A 3-part series that explores the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience Part One - Gold Mountain Dreams
The young men and women on this bus have come from California to Guangdong Province in Southern China. They're part of the Chinese-American success story, students and college graduates with bright prospects. But here, they're looking back to where the Chinese-American story began, a story remote even to them.
I feel that I have never really explored everything there is to know about my family, and I feel the best way for me to understand what they probably have gone through is to see it for myself.
This is the ancestral home.
The way the older generation deals with family history is just the bare facts. Like, I came to United States at this time and that's it, and then they closed the story book. And then all the other details, they don't go into. Part of it is that the past was very painful.
Small town America, the mid-nineteenth century, a familiar scene. The caravan rolls in, the tent goes up.
The PT Barnum Show has come to town.
Step into a sideshow tent to see the 2 foot tall man in miniature, General Tom Thumb. There's the tattooed man with 7 million punctures. And one of the most extraordinary curiosities yet, a living Chinese family.
You could pay a certain amount of money to view a Chinese family. They were in a room just doing whatever they were doing. I suppose it'd be like somebody saying, well, you can watch at American Family. You'd walk into a room and see them looking at a TV set or making themselves a cheese whiz sandwich. And you can view people living in their native habitat as if they were wildlife.
Who they really were no one knows, but Barnum cast them as aristocrats and draped them in splendid silks. Barnum's China was a romance from Marco Polo filled with sages and scholars, courtesans and emperors.
American civilization, at that time, is very young. So here's this idea, wow, 4,000 years of civilization and art and culture, and it's represented in these people.
But no one knew the American mind like Barnum. His audience had also been raised on blood chilling reports from missionaries and other travelers. They told of a modern Sodom and Gomorrah, a vile and wicked place.
Who knows what goes on in the Chinese opium den. Everything is mysterious, very sinister, very dark.
What was this race then? Ancient and wise? Debased and cunning? For the next 100 years, the image of the Chinese would veer back and forth as they left Southern China to push for their place in America.
It began as a trickle in the 1830s and '40s. They disembarked from trading ships one and two at a time, and without fanfare, joined the crowded saloons and tenements of New York's Lower Broadway. They were sailors, actors, petty tradesmen, and on one ship, along with the cargo of tea, three students bound for a Connecticut church.
I remember the first Sabbath. We three boys sat in the pastor's pew in full view of the whole congregation. We were the focus of the whole church. I doubt whether much attention was paid to the sermon that day.
Yung Wing, with his two friends, was being groomed as a missionary. His stay in America was supposed to be brief, but then, he didn't want to leave. He became instead a local celebrity, Yung Wing, Yale, class of 1854.
Yung Wing had a very positive experience at Yale. He enjoyed the company of his fellow students, his fellow students appeared to enjoy his company as well. If you look at his yearbook from his graduation, many of them write in the book saying that they appreciated him, that they learned a lot about China from him.
Could a man with yellow skin become American? The law was unclear. When Yung went for his citizenship, nobody stopped him. These were the easy days. Soon, he and his countrymen would be actors in a savage drama that moved from the mining towns of the far west to the halls of Congress and the White House.
Yung couldn't the full meaning of his words when he told his mother that America was preparing him for great things.
Xiangshan County, Guangdong. It's near here that Yung Wing and most of the early Chinese immigrants were born. In America, they would be hounded by suspicions that their only true attachments lay here, that they could never be loyal to the United States. Certainly their roots in Guangdong ran deep. Their ancestors had reclaimed the marshes of the Pearl River Delta and the young men were raised to work its quilt of canals and fields. It took catastrophe to drive them out.
There was the greatest flood they had yet experienced that destroyed villages. We have missionary reports talking about bodies floating in the water, whole villages destroyed. There was a civil war going on. One estimate being 30 million people were killed.
Civil war, flood, famine, drove thousands of young men to the ports.
It was so bad that they had sort of a consensus agreement that they would send half their men out of the Ho Xiangshan area in the hopes, or like a gamble, that at least a percentage of them will do well and send money back to rescue that whole region.
We know the Confucian ethic tells us that a young man is supposed to stay close to home when he's an adult to take care of his parents, but in this particular situation, in order to support parents and family, you had to leave home. Very unusual in China. They left home seasonally. Where did they go? They went to the seaports.
Long before they would come to America, the young men of Guangdong traveled widely through the South China Sea and the Pacific. But whatever their destination, their obligation to their village was paramount. It was the reason they'd left and it shaped their life overseas.
When young Americans like Christine Wong come here today for the first time, the power of these ancestral villages is still evident. The ties are so close, her family name is shared by everyone here.
It's just so overwhelming, like all these people, and then everyone in the village comes out. I just learned at my mother's village, I'm the 24th generation Wong. Which I couldn't even imagine 24 generations ago what life was like
In Southern China, the villages are usually clustered by family name. So if you go to a Wong village, everybody will be all Wong's there, or a Ma village, they'll be all Ma's. So that's one indication that they're all related in one way or another.
Family, clan, village. Here the words are all but synonymous. If it's true today, it was much more so two centuries ago. The understanding between a family and the men who were sent away was concrete, practical, and rigidly enforced.
It was considered very important that the young men marry before they left the village as an added pressure to make sure that they would always, number one, return money to the village because now they had a wife and perhaps children in the village, but also that they would eventually return to the village.
It wasn't just family ethic. It was spiritual law. Every immigrant knew he must be buried near his ancestors so his spirit could join them to be cared for and honored by succeeding generations. 150 years ago, these villages in Southern China were charged with astonishing news, news that would put the ancient bonds of home and clan to their greatest test.
It said that a merchant named Chung Ming was the first Chinese to hear about the gold found near Sutter's Mill. His letter from California to a villager back home was the secret that couldn't be kept. That anyhow is the story folded now into Chinese myth.
The people in China named America after the gold rush. You know, somewhere out there is the Gold Mountain, but it fit the old stories, the mythic stories. Like it fit that somewhere there were seven cities of gold.
When there was news of gold, who would know first? Port of Canton where the news is spread. And these people are accustomed to dealing with the foreigners. They're not terrified or horrified at the idea of going thousands of miles to someplace else in seek of new opportunities and adventure.
I think that my great grandfather felt that he would sacrifice maybe 10 years of his life. And that was-- it's amazing to say, you know, I'll see you in 10 years, but they knew that it was a big journey. It was a big sacrifice of their lives to go to America, but he would eventually come back. Maybe as a middle aged man, maybe as an old man, but he would return.
And the plan would be that they would come back heroes, Gold Mountain heroes, and there would be money and food and status forever.
We were two full months or more on our way. Our baggage consisted of a roll of bedding and a bamboo basket. Into this, we put our shoes, hat, and all our worldly possessions.
As an older man, long settled in America, Huie Kin looked back.
For days, there would be no wind. The sails and ropes would hang lifeless from the masts and the ship would drift idly. Fresh water was scarce. One morning, my cousin was suddenly taken sick with fever, and we woke up to find him gasping for breath. He passed out that afternoon and his body was quietly lowered into its watery grave. Years later, we heard that his ghost went back to his old village.
I think they came really sort of dropped psychologically into the void, and in that sense, their experience resembled the Puritans, the pilgrims, who came to Cape Cod in the 1620s and found Cape Cod a howling wilderness because they had left Leiden behind. And I think the individual Chinese had left the complexities of their own culture behind and were going into very uncertain, uncharted territory.
These mountains were a magnet for the boldest, greediest, most desperate men from all over. Canada, Mexico, China, the American South. The gold mines of California were not yet part of America, barely even part of civilized life.
You could be murdered for your shoes on a dirt road in the hinterlands in the middle of the night. You could be sleeping in your tent and a group of miners might come and decide that they're going to burn down your tent and take your gold dust. There was no law to speak of, so there was great danger. But there was great opportunity.
Crowds of Chinamen were bound for the diggings under gigantic basket hats. Each man with a bamboo laid across his shoulder. Chinese baskets and boxes, immense boots, and a variety of Chinese fixings, which no one but a Chinaman could tell the use of, all speaking at once, gabbling and chattering their horrid jargon.
They of course cling together in groups like cans of sardines shipped from China. They were bony and small with their queues, such a distinct look. They sensed that there would be danger and that they must stick together.
So their groups held together in the way of an older and more cohesive culture, as opposed to the Anglo-American groups, which tended to break apart. The Chinese, many of them came out of irrigation, farming, working with wood, with water, with land movement, et cetera, and those skills were immediately applicable to gold mining.
Teams of Chinese took over claims the whites had abandoned and slowly, methodically sifted through the silt. Many were rewarded with gold. And in the confusion of languages and skin colors on the frontier, the first Chinese managed, most of them, to stay out of harm's way.
When the Chinese first came to San Francisco, they were welcomed with open arms. Mayor Geary stood and welcomed them publicly from a platform, and said, we welcome the celestial men of commerce to our city, and we welcome all those who come after you.
My grandfather, Yung's uncle, went back to his village in China with all these wonderful stories of adventures in America. Told about gold dust, and he talked about a city that was lit by gaslight and Chinese operas and new little restaurants that were being built on [INAUDIBLE].
My grandfather Yung was so excited. He was 11 years old. He wanted to hear those stories because in the village, nothing had changed for thousands of years. He begged his parents to allow him to come to America.
