United States has been the nation of immigrants, a place where everyone’s family has at some point, chosen to come to seek freedom or a better life in some way. Many immigrants came to the states seeking a greater economic opportunity, while some, like the Pilgrims, came for religious freedom during the early 1600s. Although, from the 17thto 19th centuries, hundreds of thousands of African slaves were brought to America against their will.
During the mid-1800s, Asians first came to the United States in large numbers. The first settlers from Asia on the American continent were mainly the Chinese immigrants. As a result of the push-pull factor in regards to the Opium War and the California Gold Rush, many Chinese people moved to the United States in large numbers. Majority of the workers were mostly Chinese men, leaving their families back home in China. Chinese people mined for gold, while some specialized in laundry services. The European descent miners were upset that the Chinese gained mining permits to find gold, and the European descents thought it was rightfully theirs. Since the Chinese workers were ineligible for citizenship, the California legislature passed the Foreign Miner’s License Tax which was created for the Chinese miners to pay an increased increased tax than any other minority/immigrant groups.
The Chinese immigrants were brought to the U.S to work on the railroads and in agriculture on the West Coast, Chinese were accepted by the white Americans because the work they performed was undesirable by the European Americans. As a result, the work was difficult and dangerous and the railroad companies had difficulty finding the necessary workers. Some Chinese workers came voluntarily, while others were kidnapped and brought against their will, some were forced into slavery. After the transcontinental railroad was completed, the majority of the Asian-Americans had to move to cities where they started working in manufacturing and factories, and some went into farming. As the number of Chinese immigration increased, strong resentment grew on the west coast, primarily in California. The problem for many Americans is that the Chinese never went “back home.” Those that survived created new communities such as Chinatown in San Francisco. The white settlers were just as new to California, however, they identified the Chinese as “aliens” because of their appearance and backgrounds were much different compared to the White Americans and other minority groups.
White Americans feared that the Chinese people would compete with them for work, especially during the times of economic recession. The white Americans worried about the global migration of Asians and “the alleged threat” they presented. In response, a movement of anti-Chinese (and eventually, anti-Japanese and anti-Asian) sentiment swept the U.S. This led to a lot of discrimination and prejudice on the Chinese community, and anti-Chinese propagandas were created for Americans to think in a negative approach about the Chinese. For instance, the white Americans accused the Chinese of stealing the well-paying jobs, even though the Chinese were paid less than the white workers. Eventually, the anti-Chinese movement helped further federal legislation that severely restricted Chinese immigration for the next several decades.
The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the first significant law restricting Chinese immigration and this prohibited the Chinese immigrants entrance into the United States, which they couldn’t become naturalized citizens. This law not only prohibited entry to the U.S. but also created additional suffering as thousands of Chinese men couldn’t go back to visit their families and loved ones. The Geary Act of 1892 was a law that extended the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 by adding difficult and onerous new requirements to the Chinese. This law required all Chinese residents to carry a resident permit that was like an internal passport. Failure to carry the passport/identity card could lead to deportation to China or one year of hard labor.
After the Chinese immigration was mostly abolished, the anti-Chinese movement turned the situation against Chinese who were already living in the United States. Anti-miscegenation laws were created to prevent interracial marriage and enforced racial segregation. As a result, this law prohibited the engagement between white Americans and any “negro, Mongolian, or mulatto” person, basically anyone who was an “alien.”
In 1870, Congress revised the Nationality Act of 1790 that originally stated, “any alien, being a free white person who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for a term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof” to conform with the 14th amendment of 1868 and allowed “aliens of African nativity and person of African decent to become naturalized citizens.” Congress rejected efforts to make the Chinese immigrants eligible for citizenship and kept the racial prohibition on naturalization for nonwhite immigrants who’d be classified as “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” This set back so many dreams back for Asians until the passage of the Walter-McCarran Act of 1952.