Name: Chinese Exclusion and the Establishment of the Gate-keeping Nation
Detail: The popular history of immigration to the United States has for the most part focused on European experiences and stories. The history of Chinese immigration offers different lessons. When Chinese immigration began with the California Gold Rush it was in many cases welcomed. By the 1870s, however, the United States experienced the rise of anti-Chinese movements, mostly originating in California, but growing to receive national support. These movements were spurred by an economic depression and the belief among white laborers that Chinese immigrants were “coolies” working for wages that undermined white standards of living. In addition, opponents of Chinese immigration accused the Chinese of being members of a “barbaric” and “heathen” race, who promised to introduce disease, drug use, and other pernicious cultural practices into American life. In 1875, Congress passed the Page Act, which greatly curtailed the immigration of Chinese women to the United States by requiring them to seek entry visas from American consular officials stationed in Hong Kong and other ports, prior to departure. Consular officials were predisposed to judge Chinese women as “immoral” threats who would work in prostitution in the United States. As a result, Chinese immigrants in the United States in the nineteenth century tended to be overwhelmingly male, and, ironically, furthered accusations by white Americans that they had no desire to bring their families and settle permanently. By 1880, both the Republican and Democratic parties supported restrictions on Chinese immigration in their official platforms.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred laborers of the Chinese race from entering the United States (merchants and students were exempted). Previously, the 1870 Naturalization Act, which formally extended citizenship to African Americans, denied Asian immigrants the right to naturalize as citizens. In 1892, the Geary Act renewed the Exclusion Act and added the legal requirement that all Chinese immigrants register with the government and carry photographic identification proving their right to be in the United States. The enforcement of the Geary Act affected American-born Chinese citizens alongside Chinese immigrants.
During Chinese Exclusion, which lasted until 1943 – and was not fully abolished until 1965 – Chinese immigrants adopted numerous tactics to circumvent what they felt were racially discriminatory laws. Chinese men and women immigrated as “paper” sons and daughters, for example, establishing fictive familial relationships to American-born Chinese and exempted merchants, in order to be admitted. Other Chinese immigrants illegally crossed the Mexican and Canadian borders into the United States, leading to the establishment of the Border Patrol in order to police their exclusion. As Erika Lee and Judy Yung note, “Chinese immigrants and Chinese American citizens lived their lives in the shadows, anxious about their immigration status, harassment by immigration officials, and personal safety.”
Type: Exhibition caption
Name: Coolies in New-Jersey
Detail: An article in the New York Times announces the arrival of 150 Chinese laborers in New Jersey, to work on the railroad that would connect Pompton, New Jersey with Middletown, New York. The article was especially concerned with how Irish immigrant laborers, who had previously “monopolized” railroad work in the region, might react to economic competition.
CollectionChinese Exclusion in New Jersey: Immigration Law in the Past and Present
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