The Chinese pushed their way to California, a second wave of more than 20,000, just as the easy gold was vanishing from the riverbeds. They banded together, and like other immigrants, formed groups that reflected their home districts, villages, and clans, called Wig Ones, these associations ordered and organized early immigrant life.
They were there at the dock when Huie Kin's ship pulled in.
In those days, there were no immigration laws. People came and went freely. Somebody had brought large wagons for us. Out of the general babble, they called out in our local dialect, and like sheep recognizing the voice only, we blindly followed. So strange and so exciting that my memory is just a big blur.
The early immigrants like my great grandfather, he was brought to some crowd tenement, where he stayed with a group of people. And right away, they would have to be put to work.
With jobs and money, the Chinese were able to import pieces of their life from back home. Just four years after the discovery of gold, a Chinese opera troupe was touring the mining towns.
The Chinese had their theater and their performances were quite unintelligible to outside barbarians.
With their culture, they also brought old animosities from home. hai poi versus [INAUDIBLE], [INAUDIBLE] versus [INAUDIBLE], deep divisions by region, dialect, clan. Fights broke out, making for lurid copy in the [INAUDIBLE] press.
So in 1852, with almost 20,000 Chinese in California, they went from being welcomed by Mayor Geary as the celestial men of commerce to suddenly a horde, the horde of Chinese coming to invade California.
In the 1850s, California passed its first anti-Chinese laws, including a special tax aimed just at them. Then in 1854, the state set a White murderer free because the witnesses against him were Chinese. California's highest judge provided the following history lesson.
When Columbus first landed upon the shores of this continent, he gave the islanders the name of Indian. This has been used to designate, not alone, the North American Indian, but the whole of the Mongolian race. The country is washed by the Chinese waters were named the Indies, even admitting--
The judge's mangling of geography and history had a purpose, to fix the uncertain place of the Chinese in America, to link them with Native Americans and Blacks as legal outcasts unable to testify against Whites.
The direct effect was that anti-Chinese violence increased. If the Chinese could not testify, then the Whites would not have to worry. They'd be free to kill and rob Chinese at will. So this was a dreadful decision.
Monday, July 31, 1855, went up the river to Hess's, hunted Chinamen. Done pretty well. Collected about 80 licenses. I was sorry to have to stab the poor fellow, but the law makes it necessary to collect the tax, and that's where I get my profit.
California's leaders were quick to sense the public mood. Divided on so many issues, they agreed on this, the Chinese must stop coming. In the 1850s, Leland Stanford, businessman and politician, was launching a career that would help change the face of the American West. He would shift back and forth in his views of the Chinese. His volatility, a mirror of the country's. Stanford had made his way to California looking for a quick fortune and made one in hardware. Then, restless, he ran for governor.
Asia, with her numberless millions, sends to our shores the dregs of her population. I shall concur with any constitutional action having for its object the repression of the immigration--
He was sounding the alarm that we have to keep those Chinese under control because they pose a serious threat to our culture and our civilization and our well-being. We cannot allow the Chinese to come in here and overrun us.
Under assault, the huiguan leaders set aside their rivalries to form a united group, the Chinese Six Companies. In the long journey of becoming American, one of the first steps was to become Chinese.
To these people at that time, there is no such concept. The basic idea is that I'm from Guangdong. I'm from the Pearl River Delta, and you're a [INAUDIBLE] and he's a [INAUDIBLE] or something like-- They know who is who and they speak different languages. They don't understand, mutually unintelligible. But, once you treated as Chinese, then they are Chinese.
The California mines had become treacherous places for the Chinese. They were learning to compete head to head with Whites was to risk one's life.
So basically, they were already kind of afraid. So whatever they encountered, they just endured with all their might. If I endure this, maybe it will pass, and I try to keep a low profile. Make myself low key, as if I didn't exist. Only doing their work, never daring to cause trouble.
Whites had given them a generic name, John Chinaman they'd be called at work or on the street. They knew better than to argue and they had more pressing concerns. Their families were counting on them.
They pushed into other occupations. Starting a garden to grow fresh vegetables and then realizing that you could also sell these vegetables to non-Chinese. Chinese labor was brought in to clear land, to begin the process of digging irrigation ditches and channels to drain the water out.
They become fishermen. They notice immediately the abundance of sea life in the coastline, shellfish, squids, octopus, all kinds of things, which are delicacies in China, which by and large European-Americans ignore. They would begin drying it, salting it, sending it back to China. There are no women here and men are willing to pay money for somebody who can cook food or wash clothes.
Men would begin crude restaurants, making a huge batch of what we call chow, stir fried vegetables and meat. You stepped up to a place usually outdoors and somebody came along, gave you a mound of rice, put chow on top of it, and this was a quick and fast way for people to fill themselves.
Triangular yellow flags begin appearing in San Francisco, the sign for a Chinese restaurant, a place to get abalone and shrimp, tamarind and ginger. The Chinese carry off the prize, marveled one travel writer. They anticipate your wants and secure your patronage.
This was the kind of work that a Chinaman could get at that time. They did women's work. A lot of them were nannies and restaurant, cooking, and they did the laundry.
In the woman poor West, there was one sure supply of jobs, domestic help. It was work White men wouldn't take so the openings were plentiful for new arrivals like Huie Kin.
I think it was the only work that my great, great grandfather could sort of find as a Chinese immigrant. And I think there were a lot of other Chinese immigrants, who were doing this sort of domestic work.
It's very common for upper class Californians not just to have Chinese on their staffs but to have Chinese living with them, becoming really part of the family. Albeit in a feudal relationship of servant and master, master and retainer, nevertheless a close, intimate relationship.
In his old village, Huie Kin had been a farm boy. He and his father and the livestock all sleeping in the same room. Only 15 and still wearing his queue, the traditional Chinese pigtail, Huie Kin found himself in a new world.
The Gardner's had a big house on Telegraph Avenue on 20th Street with a beautiful lawn and big, shady trees. Mrs. Gardner taught me to read and write and I learned much also by listening in when she gave lessons to her children. It was here that my American education began.
I think that relationship was very profound between upper class Californians, who could bring the Chinese into their families, it works as a kind of underground current against the anti-Chinese agitation that's going on in the larger society. It's a assimilation literally through nurture, through family life. It's assimilation of two races to each other, but it's in truncated form, unacknowledged, subliminal.
They had found shelter, steady wages, even some human affection, but at a high price. Over time, the image of the Chinese as servants, slave-like and submissive, would come back to haunt them.
The more that Chinese went into that profession, the more that visual image was embedded in the American mind that stereotype began to grow and to be reconfirmed and reconfirmed over and over.
Many of us have to keep spreading out to look for opportunities, to go and see the other side of the hill, the other side of the mountain. There might be something there. I think the most remarkable thing is just the pure courage that these men had to go to places unseen, unknown, unmapped. If they were going to go to Idaho or going to go to Montana, they had no real idea how far it was except in terms of time.
And you can imagine, 50, 60 Chinese men walking across the landscape, each carrying everything they possibly would need food, clothing, tools. They walked. That's how they got here to the mountain of gold.
Americans thought the Chinese were submissive and wouldn't fight back, but that wasn't true on the frontier. That's a false image.
It's fair to say that the story of the Chinese in Idaho doesn't loom large in American history. Their names and faces have mostly been lost. But in Idaho, the Chinese found their own true frontier, where the odds were not so heavily against them, and there was one whose name survives. The Chinese called her Lalu Nathoy. To Americans she was Polly.
She came on a pack train, a string of horses. The pack train had to follow a trail, single file going down the mountain, to the canyon, to the mining camp. She probably had to ride a horse because it was just too many miles to walk. And being property, being owned by somebody, that merchant wants Polly here in good condition.
You could not have a less promising start in America than Lalu Nathoy. She arrived a slave.
It was a period of extreme chaos in China. A lot of families were extremely poor and could not afford to bring up their daughters, so they sold them and they took the girls to America. The girls themselves did not know what they were coming to America to do. Only after they came to the US did they discover that they were sold here to become prostitutes.
Slavery, after the Emancipation Proclamation, it was a sordid episode in American history. The work of ruthless Chinese profiteers aided by corrupt US officials. Few Chinese women were coming to America, fewer still to Idaho, but of these, most were prostitutes held against their will.
Lalu Nathoy was put to work as a sing song girl, a bar hostess in one of the makeshift mining towns that dotted the Idaho territory. That may have been her first good fortune, to land in this improbable place.
In the 1860s, Chinese miners moved into the Boise basin, pooling their money to buy claims that Whites thought had run dry. Soon, they were nearly half the population, and there were new names on the map like Shanghai Gulch.
To the West, we have [INAUDIBLE], next [INAUDIBLE], next the [INAUDIBLE] Mining Company. They moved a lot of earth, whole hillsides are missing.
And they found their gold. In a month, one group extracted $6,000 worth, equivalent to 500 years of a man's labor in Guangdong. Idaho's town sprung to life with Chinese everywhere, as store owners, herbal doctors, cattle drivers, lawyers, outlaws.
[INAUDIBLE] Kim served Chinese and Western food around the clock, and when the shout went out, [INAUDIBLE], men knew the game was on. But these saloons where Lalu Nathoy worked were as violent as Dodge City's. The trick was staying alive.
You couldn't depend on the police or Sheriff. So the Chinese brought Bowie knives and Springfield army rifles, Colt revolvers, Smith and Wesson pistols.
