“They kept showing us the videos about Jewish people.” So the conversation starts with my 13 year old. “So we won’t forget and history won’t repeat itself,” I said. “Yeah, but they keep making us watch it over and over again.” “It’s important to remember the histories that we are ashamed of, the same with slavery.” As I tried to talk the importance of remembrance into him, I said to myself, “we are Chinese, and we forget…”
It takes a lot for someone to leave their homes and go to a foreign country. It may not seem difficult, especially nowadays, people tend to be mobile and travel has been made relatively easy. However, let’s put it in perspective. For the Chinese in the 1840s, it must have been a difficult decision to make. Leaving everything you are familiar with, tradition, culture, language, families, to go on an unpredictable, long journey and likely you will not have your bones buried at the same place you were born, which was a big deal for Chinese. Due to the ineffective government at the time and a widespread famine, many brave souls, especially young men, came as bonded labors, or coolies. Talk about America’s obsession with cheap imported labor.
It was well known that most of the Chinese came to work on the railroads or in the mines. As the industrial employers drooled over this new wave of exploitable labor, the public, namely white laborers, were pitched against this ‘invasion’ of the ‘yellow peril’. Chinese railroad workers were paid significantly less even though at one point they made up 80% of the railroad workers. Chinese miners were constantly getting robbed and had to pay a foreign miner tax, which was passed to exclusively target Chinese miners. Laws were made banning the Chinese from holding citizenship. Chinese held limited rights just as African Americans and Native Americans, which meant they could not stand in court against whites. The anti-Chinese movement focused on the cultural differences and stereotypes of the Chinese, and painted the Chinese as addicted to immoral activities such as opium smoking (because of the opium wars?) and gambling. The Chinese were depicted as a subgroup and was seen as uncivilized. (hmm…where have I heard that before?) As resources and job opportunities grew thin, due to the rise of Chinese women falling into prostitution, the Chinese were often seen as criminals and Chinese immigration were restricted for ‘lewd and immoral purposes.’
In 1870s, white workers’ groups like the Working Man Group, had said, “The Chinese laborer is a curse to our land, is degrading to our morals, is a menace to our lives, and should be restricted and forever abolished, and the Chinese must go.” (And here we are in the 2017, same chants, same echos, just different minority group.) In the 1880s, anti-Chinese violence has sprung up around the Pacific West of America, thousands of Chinese were killed and driven from places they lived. There were the Rock Springs Massacre in Wyoming, attack in Issaquah, Washington, anti-Chinese movement in Tacoma and Seattle, the executions in Eastern Washington. A fire in 1900 in Port Townsend swept through downtown and firemen only saved white establishments, leaving Chinatown to burn. In the early 1900s, the first immigration detention center on Angel Island, off of the coast of San Francisco, was put in use mainly to keep immigrants from Asia, 70% of whom were Chinese.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act suspended Chinese from immigrating. In 1884, the amendment made it difficult for Chinese labors to return after they have left to visit home. Then the Scott Act banned Chinese from entering altogether. In 1892, the Chinese Exclusion Act was renewed and later in 1902 it was made permanent, not until 1943, it was finally reversed. The Chinese, were the only race that was banned and blocked solely for the race in the history of this country. Now how often do you hear about that? It seems that we have the habit of allowing immigrants only when there’s a need for labor, and then pitch hatred and dispose of them in times that their existence are no longer needed. (Hello, capitalism!)
If you think I’m dissing on capitalism, you are half right. I am criticizing the used-and-tossed capitalism, the type of capitalism that is without a soul, without morals, and without compassion. Either am I writing this to pitch the Chinese against ‘Whites’, understands that ‘Whites’ is as broad of a term as Asians. Rather, I want you, all of the readers to understand, and remember, that history has never stopped repeating itself and it won’t unless we can become better collectively. The truth, if we look back on the short history of America, we’ve hated and pitched against most of the ethnicity and/or origins, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, or we lump them together and hate like we do with Jewish and Muslims (but not the Muslims from Indonesia?), or even some of the Europeans, like the Irish and the Italians (which are kind of a head-scratcher for me). When you hear about the Mexicans, the Muslims, the Chinese…what they are really saying is that the corporation profits and growth take priority over the health and happiness of the labor force, and if you are turned against each other and divided into specific groups by visible differences, perhaps you won’t notice that the pie keeps on getting smaller and smaller and so does each one’s share. After all, the immigrants have no power to force employers to hire them and pay them the lowest possible wages. If consumers can make personal choices and steer the market, so can businesses make conscious choices on whom to hire? For this Asian Pacific Heritage Month, let’s remember and never forget.