Chinese Americans constitute one group of Overseas Chinese, people of Chinese birth or descent who live on the American soil. Historians agree that in dealing with the history of Chinese immigrants in the United States, one must always bear in mind that the term Chinese American is usually used to include not only immigrants from China, Hong Kong, Macau and their descendants but also immigrants and descendants of Overseas Chinese people who migrated to the United States from places such as Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Taiwan and Malaysia.
According to U.S. government records the first Chinese immigrants arrived in 1820. Fewer than 1,000 men are known to have arrived before the 1848 California Gold Rush which attracted the first significant number of laborers from China who tried their hand at mining and performed menial labor. Most of the early immigrants were young males with a low educational level from the Guangdong province.
The thesis examines what occurred to Chinese immigrants once they reached the Americans soil. Did they succeed? And if it is the case, how difficult was their struggle to face racism and discriminatory laws enacted against them? What were the different steps of assimilation? And how much it was hard to adjust to mainstream America?
In fact, between 1882 and 1943 Chinese were banned from immigrating, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. Since the repeal of the Act in 1943, immigration of Chinese continued to be heavily restricted until 1965 . In the middle of the nineteenth century, Chinese came to “Gold Mountain” as most of them called America, to join the gold rush that begun in California and seek better living conditions. Initially welcomed, they became a significant element of the labour force that set up the economic foundation of the American West. Chinese were found throughout the U.S. territory region, laboring in agriculture, mining, industry, and were present wherever workers were needed. They were acknowledged for their great contribution to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, which united the country economically and culturally.
In spite of their essential role in the development of the American West, the Chinese suffered tough exploitation. They were discriminated against in terms of pay and were forced to work under unbearable conditions. White workers saw them as economic competitors and racially inferior, thus encouraging the passing of discriminatory laws and engaging of widespread acts of violence against the Chinese.
Under the slogan “Chinese must go!” an anti-Chinese movement emerged and worked hard to prevent the Chinese from means for making a living . The movement’s objective was to drive them out of the country. This hostility froze all the efforts of Chinese to become American citizens. It forced them to retreat to Chinatowns, where they found safety and support. In these confined areas, they managed to earn their living, but were isolated from the rest of the population, things more difficult to assimilate into mainstream society .
As a consequence, Chinese workers were prevented from immigrating to America by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 . Its passing was a turning point event in the history of America. The act marked the departure from the traditional American policy of unrestricted immigration.
After that China became an ally during World War II, the exclusion laws were finally repealed by the Magnuson Act in 1943. This bill made it possible for Chinese to become naturalized citizens and gave them an annual quota of 105 immigrants. While the Act put an end to an injustice that lasted more than sixty years, the damage to the Chinese community had already been done. Between the 1890s and 1920s , the Chinese population in America declined. The worst effect was to undermine the one thing that was most precious to the Chinese, their families. Chinese men were forced to live lonely in the almost all-male society that was Chinatown. At the same time, wives and children were forced to remain in China, supported by aids from relatives established in the United States and rarely seeing their husbands and fathers. This separation made it difficult to maintain strong family ties.
As the annual quota of 105 immigrants indicates, America’s immigration policy was restrictive and discriminatory against Chinese and other Asians. Equality in immigration only came with the enactment of the Immigration Act of 1965, which abrogated the unjust national origins quota system that had been established earlier. Since the 1960s, Chinese have immigrated to the United States in significant numbers, taking advantage of the immigration policy’s emphasis on family reunification.
The present day, Chinese-Americans are doing relatively well. Most of the time, they are seen as hard-working professionals or businessmen with stable families. In fact, a large public opinion states that they have average household incomes and educational levels higher than their white counterparts. While problems of discrimination still exist, they are less significant as they used to be years ago.