To carry a weapon probably give them a sense of security. One famous Western historian once said, God had made someone large, someone small, but Colonel Colt made them all equal.
A Chinaman is slow to deeds of desperation, said one Idaho paper, but when he starts in, he generally means business. A miner named McGinness found that out when he tried to bully some neighboring Chinese and paid for it with his life. Frontier justice Chinese style included late night arson or a delivery of firewood to an enemy, each log filled with gunpowder.
Of course, Whites muttered about this primitive, heathen people in their midst. Of course, there were stories about John Chinaman, but out on the frontier they had a different twist.
Once the American lady hired a Chinese cook when Chinese went to her house and she asked the Chinese his name, the Chinese answer say my name is Wang Hong Ho. The White lady said, oh, it's too difficult for me to remember that. Why don't I call you John? Then the Chinese smile, say, what's your name?
And she answered, my name is Mrs. Melville Landon. The Chinese say, oh, it's too difficult for me to remember. Why don't I call you Tommy?
The racial animosity ran two ways. In the Chinese community, all non-Chinese were referred to as barbarians. Still these two groups, roughly matched in numbers and guns, kept their hostilities in check. When housing was short, they would bunk down in the same rooms. If free food or music were on offer, they'd even show up at each other's parades.
It's Chinese New Year. Got their cymbals, got their drums, took their guns, walked right down to the very East Main Street right through town, and it was a time of celebration. Even the Americans enjoyed the Chinese parade.
The celebrations would end on Main Street, where the Whites played poker, the Chinese fan tan. They could buy drinks for one of the few women in town, Lalu Nathoy, still a sing song girl and still a slave. The freedom the Chinese men had grabbed was not hers, not yet. She'd find that in a dance hall down the street in the unlikely person of Charlie Bemis.
Charlie, people said he was lazy, and that he started out as a miner, but that was too hard work and so he went into maybe gambling and saloon owning and that kind of thing.
He may have been thin on ambition and short on looks, but Polly saw her chance. One day, she wasn't with her Chinese owner anymore. She'd moved in with Charlie Bemis.
What I expect might have happened was that Charlie offered her the opportunity to be his housekeeper. She would have a place to live, she could make some money.
Whatever the terms, she was now free. By the time she became Mrs. Polly Bemis, the gold had been washed out of Idaho's hills and the Chinese miners had moved on. Their women were gone too, many dead of disease and abuse. But Polly survived and settled here, catching her meals in the Salmon River, dodging anti-Chinese officials, and goading Charlie to make something of himself.
From slave to frontiers woman was quite a journey, but that was true of so many Chinese, improvising lives for themselves in the 19th century American West.
When we think of pioneers, most people think of people that came across the West in covered wagons, but there were other pioneers, who came here from a different direction. They came across the Pacific. Thousands of such pioneers would be drawn from their Guangdong villages to join the boldest enterprise of the age, the drive to build a railroad east.
It was just absolutely the most dangerous and foolhardy and crazy gamble that human beings could take. That people could actually get a railroad across a 7,000 foot tall mountain range in the 1860s.
The building of the transcontinental railroad was probably the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century, and it shook the way Whites viewed the Chinese. It would shake the Chinese worldview as well. The image of this race was never fixed. As Whites fortunes rose and fell, as their own needs changed, they would see the Chinese differently.
Leland Stanford, after two years as governor, quit to build the rails Western leg. As governor, he joined the anti-Chinese cause and later he joined it again. But he was an improviser, a Westerner, not about to be tied down. He and his partners, hungry for labor, would draw thousands of Chinese to America and bind them to this country as never before.
I think that Stanford is very much a businessman by then and to him, it's the bottom line, and the bottom line was that he needs cheap labor to help build a railroad, and that the more miles of tracks that he lays, the more land and natural resources that he gets from the federal government.
Well, the year that my great grandfather came to America was 1865. Luckily, in 1865, the transcontinental railroad was about to be built, and he became one of those railroad workers that was hired on.
Recruited in Guangdong, mustered into work gangs at the docks, they were ferried to the California Sierras to shovel and haul away dirt and rock. They would number 11,000, almost 1 in every 5 Chinese in America.
This tunnel was built almost entirely by Chinese labor. There was nothing special about it that needed anything other than someone who could slam a hole into a rock and then get out of the way.
They cut through the Sierras one mountain at a time. When they reach the pure granite of tunnel number six, teams were set to work from both sides, night and day, through a lethal winter. Progress was measured in inches per day.
Here are these heroes leaving China, thinking that they're going to find ranges of gold mountains, and instead what they find are the Sierra Nevadas. They came from a people who believe that there are nine hells, and when they tunneled into the Sierras, they would say, I've entered one of the hells.
Those who perished in the cold were left where they fell. Coworkers marked the man's name and village beside him in hopes that one day his bones would be shipped home. The Central Pacific kept no record of how many died. Its focus was on the survivors blasting their way through the rock.
In one of his reports to President Johnson, Stanford sent a letter praising the Chinese and saying, if it weren't for the Chinese, we could not be building this railroad.
By 1866, the Central Pacific bosses needed more than brute labor. Could they use the Chinese for skilled work? Did they have the brains? It was not a small question in 19th century America.
There was a huge movement that had the endorsement of science as it was known then of measuring their heads, measuring the skulls of various groups of people to demonstrate their mental capacity. Obviously, strangely, the Europeans seem to have the best craniums for higher intellectual activities, and then by degrees, as you got further and further away from your people's, ability started to diminish.
And it was discovered much to the embarrassment of the scientists that the Chinese cranium was on the average larger than that of the White cranium. And since they wanted the White brain to be on top, they had to do something to find some way of resolving this difficulty.
The difficulties of the Central Pacific were more immediate. With the Chinese were the two men driving construction, Charles Crocker and James Strobridge.
There had been a strike of Irish masons and Strobridge went to Crocker and said, we're losing time on the culverts and on the walls. And he said, go hire some Chinese and set them to work making the walls. And Strobridge scoffed, and said, make masons out of the Chinese? It'll never work. And Crocker's reply, they built the Great Wall of China, didn't they?
Sure enough, the Chinese were assigned skilled work as well. They served as masons and track layers and foremen.
You had the equivalent of a modern day city up here. At night, it was all fires, little campfires all along this whole thing, hundreds and hundreds of campfires.
Food at the end of the day cooked in giant woks, the wonderful smells that must have emanated on the mountainside here.
But in this makeshift community, there was also talk about how they were paying for their food and the White men worked. How the bosses drove them for long hours and whipped them when they tried to quit.
They became aware that this was a society that allowed protests, unlike in China, where protests might lead to getting beheaded. In this country, a strike could actually get you somewhere.
Imagine 2,000 workers coming out with their big hammers to pound nails into the track, and imagine their head men are bringing them out in groups. And they come to the tracks and instead of starting to pound the nails, they sit down on the tracks and don't move.
And the managers are saying, let's go to work, go to work. And they sit there silently. And then they pick up and go back to the meager tents that they lived in on these things and don't come out again. It must have been an awesome image.
They demanded the same pay as the White working man and their strike slogan was eight hour day, good for White man. All the same good for Chinamen. They saw themselves as the equal to any White American.
At the time it happened, it was one of the biggest strikes in American history. Never before had that many workers sat down and refused to work.
The strike of the Chinaman is the hardest blow we have had, wrote one of the partners. The truth is they're getting smart. The company's response was swift. All food supplies were cut. EB Crocker, brother of Charles, was there.
None of us went near them for a week. We did not want to exhibit anxiety. Then Charles went up and they gathered around him. He told them that he made the rules for them and not they for him. Not a cent more would he give. He had the Sheriff and posse come up to see that there was no fighting.
The managers thought it could never happen, a strike by illiterate villagers from across the world. But only guns and the threat of starvation got the Chinese work gangs back hammering inside the tunnels.
No ventilators, no way to blow air into a place, the smell of black powder, blasting powder--
The smell of people.
Smell of people. When they finally broke through, after a year and a half of cutting and blasting, when they finally broke through to read the feelings of the people as that breeze from the East came blowing through the tunnel, and all of a sudden this absolutely foul air cleared through. And there was just this sense that there was another world on the other side.
By the time Leland Stanford helped hammer the last spike at a ceremony at Promontory, Utah, in 1869, he and his partners, flushed with new wealth, were again singing the praises of the Chinese.
Strobridge invited this Chinese work gang to his private car, and the senior officials of both railroads were there for a dinner, in which they honored the Chinese. And you can imagine the place was full of newspaper reporters from all over the country. They were recognized for what they had done.
My great grandfather worked for $1 a day on the railroad and he later became a foreman. And he worked so hard. It took him months to accumulate enough money to buy a gold piece that he would look at every night. He was one of those people called Gam Saan Haak, which means guest of the Gold Mountain, a sojourner, and that was the term the Chinese used. In other words, you're a guest and you'll go back home.
When my great grandfather sent for his wife to come to America, that was a big, big leap. Because a woman who leaves her village, and that's just not done, women did not leave the village, and she did. And I think at that point, my great grandfather felt that there was a future in America, and it was a place to have children.
The Chinese lived in a state of limbo. Congress vacillated. Granting them civil rights in 1870, even while refusing to make them citizens. But they'd been here 20 years. Now their temples were made of adobe and brick, their earnings split, some sent home to China, some spent here building their American communities.
