside sources. When foreigners entered their homeland and poisoned the population with drugs, the culture could not stop the imminent alteration of their ways. China was weakened severely and was taken advantage of by many countries.
Chinese came to America for a myriad of reasons. The main reason was because of the myth of the Gam Saan (“Golden Mountain.”) Other reasons were due to overpopulation, poverty, hunger, flooding, high taxes, bad economy, collapsing government, and crop failure. When gold was found in California and short on hand of workers, many Chinese travel into America to get rich quick. A young man in Canton wrote to his brother in Boston saying, “good many Americans speak of California, Oh! Very rich country! O hear good many Americans and Europeans go there very much. I think I shall go to California next summer.”(From Gold Rush) Stories like these built up this dream of the “Golden Mountain”. The plan for most Chinese was to make their fortune, and return home to their family. The dream of getting rich quick has been around for ages. Due to this, a trickle of immigrants turned into a deluge. The whole thing began in 1835. William Hooper, a young man from Boston, visited a sugar mill in Hawaii. He became determined to start the first sugar plantation in Hawaii. Without a large supply of laborers, Hooper hired “China men” to aid in the success of the plantation. From this humble beginning, sugar grew into a large industry that would need a steady supply of laborers. In 1848, after a war with Mexico, the United States obtained a region known as California. Finding California to be a commercial and agricultural center, it became America’s gateway to Asia. (From Gold Rush) With the large fertile lands of California, workers were needed to help reap the profits that would flow in.
In 1833, the British Empire abolished the practice of slavery. Plantation owners desperate for field labor made use of coolies. Coolies were basically Chinese that signed labor contracts and were held in virtual slavery. They were ensnared by brokers into this system by debts, clan war prisoners, or kidnapping. (From Gold Rush) Like the African slave trade, this method flourished over Asia and had high mortality rates due to cramped quarters and malnourishment. It was referred to as the “buying and selling of pigs.” Hawaii made use of this practice in order to fulfill the great demand of the booming sugar industry. In 1962, the United States congress prohibited American citizens in American vessels from engaging in such activities. However, the laws were easily evaded, and not strictly enforced. In an 1869 magazine article called “Our Manufacturing Era,” a writer named Henry Robinson described California’s enormous economic potential. He stated that, “If Chinese labor could be used to develop the industries of California, it would be the height of folly to forbid its entrance to the Golden Gate.” (From Internet) There was a constant demand for Asian labor all across the Pacific Coast, because they were cheaper, and generally harder working. Factory owners, bankers, investors, and other leaders of American industry used the Chinese workers to keep wages down. Chinese workers would work for cheaper wages, and would prevent strikes for higher wages from white workers. This naturally led to a build up of animosity among the groups that then led to racial antagonism. Toward the end of the 19th century, many whites felt that there were too many Chinese in the United States. Congress acted by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 which banned the immigration of Chinese into America. As the number of Chinese immigrants increased, the anti-Chinese forces began to arise. The Chinese provided a cheap form of labor. Racism built up due to cultural and economic fears. The Chinese did not try to amalgamate with the dominant culture. The Chinese were discriminated in many ways, from forming laws that specifically targeted them, to disallowing citizenship of the Chinese. In late 1860’s, violence started to arise from the hate. Whites rioted and killed many Chinese in towns all over California. In May 1876 some whites burned a Chinese house in Truckee and then shot the Chinese as they tried to escape. Although the town claimed to be outraged, those arrested were useless. They found not guilty. Examples like this show the inequalities of the legal system at that time period.
What has all this accomplished? Asian Americans belong to the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. Kept out by immigration laws in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Asians have recently been coming again. In the early 1990’s, half of all immigrants entering annually are Asian. In 1960, Asians compromised a mere 0.5% of the population. By the year 2000, Asian Americans will make up 4% of the total population of the United States. In California already, Asian Americans represent 10% of the states total population.
The immigration of the Chinese into the United States has greatly supplemented the cultural heritage of the nation. Asians with their capacity for hard work in the face of economic and social adversity and to advance economically have created cultural microcosms form, which their children venture to become Americans. Unlike most European immigrants, Asians tend to disprove the original Melting Pot theory of America. The Asians did not wish to amalgamate with the dominant society and most certainly white Americans of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made it abundantly clear that they were opposed to Asian immigration and settlement. The United States is a nation of immigrants. All groups have left their mark upon the country’s fabric. Their physical stamina and intellectual abilities have enabled them to make their mark and to add measurably to the American heritage.