Part 1: Historical Context for Immigration

When the Chinese came to America, they sought out to earn fortunes from the California Gold Rush. After the Gold Rush though, they continued to stay in the US as laborers for projects like building railroads. They came from regions of China that were suffering from extreme poverty, so the prospect of a new life appealed to them and returning to China was not an option. They kept to themselves but increasing competition for work further marginalized the community.

Due to pressures from the white community, Congress passed several acts of legislation that restricted Chinese immigration and rights. White Americans blamed Chinese immigrants and eventually Chinese Americans for unemployment problems, so the Chinese resorted to the court system to stand up for themselves. They carved out a foundation for civil rights and pointed out the much larger issues among the American population. Their cases provide insight on class and gender restrictions with Asian communities that also affected other immigrant communities of color.


Suggested Readings: 

Despite white communities complaining about the influx of Chinese workers, the Chinese were not the largest immigrant group during the 1800s.


Yet, they were blamed for taking jobs, corrupting the public with opium dens and prostitutes, and underpaid for the same work that white immigrants did. They were forced to rely on each other and lived in “Chinatowns” because they were not welcomed in other communities. Their exclusion was perpetuated by anti-Chinese sentiments, yet their exclusionary way of living seemed to anger white communities just as much as they claimed the Chinese did not fit in and were not even trying to conform to American life.

Reflection Questions: 

How did the discrimination against Chinese Americans mirror issues other minorities had?

Why did the Chinese stay in the US and continue to come if tensions were so high?

With strong anti-Chinese sentiments growing, the Chinese resorted to legal defense. If they could prove they had legal standing to be in the US, then perhaps white Americans would accept them. The Constitution was the law of the land, so they used it with the hopes of establishing credible protection against anti-Chinese credibility. They used any resource they had to combat anti-Chinese attitudes.

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