Our people were all in their native costumes with queues down their backs, and kept their stores just as they would do in China. With the entire storefront open and groceries and vegetables overflowing on the sidewalks.
I think my great, great grandfather started to gradually arrive at a comfortableness with America and the putting down roots, as did his countrymen. And I think they didn't have to have as close and strong ties to their ancestral villages.
Some of these men settling in America were Civil War veterans. Scattered among the muster rolls were names like Charles Chin, [INAUDIBLE], and [INAUDIBLE] Kwan.
One who tried to enlist for the Union was the graduate of Yale College and US citizen, Yung Wing.
At this point in Yung Wing's life, he's employed by the Chinese government, but he also has an unswerving loyalty to the values of the United States. So therefore, while on the one hand, he can attempt to enlist in the army, at the same time, he's using this opportunity to be in the United States to help modernize China.
Yung was now a businessman and an emissary for the Chinese government shuttling between the two countries, but he was taking on the trappings of an American life.
Yung Wing not only became an American citizen, but also married an American woman.
Mary Kellogg's family welcomed him. He built a life with her in Connecticut, Christian, and English speaking. He gave his sons American names and he cut off his Chinese queue, traditional symbol of allegiance to the emperor. He was casting his lot in with American values and ways. He didn't yet realize how much he was at risk.
The new rail would slice through American life, topple the old rules of commerce, redraw the map, shake the lives of most Americans, including the Chinese. In the railroad's first year, a small town businessman named Calvin P. Samson came up with a bold scheme.
In North Adams, Massachusetts, a little town up in the Berkshire mountains, there's a shoe factory that's run by Calvin Samson. There are several strikes in 1868, 1869, and 1870, and Samson just gets fed up with having to deal with the union, to deal with the workers.
All Samson meant to do was solve his local labor problem, but this obscure shoe manufacturer would help rouse ancient stereotypes in the American mind.
He sends one of his management to San Francisco. And they hire 75 Chinese immigrants. For $1 apiece, they come across on the just completed Transcontinental railroad, and they arrive in North Adams, Massachusetts, on June 13, 1870. The Chinese immigrants are mostly teenagers. Their age 15, 16, 17, 18. My guess is that they probably don't realize the extent of what's happening.
There's a scene of them stepping off the train and the whole town is gathered to see them. And keep in mind, most White Americans East of the Rockies have never seen a Chinese immigrant in their lives. They've never seen an Asian immigrant in their lives. There's a lot of tension because these Chinese immigrants are being brought in as strikebreakers. They're being brought in to take over their jobs.
It created a kind of fear that is this the beginning of large number of Chinese coming into Massachusetts and then going into New Jersey and into Pennsylvania? The arrival of these 75 Chinese have received a huge amount of attention, more so than they deserved.
It couldn't have come at a more unstable time of business booms and busts, unimaginable fortunes being made, a labor movement looking to get its share, and now this yellow peril, Chinamen infinite in supply, servile by nature, ready to take over every honest White man's job.
You have workers, working class leaders, union leaders, end up having demonstrations and protest meetings throughout the country. You have them in New York. You have them in Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, Albany, Philadelphia.
Now comes this Asiatic race. They will work for half price and live upon a mouse or a rat and call it a dainty morsel.
The handful of Chinese in the East, barely 200 in all, triggered economic and racial hysteria. Recruit them into the unions? No. Labor leaders had a different use for the Chinese.
They discover that they can use Chinese to mobilize the White working class and to organize themselves into a powerful political force.
There are mass meetings held by unions. There are statements of the great threat that is involved here. And so what had begun as a small scale operation of hostility to the Chinese, now became a national enterprise. Everyone was using the Chinese, bosses as well.
The yellow threat was just the tool with which to bully unions. In 1877, a New York cigar maker staged his own Chinese invasion. One Chinese man walking in and out of his plant to make workers believe more were on their way. Another hired White scabs and dressed them as Chinese, complete with queues. Chinamen became an all purpose epithet among East Coast working men. In the West, where the Chinese lived, it would be far worse.
The Pacific coast is cursed with parasites from China, used as a weapon by grasping capitalists to oppress poor, laboring men.
The speaker was San Francisco's Denis Kearney, a one time sailor, who had found his way West from County Cork, Ireland. He picked up a following in the vacant lots on the city's West Side. His long list of enemies included the capitalist bosses, political swindlers, and railroad trusts. But he could electrify a crowd, he found, when he denounced the Chinese.
He began got to give these talks to other men hanging around the sand lots at night. They'd build a big bonfire, and he'd harangue them, the Chinese must go. He began to demonize the Chinese.
Kearney's audience was laborers with time on their hands. They'd come West dreaming of good jobs, but by 1873, the markets had crashed.
San Francisco fills up with the men from the agricultural fields, who can't find work. There's people sleeping on the streets. There's homelessness. There is outbreaks of juvenile delinquency. Young men become very restive, beating up groups. It's said the word hoodlum is coined in San Francisco at this time to describe the young men who would huddle them. Hoodlum, gang around somebody, huddle near them and beat them up.
The workers in California are angry at what's going on around them, and they're angry not only at the Chinese, but at what seems to them to be the rich capitalists, who are keeping them down by hiring Chinese, or who are refusing to give them basic subsistence wages.
Kearney gets up there, he's a young guy, he's all of 31 at this time, 30, 31, and in California, in San Francisco, he'd give speeches practically every night, or at least every week throughout the fall of 1877. And he became the head and tail of the movement.
We have made no secret of our intentions. We make none. Before you and the world, we declare that the Chinamen must leave our shores.
In one of the dramatic moments in a Kearney speech is he opens his jacket and throws his jacket down because he gets so hot and sweaty, and that always brought big cheers, eruption of cheers among the audience. And then he would launch into this crusade or this fusillade against the Chinese that could go on for half an hour, for an hour or so.
We declare that we cannot hope to drive the Chinamen away by working cheaper than he does. None but an enemy would expect it of us. None but an idiot could hope for success.
And it's almost like a circus performance, and he gets the crowd riled up and to cheer for him, and he always ends his meetings with these anti-Chinese resolutions for the meeting to support.
My chief mission here is to secure the expulsion of Chinese labor from California. The Chinese must go. I will give the Central Pacific just three months to discharge their Chinamen, and if that is not done, Stanford and his crowd will have to take the consequences.
The attacks on Leland Stanford put him in a predicament. No public figure was as tied to the Chinese as he, and it wasn't just a matter of his railroad employees. He had dozens of Chinese working at his home.
He talked to an anti-Chinese group one day. They asked him for an interview, and he said to avoid problems with the neighbors and ranchers and the townspeople, he says, I will eliminate the Chinese workers and bring in Caucasian workers.
He would keep them out of sight and dismiss them for a while, and then when the coast was clear, they'd be rehired.
Chinese lore tells of Stanford's intimate relationship with them, of herbalists brought in to treat his wife Jane, of her trying to legally adopt one of her servant boys.
He was very good to his workers, probably very good to his gardener and his house boys, and made them very comfortable. And he probably thought individually, I treat them well. Officially, I don't know them.
The private affections of the West's leading citizens remain just that, private. There were few protests from the mansions of Nob Hill in the 1870s as anti-Chinese violence flared.
They were lying in ambush. He came to his death by homicide. He was murdered by a thief. He committed suicide. He was choked to death with a lasso by a robber. He was strangled to death by a man. He was starved to death in prison. He was frozen to death in the snow. He was going to drown himself in the bay. After searching for several days--
In 1875, a Chinese English guidebook appeared teaching immigrants the phrases they might need in their new country.
He was killed by an assassin. He tried to assassinate me. He tried to kill me by assassination. He's an assaulter. He was smothered in his room. He was suffocated in his room. He was shot dead by his enemy.
I look at the Wong Sam's English Chinese phrasebook as the very first history of Chinese life in America from the Chinese point of view.
In 1877, in the mining town of Chico, armed White men stormed a cabin where Chinese workers were resting and set the men on fire. That same year, gangs spent three nights torching the Chinese laundries of San Francisco. They were the worst riots in the city's history. It took 5,000 men to restore the peace. Huie Kin was across the Bay in Oakland.
There were long processions at night with big torch lights and lanterns carrying the slogan the Chinese must go. We were simply terrified. We kept indoors after dark for fear of being shot in the back. Children spit upon us as we passed by and called us rats.
The Chinese six companies issued a chilling statement. If Chinese men were going to die, many White men would die with them. In a few short months in 1877 and '78, Denis Kearney mobilized his own political party. His men became city council members, state senators, and soon, mayor of the largest city in the west, San Francisco. In 1878, he took his campaign nationwide.
Tens of thousands of my countrymen are by law deprived of a livelihood and are being driven from their homes to starve in the streets.
Yung Wing, representing the Chinese government, spoke out against Kearney, but this educated man in his Connecticut home had never been at risk himself. The 1870s, so dangerous for Chinese laborers, had been for Yung Wing a time of fulfillment. Six years before Kearney came East, Yung Wing realized a lifelong dream, a program of US-China friendship and exchange, students brought to America to learn and be immersed in Western ways.
At the same time Denis Kearney and his workingmen's party is rising up and leading the call for the Chinese must go, Yung Wing's school is flourishing.
The main targets of the anti-Chinese movement were Chinese laborers. Yung Wing, being an educated man, being an emissary of the government, there was a class difference. And so the anti-Chinese movement was not directed at people of Yung Wing's background.
