Chinese Americans: History and Discrimination

The Chinese have been living in USA since the eighteenth century, though some claim that they have been living there from as early as the seventeenth century. In the middle of the nineteenth century, there was great migration of the Chinese due to abundance of gold in California, while others migrated to seek refuge from floods. During the time they have spent in USA, they have made significant contributions in their quest to be a part of the United States of America. Today, the Chinese make up the largest population of Asians in United States (Chang).

The immigration of the Chinese into USA can be divided into three eras; 1850 to 1882, 1882 to 1965 and from 1965 to present time. In the first phase, there were no laws preventing the movement of Chinese from China to US and back.

They had the freedom of living and working anywhere they wanted in United States. The continued influx of Chinese in America created stiff competition in certain job positions which were considered to be of whites only, this led to the exclusion era (Zia).

Their migration came to a halt instantly after the passing of the Chinese exclusion act in 1882. The act limited their job opportunities and sent them back to China after retiring. Many of them lost their jobs and ended up staying in isolated sections of large cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. These sections were completely ignored by the American government, thus they lacked some basic provisions from the government. Despite of discrimination, the Chinese managed to interrelate with other racial groups to some extent. For example, after the civil war, the Chinese who opened retail shops in Mississippi interacted with the African Americans; while others wed the native Indians and Mexicans (Zia).

There was so much exclusion such that the Chinese born in America with college degrees were unable to find jobs that suited their qualifications. During this period, very few chosen people like merchants, diplomats and students were allowed into US from China. This exclusion in employment changed dramatically after the beginning of world war two. They were accommodated into virtually all sections of the American army, including army related factories and research centres. This was made easy by the fact that the American born Chinese performed exceptionally well in technology-related fields in schools (Chang).

In 1960s, there was great pressure from the minority races in US to have equal rights for all. After the civil right movement back in 1960s, the US community became more tolerant to other ethnic groups than before. Even after the civil right movement, racial discrimination was still a source of tension between communities. Any single act towards another ethnic group was considered racial driven. However, the Chinese race was considered favourable than any other foreign race by the media. This might have been influenced by their achievements in academics and their contribution in the military (Fong and Shinagawa).

Finally in 1964 and the following year the Civil Rights Act and Immigration Acts were enacted respectively, relieving the Chinese Americans and other ethnic groups from repression. The passing of these two legislations lead to many Chinese moving to US and also brought back many of their constitutional rights.

From 1970s two types of Chinese have been migrating to US; one group consisted of highly educated Chinese who were looking to advance their education and the other group was running away from their unstable government and oppression that followed the cold war. The new immigrants revived their cultural activities in many Chinese communities existing in US. The presence of old communities shaped by discrimination and the introduction of more liberal fresh immigrants, varied their lifestyle and resulted to division, sometimes conflict (Zia).

The scholarly immigrants were able to live in environs near research centres in large cities such as Houston due to NASA. By 1970, they had turned to entrepreneurship with their technological skills, and started companies such as Wang Laboratories and AST. Such success stories were printed in the newspapers that caught the attention of not only the residents of USA but the world. Chinese Americans were portrayed as good examples all Americans should copy, thus they earned the term ‘Model Minority’.

USA was portrayed as a place where one can achieve his lifetime dreams and have the best life possible on planet earth. Surprisingly many people from different ethnic group showed up with success stories of how they rose from rags to riches. For example Chong Moon Lee, an entrepreneur was portrayed as a relentless man who struggled with hardships of life to become wealthy. His wealth enabled him to donate fifteen million US dollars to an Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (Chang).

Some of the problems of these success stories are that they lacked sincerity. The stories ignored some factors as social background and availability of information at a particular time and at a particular place. In the example of Mr Lee, the story never mentions that he had a lot of connections, and he hailed from a royal family. The stories failed to show that the success of one person is an exception, not a rule. The other shortcoming of these stories is that they failed to show the problems faced by the individuals, were problems present in the societies and should be addressed as soon as possible.

The success stories were a major motivation for the Chinese to move to US. Some Chinese immigrants moved to US with high hopes of achieving their dreams. Some even came from wealthy families hoping to be wealthier. To their shock, they found out that USA had problems too, and one had to work extra hard to make a living. Many of them did not have any kind of professional qualifications, and they barely spoke English. Most of them ended up being employed by other Chinese Americans, and were paid low wages (Fong and Shinagawa).

However, discrimination still continued and this led to some cases of conflicts between the Chinese Americans, African American and whites. There were cases of ethnic murders, for instance Vincent Chin in 1982 and Jim Loo in 1989 were killed by white folks who blamed them for lack of employment and the Vietnam War respectively. The Chinese Americans can be divided into two groups; the working class and the professionals. This division has caused some of them to conflict with one another on matters of equality and accessibility to proper education.

Most of these conflicts range from employment, housing, land use and working conditions. Some of the conflicts began during the cold war when immigration laws were changed allowing large immigration of Chinese in US. For example, there was some dispute on land use during the building of the International Hotel in San Francisco, and workers in Chung Sai Sewing Factory usually complained of poor working conditions. These conflicts proved to be invaluable when they were seeking political seats (Zia).

The civil rights movement initiated by the African Americans brought a sense of cultural pride thereby making them to more conscious on political matters. Together with other ethnic minorities, the young Chinese Americans rejected the racial structure which secluded them from political affairs. The pressure from the young Chinese intellectuals, led to the formation of organizations such as the organization of Chinese Americans which advocated for equal input in politics and government affairs. This movement led some of Chinese Americans such as March Fong and Michael Woo to take an interest in attaining political post. Later they were involved in other sections of the government such as the judiciary, where Delbert Wong was nominated as a municipal judge and Lim P. Lee, a postmaster (Chang).

The Chinese, like most foreign ethnic groups, faced discrimination. Compared to other immigrants the Chinese were better off when it came to discrimination. The African Americans for example, were slaves. They were treated like animals and worked in the cotton firms without pay. The Native American Indians were chased away from their lands, and most of them killed such that today, their population is diminishing in America. The Chinese on the other hand, were praised and shown to be a hardworking race in the middle of the twentieth century.

Works Cited

Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Adult , 2003. Print.

Fong, Timothy P and Larry H Shinagawa. Asian Americans: Experiences and Perspectives. New York: Prentice Hal, 1999. Print.

Zia, Helan. Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. Print.