Asian Immigrants in California

The Family in Spanish
The Family in Spanish

A majority of the Asian immigrants that arrived in San Francisco, California in the 1800s were Chinese. Just as the Europeans flocked to California, the Chinese arrived due to the Gold Rush.

Those that made it to California were mostly farmers or peasants that were escaping bad economic or political problem from their homeland.

Their intention was to arrive and work hard and then return home to their families as wealthy people.

  • Asians differed from the Europeans to such an extent that they were looked on as exotic and even sometimes as bad. As the influx of the Chinese continued the media began to show them in cartoonish stereotypes. The Chinese had different cultures and customs that the white Americans had never seen before. They spoke a different language and wore clothes that were strange to them. The traditions of the Chinese included a kind of bachelor society whereas the white Americans followed the Christian tradition of wife and family.
  • Asian immigrants were always being shown as being too different than was accepted in the American society. The Chinese tradition of wearing a single hair braid down their back bothered the white settlers. This style had been part of the Chinese culture since 1644 and in China it was a capital crime for a man to cut his hair. The Chinese assumed they would be going back home so they kept their braid. Americans thought the braid was uncivilized.
  • Americans in 1800s had continued the European attitude of superiority over other cultures and races. Their view was that anyone else was less fortunate and beneath them. They looked down on intermarrying with other races, especially the Asians as there were too many differences.
  • As a matter of protection and survival as well as sharing their culture, many of the Chinese and Asian immigrants lived in close quartered towns. These were often overcrowded and had poor conditions. The Chinese worked hard for very low wages and white Americans thought that their religion gave them mysterious powers. The treatment of the Chinese made them keep themselves away from the white Americans even more.
  • The problem with isolating themselves is that it led to white Americans thinking that the Chinese were sinister. Some of their traditions along with their odd religions added to this opinion. The racist attitudes towards the Chinese continued and the white Americans began to fear that the Chinese immigrants had plans of taking over the country.
  • Meanwhile, the Chinese continued to arrive in California and while they felt unwelcomed, they were also greeted with a tax that was charged to all foreign miners. As the racist tensions continued many of the Chinese miners were attacked and the courts almost never favored them over the white Americans.
  • The Chinese immigrants brought their business experience with them. They opened needed companies such as laundries and restaurants. San Francisco was growing faster than any other city anywhere in the world. The area became known for trade exchange and a good economy.
  • When the gold rush began to taper off Asian immigrants too jobs building the railroad, in industrial jobs that were low wage, and as farm laborers. It was the railroad that gave many Chinese immigrants better opportunities. The rail lines that were being built across the country meant that more labor could be hired and a majority of that labor was Chinese. Working the railroad construction paid better but the construction managers gave the most dangerous jobs to the Chinese immigrants.
  • The fear of being taken over by the continued flow of Chinese prompted a law to be passed by the U.S. government to stop the immigration. This was specifically aimed at the Chinese and it was the first of many laws that would eventually be passed against people of other ethnicities or races.

Q&A:

What discovery in California prompted the flow of Asian immigrants?

Gold

Why did the white Americans have such prejudiced views against the Chinese?

Their traditions and culture was too different

Why didn’t the Chinese men cut their hair braid?

They had plans of returning to China and to cut a hair braid was against the law

What industry offered the Chinese better wages?

Building the railroad

What types of businesses did the Asian immigrants open in California?

Laundry, restaurants

What did the policy of isolation cause the Chinese?

Suspicion by white Americans