Most of the reception they got was pretty positive. In the very beginning, they were seen as curiosities. They are introduced to polite society. They go to parties. They're invited to dances and teas.
They organized a baseball team called the Celestials. sometimes they were called the Orientals. You know, what else would call them? They had a pitcher on the Celestials who was a southpaw. His name was Lefty. And so part of your entry into American life is you now have a nickname. Chinese nicknames are something very heroic, like brave warrior, things like that, Big Wall, Strong Foundation. But in America, all you needed was a name like Lefty.
Yung's Chinese sponsors, his supervisors in the government, were appalled by what they saw. They wanted their young charges to learn, but not this. Not to absorb these alien and debased customs.
The students assimilated too well into American society. The elders back home felt that they were beginning to lose a lot of the traditional Chinese ways, getting too far away from the Confucian Analects.
But Yung Wing was delighted. Other Chinese following in his footsteps soaking up New England's Democratic values. This was the future and neither his superiors nor Kearney and his unruly mob were going to stand in his way.
In 1878, as Denis Kearney toured the East, he was closely watched by the most ambitious politicians in Washington, those with designs on the White House. Here was a man turning working class rage into growing political power. That would have gotten attention in any political season, but especially after 1876.
The 1876 election is extremely close, and Hayes is awarded the White House by a single electoral vote, closest Electoral Count in American history. And both parties know that the election of 1880 is going to be equally close and could go either way.
As politicians scoured the landscape for vote getting issues, there was nothing fresh about the anti-Chinese cause. Californians had been pitching it in Congress for years with only mild success.
In general, Easterners really couldn't care less about the Chinese either way. They're not a factor in their lives except in very small places. What they do care about overwhelmingly is that they don't want organized labor to take over the government. All of a sudden, out in California with Denis Kearney and the Sandlot Gang, you've got workers joined around the anti-Chinese issue and threatening to take over government. Then Easterners start to pay attention, and they get terribly, terribly nervous.
There was plenty to be nervous about. Violent strikes all over the country, and now, Kearney and his party thrashing Republicans and Democrats alike. Any politician who could steal his thunder just might help the country and help himself as well.
The Chinese are an easy target. It's a very easy group of people to trow overboard and maintain political balance in the country. The anti-Chinese movement was a perfect tool to try and grab the working class vote without actually having to do anything.
One of the most charismatic and skillful politicians of the day was James Blaine, Republican Senator from Maine.
No one ever accuses Blaine of being an idealist. He's in it for the power, but he's immediately the front runner for 1880. Before this time, Blaine had never said a word about Chinese immigration his entire life. Never given a speech on it, never written anything about it.
If you look at his record, he had been very much in favor of Black civil rights and civil rights in general, so you might expect he'd come out in favor of Chinese immigration, but he delivers a blistering attack in Congress in February of 1879.
The question lies, in my mind, thus, either the Anglo-Saxon race will possess the Pacific coast or the Mongolians will possess it. This is servile labor, worse than slave labor, and we have this day to choose whether we will have for the Pacific coast the civilization of Christ or the civilization of Confucius.
And what's significant is not just the nastiness that Blaine uses, because other politicians had used nasty terms before, it's the fact that he is such a prominent politician and expected to be the next president or at least the next presidential candidate. He lifts the issue out of the gutter, out of the sand lots of San Francisco, and makes it respectable.
I am pleading the cause of the free American laborer and of his children and of his children's children. This is an immigration that does not observe--
Blaine and his followers brought new polish to the anti-Chinese cause. No more angry calls to arms. This was about the sanctity of the American home and protecting it from a race that cared nothing for marriage or family.
The Chinese came to take care of their families. I mean, they wanted to provide for their families back in China. That was the reason that my great, great grandfather came.
The subtleties of Chinese life, the old ties in the village, the new ties here, were not the concern of Congress. The politics were clear. The Chinese did not have the vote. Californians and White laborers had many. In 1881, no less than 11 different bills were submitted calling for Chinese exclusion.
Should we be a mere slop pail into which all the dregs of humanity should be poured? The Chinaman could live on a dead rat and a few handfuls of rice.
The Chinese are machine-like. They are automatic engines of flesh and blood. They herd together like beasts. We ask you to secure the American Anglo-Saxon civilization without contamination or--
The Chinese do not and will not assimilate with our people. They come only to get money and return. They secretly maintain laws and a government of their own. They bring with them their filth and frightful diseases.
There's a Senator from Massachusetts named George Frisbie Hoar and he leads the argument in defense of Chinese immigration, and he talks about the evils of racism. He talks about how racism has left its hideous and ineradicable scars on every generation in American history. What's significant is that he's considered almost like a doddering fool. He's mocked for not facing up to the stern realities of the present. Maybe 15 years ago after the Civil War that could have been said, but this is a new era and Hoar is considered outdated and out of fashion.
No one could have seemed more out of fashion than Yung Wing with his dreams of US-China friendship and exchange. He was under assault from both sides, the nation he'd hailed as a shining example, wanted nothing more to do with his race, and his bosses back in China saw his school as a menace. The final blow came when Yung Wing tried to get his students into Annapolis and West Point and the US, in violation of treaty, turned him down flat.
The answer to my application was, there is no room provided for Chinese students. It was curt and disdainful. It breathed the spirit of cronyism with which the whole atmosphere was impregnated and which had hypnotized all the departments of the government, especially Congress.
The rejection was just the excuse the Chinese needed. They closed Yung's school. He returned to China in disgrace and the students were sent West to wait for a ship home. In Oakland, a local baseball team challenged the boys to a game.
And they take up the challenge, they play this one last baseball game, a game that in which the people who came to see it think that the Chinese are going to lose the baseball game, but Lefty was a great pitcher. He struck out batters and he amazed people. He had it going on as a pitcher. The Celestials win and they lose at the same time. They win the game, but they have to go home.
On May 6, 1882, some nine months after the students set sail, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law. With a few exceptions, such as merchants and diplomats, the Chinese were no longer allowed to enter the United States.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 marks the first time that the United States banned any group of people based on race or nationality. And it sets the fashion or the style for future anti-immigrant acts, in other words, race and nationality become legitimate reasons to keep out other people. That had never been the case before 1882.
Up until 1882, America was open to everybody who wanted to come. We welcome everybody. The only people that we excluded by law at that time were the prostitutes, lepers, and morons, and in 1882, we added Chinese to the list of people to be excluded.
Denis Kearney never realized his political ambitions. He became a real estate speculator in California. James Blaine tried repeatedly to reach the White House but failed each time. Leland Stanford joined the US Senate, where he supported Chinese Exclusion.
Yung Wing was stripped of his US citizenship under the exclusion laws, but managed to slip back into America as an illegal alien. He ended his days in the Connecticut boarding house, though he had to move when other borders objected to sharing quarters with the Chinese. Back in China, one of Yung's students, [INAUDIBLE], followed baseball scores for the rest of his life.
Funding for this series was provided by Walter and Shirley Wang and by the Henry Luce Foundation. The family of Hsien Hsien and Bae Pao Lu Chow. The family of Kenneth and Mary Wong. The Herb Alpert Foundation. SIT Investment Associates and SIT Investment Foundation. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The Starr Foundation. The Kelvin Foundation, and Albert Yu and Mary Bechmann. The Tang Fund. Gina and David Chu, Nautica International. The Cheng-Kingdon Foundation. Intel Corporation.
Sybase E-business Software, because everything works better when everything works together. And by Mutual of America. For over half a century, people from all walks of life have turned to Mutual of America for retirement and pension products. BecomingAmerican,theChineseExperience continues on PBS online at pbs.org.
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience Part One - Gold Mountain Dreams
In this first episode of the three part series Becoming American, the early years of the Chinese in America are explored. In the 1840s, civil war and famine in southern China drove thousands of young men to seek their fortune in the California Gold Rush. This program traces the Chinese experience in America, from their welcome in San Francisco as “celestial men of commerce,” through the Gold Rush and building of the Transcontinental Railroad, to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banning their entry into the U.S.
Films for the Humanities & Sciences / Films Media Group
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience Part Two - Between Two Worlds
In 1887, a rancher out looking for his stray cattle on the Snake River between Idaho and Oregon came upon a gruesome scene-- the remains of human beings washed up in a creek. They were so picked over by buzzards and coyotes that neither their features nor their race could be identified.
Some of the bodies were found. One was found headless. Others were found with ax wounds-- just horrible, horrible crime was committed there. And the savagery of the crime would indicate that it was more than just a robbery.
Years later, the true story came out. A gang of white men-- ranchers and schoolboys-- had set upon 10 Chinese miners, shot and beat them to death, then dumped their mutilated bodies into the river. More Chinese arrived at the camp the next day and were promptly murdered. The killers then travelled by boat downriver to another camp. By nightfall, 31 Chinese were dead.
The leader of this group, Bruce Evans, was said to have told the others in the gang, let's do our country a favor and get rid of these Chinamen. And let's do our favor for ourselves and get their gold.
Local residents rallied around the suspects. Only three were tried, and a jury freed them all. The Snake River Massacre was not an isolated incident. In 1882, the US passed the Exclusion Act to stop Chinese laborers from entering the country and deprive those here of citizenship. That law ushered in the most violent decade in Chinese-American history.
