Guiding Questions:

Did coming to America fulfill the need of immigrants' voice in government?

How did it change over time?

Introduction

Political Cartoon: Every Dog (No Distinction of Color) Has His Day, From Harper's Weekly, Vol, XXIII, No.1154, February 8, 1879

The mid 1800's brought much challenge and change to America. Immigrants from all over the world were finding their way into this new country with the dreams and aspirations of an improved life and the chance to reshape their future. The California Gold Rush and the subsequent construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, saw thousands of Chinese venture to America’s shores looking for the promise of wealth and good fortune. As many left China at a time of great turmoil and despair, numerous obstacles would await these new immigrants as they arrived on foreign soil and their dreams would sometimes seem further away than when they began. Most were young male peasants and laborers that would risk their lives in hopes of reaching the Gold Mountain.

In 1851, there were almost 25,000 Chinese immigrants living and working in California (1); working in the mines, on the railroads, fishing and running laundries. By 1880, that number would soar to over 100,000. Immigrating to the U.S. was a choice many had made long ago. Generations before, immigrants from primarily northern and western Europe arrived in the U.S. and eventually assimilated into American society. The experience of Chinese immigrants however did not follow the more typical pattern of immigration. Instead, they were caught in a peculiar cycle of exclusion.

By 1882, in response to growing anti-Chinese sentiment and after much heated debate, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the country’s first immigration act which was designed to deny entrance on racial and class bases. The passage of this Act forced many Americans to question and redefines their ideas about citizenship, race relations, and what it means to be an "American". Most immigrant groups found a lot of resistance from natives, but none far greater than early Chinese immigrant that came here looking to pursue their own dreams. Historians can hear the voices of those who supported and opposed exclusion and learn more about how Chinese immigrants, despite exclusion, struggled to assimilate.

Header Images: Excerpts from "Every Dog (No Distinction of Color) Has His Day", From Harper's Weekly, Vol, XXIII, No.1154, February 8, 1879, Boston Public LIbrary

Inline Image: Geary Law by C.H. Huntington, Courtesy of Boston Public Library