The spread of the anti-Chinese feeling was like a disease going through the white population. They became the scapegoats. They became sort of the solution. If we could just get rid of them, then our fortune would be better.
The Chinese were foreign, did not belong here at all. This old idea was given new life by the law. In Tacoma, Washington, 600 Chinese were expelled, and their houses burned to the ground. The Chinese of Juneau, Alaska were loaded onto boats and set adrift. In Rock Springs, Wyoming, 28 were killed, the rest driven out.
Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California-- Chinese were lynched. Chinatown was burned. Chinese were run out.
The last of the great fires was San Jose, when arsonists turned its Chinatown to rubble. A 17-year-old named Young Soong Quong packed up and fled. Like thousands of other Chinese across the West, he made his way to the one place that seemed safe, where the sights and sounds were reminders of home-- dai fau-- big city-- San Francisco's Chinatown.
[CROWD SPEAKING CHINESE]
In order to get any pictures at all, I had to hide in doorways. I waited for the sun to filter through the shadows, or for some picturesque group or character to appear.
In 1895, a German photographer named Arnold Genthe wandered into San Francisco's Chinatown. But for him, we would have almost no visual record of this world. Tong Yun Gai, the Chinese street, headquarters of Chinese America-- the sidewalks were crowded with peddlers, cobblers, and fortune tellers servicing the migrant laborers who converged here when their work was done. Fish cutters from the Alaska canneries, fruit pickers from the San Joaquin Valley thronged the herbal stores and rice shops, temples, and gambling halls.
Turn of the century San Francisco Chinatown for a Chinese was the center of their world in America.
You will hear the shouts of vendors selling their wares. There are also people speaking all different kinds of dialects-- Toison, Hakka, Canton City dialect. Six blocks long and two wide, Chinatown was a country within a country, filled with temptation for an ambitious young man hungry for life.
Young had worked as a houseboy, got a taste there of American ways, and now the ways of dai fau.
My grandfather loved living in San Francisco Chinatown, because he liked going out with his friends. There were restaurants. And his favorite, favorite activity was going to the opera. And there were three opera houses-- three opera houses to choose from.
But it was an insular world this young man was in, cut off by the exclusion law from American civic life. The law had barred Chinese laborers-- the first time the US excluded immigrants based on nationality or race. Those already here could stay, but could not become citizens.
Essentially, Chinese will declare permanent aliens.
It meant that they could never participate in elections, that politicians would never have to pay any attention to them. And I think also it had a kind of symbolic significance, in that it sort of read them permanently out of the American political community.
The story of the exclusion years is of a people in between countries, often unsure to which they belonged. It's about families kept apart, lives shaped and misshaped by Chinese custom, as well as US law. To become American, the Chinese would have to wage a long campaign, not just in public, but inside their homes.
In the early days, homes were few in this society of men. They slept in boarding houses, and gathered at the store run by their clan-- Wongs at the Wong store, Lees at the Lees. Bachelors, they were called, though half were married-- their wives left back in China.
The store was a makeshift home, hiring hall, social club, and where for a few cents, letter writers would help those who were illiterate trade words back and forth.
"Beloved parents, kneeling at your feet, your prodigal son begs you not to worry about him. Enclosed is $30. Your unworthy son."
"My husband-lord, according to Mr. Wang, you are indulging in sensuality and have no desire to return home. I am shocked and pained."
"My beloved wife, because I can get no gold, I am detained in the secluded corner of a strange land."
"Chin-hsin, my son, take notice. I hope you will soon be home and get married. I may already be dead and gone by the time you come back. Would you feel sorry then?"
Family and tradition pushed the men back to China. So did US law with a vengeance.
The Exclusion Act made it virtually impossible for Chinese to have a normal family life inside the United States. The exclusion law applied to Chinese laborers. It exempted merchants, travelers, and students. What this meant to the Chinese who could not become a merchant, and who was not a student or a traveler, what it meant was that he could not bring his wife.
The so-called bachelors worked and saved and waited to go home. But Young didn't save. Optimistic, unattached, he earned his wages at a downtown hotel, and then spent them with friends.
When my grandfather Young left the village, he promised his parents that he would be back in 10 years. Every year went into another year and another year, and he did not realize 10 years had gone by. And he received a letter from his mother saying, your father has passed away. And he went into the deepest mourning. And the mourning was mixed with great regret that he did not fulfill his promise.
Young was now stepping into the great quandary of the exclusion years-- how to sustain a family life across the Pacific.
He sailed to China to visit his father's grave, and choose a bride, Gum Gee. But scratching out a living in the village was not the future he wanted. He returned to the US alone. Gum Gee would serve her new mother-in-law as custom prescribed.
I think Gum Gee was very realistic. She knew that it would be years before she saw her husband again, because that was the way things were. Gum Gee was just 20. She knew the law. Her husband, a laborer, had to become a merchant to send for her. She worked the fields. She harvested. She waited.
[PEOPLE SPEAKING CHINESE]
He worked at a store, saving carefully until he could buy it. No more luxuries for him now, and no trips home. Years passed.
Her mother-in-law, as the years went by, was very, very discouraging and said, you shouldn't go to America. You're just so old, and you're getting unattractive. You're not going to have any children. Why ruin my son's future?
Gum Gee honored custom and her mother-in-law for 14 years before she got the word she was waiting for. She sailed to California, a merchant's wife.
My grandfather was waiting at the dock holding a box of dim sum, special delicacies for his wife. And my grandmother actually could see him. She was very self-conscious. She had aged quite a bit. And she really looked older than 35, and I think she was very aware of that.
And here, he is trying to be pleasant, and he's trying to say nothing's happened. Welcome to America. And she looked at him standing there. She wanted to grab that box of dim sum and throw it back in his face.
The Youngs settled themselves by doing what they knew best-- they worked. And at 36, Gum Gee bore their first son. But as with so many others who also waited, she never forgot.
I don't think she ever forgave her husband for her lost youth. There was no one to take it out on but her husband. I would hear her talk and kind of harangue him every day and just scold him. And the tone of voice-- like, she was really begrudging him that time that he spent in America not working hard enough, or not saving fast enough. The pain that came with the exclusion laws was what stayed with them the rest of their lives.
Congress was not finished with the Chinese. Over the years, the exclusion laws would tighten the grip on those already here and those who wished to come. The first change came in 1888. Until then, Chinese laborers in America had papers allowing them to move back and forth to China. Abruptly, the Scott Act changed the rules.
That certificate says that you have the right to travel abroad and come back. That was rendered invalid by our government. At a time when this Act was going through Congress, there were 20,000 Chinese who were visiting their loved ones at home. There were some people who were already on the boat-- about 500 of them arriving, and only, of course, to be turned back.
More anti-Chinese laws came in quick succession. The Exclusion Law expired in 1892. It was renewed with an added sting-- identity papers, just for the Chinese, to be carried at all times.
And if they didn't have that in their possession, they were subject to arrest and deportation. And this was a very, very-- it was the first time the United States had ever introduced anything quite like this.
The Chinese hated the law. Tens of thousands refused to register, and mobilized a public campaign to overturn it.
Remember, the politician who lords it over you today is a coward. When you don't have the vote, they denounce you as a reptile. The moment you appear at the ballot box, you are a brother and are treated to cigars and beers.
His name was Wong Chin Foo. He was a journalist, a showman, a provocateur. He wanted more than a new immigration law, more even than equal rights. For him, it was also personal. He wanted respect.
He was the master of what we now know as the sound bite. Chinese don't eat rats. I will pay someone $500 if they can prove that Chinese eat rats.
Where he came from or why is a mystery. But by 1880, he was lecturing any US audience he could find. Confucius, he said, lived 500 years before Jesus, who was a Johnny-come-lately. Assimilation? You try it, he said. Anybody here want to become Chinese? He meant to shock. That's when he gave his newspaper its name.
He actually put the word Chinese American onto his newspaper like a banner. And it's like claiming, you know, America for himself. And in the process, I think, claiming America for the rest of the Chinese-American community.
More visionary than businessman, he printed 8,000 copies of his paper for a New York Chinese population of under 1,000. In less than a year, his venture was dead. But he wouldn't quit.
In 1883, that great baiter of the Chinese, their archenemy, Denis Kearney, was touring the East. Wong Chin Foo put himself out there to be the target. And so he challenged Denis Kearney to a duel. You know, let's fight it out in the street-- you and me, mano a mano.
Of course, newspapers couldn't resist. What weapons, reporters wanted to know. "Kearney's choice," Wong shot back. "I give him the choice of chopsticks, Irish potatoes, or guns."
"I'm not to be deterred from this work by the vaporings of Chin Foo, Ah Coon, Hung Phat, Fee Fong, or any other of Asia's almond-eyed lepers."
Wong showed up at a rally-- a crowd of white men drinking and cheering, plus Wong Chin Foo heckling from a front row.
And Denis Kearney dismissed him. But he made his point. You saw his statement to Denis Kearney in all the newspapers of the day.
Then Wong showed up in Chicago, agitating for the right to vote. "We want Illinois, the place that Lincoln called home, to do for the Chinese what the North did for the Negroes."
But how do you change laws when you don't have votes or money or allies among whites? That was a problem no showmanship or eloquence could solve. In the 1890s, Wong Chin Foo vanished as suddenly as he'd appeared, leaving no record even of where or when he died.
But by then, the Chinese were deep into another fight. They somehow grasped this very important concept that America prides itself in being a country ruled by law.
The one venue open to them, since they were not allowed to be citizens, since they were not allowed to serve on juries, since they were not allowed to vote, since they were nobody's constituency, was the court. And why was that? Because of one word in the 14th Amendment-- "No state shall deny to any person the equal protections of the law." The 14th Amendment did not apply only to citizens of the US. It applied to persons. And it was as persons that the Chinese brought case after case.
The law had been no friend to the Chinese. They were barred from public schools and from hospitals. There were special taxes on Chinese miners, launderers, fishermen. But this was not a fate the Chinese would accept.
Almost every single anti-Chinese law that got enacted in California, whether it be local or state, you will find Chinese contesting it.
The first great battle was over the so-called Cubic Air Ordinance in San Francisco-- on its face, an innocent health measure. Under this ordinance, no person was allowed to stay in a room in an apartment unless there were 500 cubic feet of air space for each person. This law was enforced only in the Chinese quarter of the city, where Chinese workers often bunked in triple bunks, double bunks, and small rooms.
The police swept through the Chinese quarter making arrests. But the elders of Chinatown ordered the men not to pay their fines-- to crowd the jails instead. Then their lawyer turned the logic of the law against the city itself. Was this not a health violation? Were there 500 cubic feet of air for every prisoner?
The city was not only embarrassed and furious, but sought revenge.
So a law was passed in 1876, which said that all prisoners committed to the county jail should have their hair cut off to within 1 inch of the scalp. It was clearly designed to humiliate male Chinese prisoners who wore their hair in a long braided cue.
The Chinese sued for damages and reached Judge Stephen Field on the circuit court, who over a long and distinguished career, had done nothing to hide his dislike of the Chinese.
Justice Field asked the representatives of the city of San Francisco for what purpose they had enacted this statute? And they answered that it had to do with lice being in people's hair, and that they shaved their head for that reason.
But Justice Field noted that the law only shaved the heads of male prisoners. So he wanted to know if it was believed by San Francisco that women prisoners never had lice, that there was something genetic. Was there something genetic about women that they could not have dirty hair? And the city could not answer that.
Then Justice Field went on. In a famous statement he said, "When we are appointed to the bench, we are not struck blind." He then pulled out the record of the enactment of the law in the city council, and showed that the purpose of the law was to harass the Chinese for sitting in the jails. In other words, he said, what you are doing is punishing people for availing themselves of their own rights.
He said, look, he has no friendship toward the Chinese, that he wishes there could be a way to keep them out of the country. But, he points out, when it comes to violating the Constitution, the Constitution comes first. He will not permit that.
That case set the precedent. And in 1886, a San Francisco laundryman, harassed by the city, took his complaint all the way to the Supreme Court and won. Now, the protection of all persons was the supreme law of the land, and the Chinese weren't done.
The opening words of the 14th Amendment say that all persons born in the United States are citizens of the United States. But what about Chinese born in the United States?
Wong Kim Ark was a 22-year-old cook born in San Francisco. But after visiting China, he was stopped when he tried to come back to the country. If he was born here, he was a citizen. But the law said Chinese couldn't be citizens. Wong sued.
Are Chinese children born in this country to share with the descendants of the patriots of the American Revolution the exalted qualification of being eligible to the presidency of the nation? It took the Supreme Court to remind the government that the words of the 14th Amendment meant just what they said. A person born in America was an American.
If you look at the record of Chinese activism in the courts, they had assimilated to the extent that they understood that there were American political institutions that they could use.
It sort of contradict a popular stereotype. The Chinese usually just take it lying down, and very stoically accepted whatever fate that they were assigned by American society. When in fact, they were very, very active in the pursuit of their rights, the pursuit of their dignity in American society against all odds.
The signer of this contract, Sun Gum, hereby accepts that she became indebted to her master for food and passage from China to San Francisco. She shall willingly use her body as a prostitute at Tan Foo's place for 4 and 1/2 years. She shall receive no wages. If she becomes pregnant, she shall work one year extra. Should Sun Gum run away, she shall pay all expenses incurred in finding and returning her to the brothel. If she contracts the four loathsome diseases, she shall be returned to China. Thumbprint of Sun Gum.
No one knows what happened to Sun Gum, whether she was shipped back to China, or survived long enough to be a free woman here. But one thing is sure. The public campaigns that Chinatown waged, the great court battles it fought for its freedoms, were not waged by or for its women. While its men fought the oppression of whites, women fought the oppression of Chinatown itself. And in the Chinese push for freedom in America, this was the second front.
It was not easy to grow up as a woman in Chinatown in those days. They were brought up not only to be good wives, obedient wives, but to be good mother, to serve the husband, to serve the in-laws, and to serve even the male children.
Chinese come from very strong patriarchal society with very strong feudal feelings against women.
Tradition held that a virtuous wife should stay in her Chinese village. The few who broke custom by coming here were expected to serve, to please their husbands. Many had their feet bound so tightly that they were crippled.
The custom of bound feet in a main is to restrict the mobility of women so they will not travel too far away from home and get into troubles. And there are those men who believe the shape of a small foot is erotic.
Merchant wives-- they were pretty much housebound. And they didn't go out in public because it was considered indiscreet or improper for women to be seen in public. Husbands were free to take concubines into the home, or second wives. Arranged marriages were common, often against a young girl's will. And these were the lucky ones. The harshest lives belonged to the prostitutes. And in the 1880s, they were almost half the women in Chinatown.
Gangsters roamed the Chinese countryside looking for parents so poor they would sell their daughters. $50 was the going price. Girls as young as six were smuggled in and sold as mui tsai-- indentured servants.
Brothels bid for the older girls who in America could fetch $1,000 or more-- a windfall to their smugglers.
When the women were brought into this country, they would be auctioned off. Many of the women did not outlive the terms of their contracts.
When they did become ill and died, sometimes there were reports that their bodies were discarded in the streets. They weren't given decent burials. They weren't shipped back to China like the men were. It just speaks to how little value is attached to women and women's lives.
The women couldn't turn for help to the police who were indifferent to crime in Chinatown or to law-abiding citizens who were terrorized by the Chinese gangsters, the Tongmen. Their refuge was the Protestant church and one iron-willed missionary.
I remember seeing her once in my life when I was about 13 years old. She was a tall, domineering presence when she walked in the room. She came to a Chinatown that she knew nothing about. She didn't speak a word of Chinese.
Donaldina Cameron barged her way into San Francisco's Chinatown in 1895. She came to the Presbyterian mission home a teacher. But when she saw the lives of women around her, she heard God's call.
She drew allies among Chinese women in the home. Wu Tien Fu, once an indentured servant, became her aide and interpreter. And soon, they were a common sight-- Cameron, dressed in a worsted British suit and Eaton collar, swooping down on the brothel, policemen in tow.
She would go on top of the rooftops and get into the skylights and get into the brothels, grab the girl, running back to the mission home.
It was like something out of Hollywood, like a King Kong movie. I really did not believe it.
Tong men would guard the brothels and make sure that they didn't escape. It's amazing that doing as many rescue raids that she did, she did not ever get hurt herself. And she was always threatened that dynamite sticks would be found outside the home, and there were all kinds of messages, threats sent to her.
But her work was about much more than prostitutes. Any girls or women suffering at the hands of men she wanted rescued and sheltered at the mission.
There, they'd be remolded in the image of God and of his chosen instrument, Cameron herself.
There were classes in English and needlework.
I cried out to God most high.
There was Bible study, housework. Girls complained about the austere regimen. Some fled. But many seized their chance and made new lives.
Mission girls would be among the first Chinese-American women to go to University, would be among the first to vote. And many joined the mission's crusade, and in time helped stamp out the traffic and slave girls. A revolt was taking form that would upend the old ways of Chinatown. Though at the turn of the century, it was just barely in view.
In 1900, Europeans were pouring through Ellis Island. The Bureau of Immigration spot-checked them for disease, kept an eye out for criminals. But beyond that, there were few restrictions, and most got through within hours. Since exclusion, some 10 million Europeans had entered the country. Over that time, the tiny Chinese population of 120,000 had dropped further still to 90,000.
Chinese has the sorry distinction as the only immigrant group that I know of in American history their population declined. The Exclusion Act did exactly what they intended it for.
The law had been renewed every 10 years, but prominent Americans now called for a tougher law, none more loudly than the labor leader Samuel Gompers. As a young immigrant himself, Gompers had worked as a cigar maker. And after he watched the Chinese take hold of that industry in the 1870s, he never forgot it.
This tornado of a man, now the most powerful labor leader in the country, made it a mission to keep the Chinese out of America and its workforce. And he was one of many. The labor movement was filled with enemies of the Chinese.
They were driven out of blue-collar, working class jobs. There were many, many Chinese working sewing industries, and they were driven out. In boot and shoemaking, they were driven out. They were forced out in fishing, farming, and cigar making.
But if the Chinese threat to labor had long passed, Gompers' passion had not. In 1901, he carried his message personally to the new president. He got no argument from Teddy Roosevelt, and not much at his next stop, Capitol Hill.
So this was Gompers' message to Congress. "The free immigration of Chinese would be for all purposes an invasion by Asiatic barbarians. It is our inheritance to keep civilization pure and uncontaminated. We are trustees for mankind."
By 1902, the question is no longer, should the United States restrict immigration-- its how to restrict immigration, and how to do it better.
In 1902, Congress expanded exclusion to Hawaii and the Philippines. Then two years later, it rewrote all its anti-Chinese laws so they would last forever.
The law was passed in Congress with almost no debate, no discussion.
That same year, a popular magazine carefully reviewed the Chinese population. It was aging. There were few girls or women. There was much illness. Cheerfully, the author predicted extinction. By 1930 or '40, he said, the Chinese in America would be gone.
The Chinese were the first immigrant group excluded from America. Therefore, they became the first to have to sneak their way into the country.
The Chinese would dress up as Mexicans, learn a few phrases of Spanish. You can imagine a Chinese immigrant walking across the border saying, "que pasa," or something like that in his own Toison/Mexican dialect.
Another way was through Cuba. They would get on a ship and work as a crew member. And some of the Chinese painted themselves black to make themselves look Cuban, jump ship, and there you are. You're in America. You're Cuban, but you're in America.
It was at the border that the drama of Chinese Exclusion played out, where whites and Chinese acted out the parts handed them by the law. Chinese diplomats and merchants were welcome. The rest had to fend for themselves.
1906-- San Francisco's great earthquake, followed by days of fire and 3,000 dead. Chinatown was burned to the ground-- a catastrophe, or so it seemed.
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was a stroke of good luck for Chinese. Because of the resulting fire that burned much of the city and burned many of the immigration records of Chinese, the Chinese could say, I was born in America, and no one could prove them wrong.
Here was an opening, and for the next 40 years, the Chinese would use their wits and money to make the most of it. Now the law and the math were on their side. Because if they could persuade an official they were born here, they became citizens, and their children did too.
They could go to the Immigration Bureau and say, I am Mr. Lee. I am going to make a visit to China. I have three sons. I'm bringing those three sons in. Now, maybe he has those three sons, and maybe he doesn't.
They will claim more than what they actually have as their children. And these slots could be given to their friends' children, or, in fact, sold to others, so other people could come to the United States and claim to be American citizens. And this is called paper son.
That's how I get over here, by using the paper son citizenship. The paper costs about $2,000.
My parents bought a paper for $4,500.
My mother hadn't wanted me to come over because it costs so much.
But getting hold of the papers was just the beginning. Now you had to learn about the family and the village in China you were pretending were yours. That assumed identity had to be memorized from a coaching book.
Coaching letters can be sometimes 50, 60 pages. Sometimes they have maps of the village on them. They're as big as a library table-- an elaborate map showing every house, the name of every person living in the house.
And I would say it would take about three months or so studying that document, and get it more or less fluent to enter the United States.
You arrive at San Francisco. The white people get off the ship. You are detained. You're put aboard an Angel Island Ferry.
Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, unveiled by the Bureau of Immigration in 1910. Until the end of exclusion, these graceful buildings with their palm trees and manicured lawns were the main arrival point for Chinese hoping to enter. Americans dubbed it the Ellis Island of the West.
Ellis Island was a symbol of freedom. It's a wonderful beacon. Angel Island was a symbol of detention, of interrogation and of trauma.
You arrive at Angel Island. You're marched under guard to the detention barracks.
Armed guard to march around and follow where you go. First stop to the hospital. And they want you to remove all your clothes. And they make sure, even though you have no clothes on, they put a guard in there.
Months of preparation came to this-- the interrogation.
My admission to America was totally dependent on that. I was 10 years old, and to be brought into a room for interrogation, and you see this big Lo Fan, the devil, so to speak. And it was kind of overpowering.
I really afraid to fail because all my parents spent a lot of money.
They brought in a huge stack of photos for me to identify my paper father.
Suk Wan's real parents had slipped into the US nine years earlier. Since they were not citizens, they could not legally send for her. She'd be questioned many times about a family she'd never met, a life back in China she'd never led.
"Where does your family eat their meals?"
"In the parlor."
"About how far is it from your house to the nearest house on the left-hand side?"
"There are no houses on the left-hand side."
These interpreters and the interrogators are very sophisticated in their ways. And they're putting little Xs next to these answers and these responses. And so the person is flustered.
"Why are you sure your father was home at the time your mother died?
"I just remember that he was home."
"We know that the man whom you claim to be your father was in the US at the time. How do you explain your testimony?"
"Are you sure your mother died on September 3, 1925?"
Under scrutiny, Suk Wan's story broke down. She was ordered back to China. While her real parents secretly financed her appeal, she was held in the women's barracks crowded with detainees.
You're segregated from any family members here or back in China. Months might go by. Sometimes the time is so long that the people themselves start to write letters to the immigration officials saying, I've been here now four months, six months, seven months. I want to go home. Let me go home.
After nine months, Suk Wan asked to stop the appeals. Her parents tried to visit her the day she was deported.
My parents, my sister, my cousin-- a lot of people came to say goodbye.
We were separated by a fence, and were not allowed to talk to each other.
Everyone was crying.
Suk Wan Lee would not return to the United States for nearly half a century and never saw her parents again.
Ark Chin's family took no chances. With a well-placed bribe, they got him through in a week. Bob Chin was held on Ellis Island for two months. Dale Ching, whose papers were legitimate, was kept on Angel Island for three months, but then he, too, was set free.
The fact that the Chinese were willing to go through this very difficult, at times very humiliating process, is that after all these problems, they still see United States as a place of opportunity, a place that they could improve their family's well-being. That's why they keep coming. The Chinese were determined to beat the system.
They kept pushing their way in. After 1920, their numbers in this country, which had been steadily dropping, began to climb. Chinese America was here to stay.
The 1920s-- exclusion was nearing its half-century mark.
All this progress that was going on in American society really did not touch the Chinese community. They pretty much isolated. They left to their own devices.
The Chinese who made their way here were still shoved to the sidelines of American life. They were waiters, domestics, and almost a third were laundrymen, working the eight-pound livelihood, named for the irons they wielded as they pressed 100 shirts a day.
The daily drudgery was something that they have to tolerate. If they're lucky, they could accumulate enough and go home and buy a piece of land and retire. They are not really living in the present.
White racism trapped them. So did custom. By a wide margin, it was still men and boys slipping into the country, keeping bachelor society alive with all its familiar rituals.
My father was a laundryman. And these men from the community would come to the laundry to have my parents read their letters to them. I'm folding socks or pressing the underwear, and meanwhile, really listening. They were always telling about some terrible condition in China. And the wives are saying, how could you leave me? And you're leaving me to starve to death while you are having fun in America. Now you send me more money.
And then it was up to my mother or father to write a letter back-- sometimes some very formal stuff, you know? Oh, I miss you. You are so dear to me, and I will come home soon. And a lot of times I really felt they were writing fiction.
Which was home-- China or America? Almost 50 years into exclusion, many had no clear answer.
But change was coming. In the worst days, there had been nearly 30 Chinese men for every woman. Now there were seven. Even the humble laundryman and waiter could hope to find a wife, and their children raised in America would want very different lives.
She was a laundryman's daughter who decided to be a movie star. She went far. In the '20s and '30s, she played opposite Laurence Olivier, Marlene Dietrich, Douglas Fairbanks. People could see Anna May Wong in this tiny dress with Fairbanks pointing a sword right at her midsection. That outfit made her sensational around the world.
American-born, confident in ways her father's generation could never be. Still, she lived suspended between two countries, starting with how people saw her.
"His passion for power twisting his brilliant mind, as he revels in the horrors of human sacrifice and torture."
Americans regard us as a dark, mysterious race impossible to understand. Why is it that the screen Chinese is always the villain, and so crude a villain-- murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. I was so tired of the parts I had to play.
She played all the stock parts-- the Mongolian slave, the temptress, the doomed lover. And her lines were usually in Chinglish, as it was called.
"People are surprised that I speak and write English without difficulty. But why shouldn't I? I was born right here in Los Angeles and went to public schools here. For years, when people ask me to describe my native country, I've surprised them by saying it is democracy composed of 48 states."
Her skin marked her.
Hollywood followed a very strict code of no kissing between people of other races, which is to say that Anna May Wong could not kiss a Westerner on screen. And, of course, this limited or terribly, because that meant she couldn't be a leading lady. The studios had the roles for her, but they would prefer to use a Western star and put them in makeup. They would paste their eyes back. They would adopt their lips. And it would oftentimes look absurd.
"Your eyes are as soft, your hair is pleasant to my touch. No, I cannot see this change, and I do not wish--"
"If they get an American actress to slant her eyes and eyebrows and wear stiff, black wig, it's all right. But me? No film lovers can ever marry me. So I must always die in the movies, so that the white girl with the yellow hair may get the man."
Wong called herself the woman of 1,000 deaths. It should be her epitaph, she said. To slip the racial codes, she made for Europe-- Berlin, Madrid, London, anywhere the work was and the limelight.
Every time that Anna May Wong left the United States, and she left frequently between 1927 and 1937, she would have to visit an immigration inspector.
She was required to have two white witnesses testify on her behalf that she was indeed Anna May Wong, that she was indeed a Chinese-American citizen. The subtitle of the form says something like, "Re-entry Permit for Alleged Citizen of Chinese Descent." So their citizenship, their status, is under so much suspicion that it's documented in this bureaucratic form that they're only considered alleged citizens.
But this alleged citizen always came home. In Hollywood, she took whatever parts there were, even the daughter of Fu Manchu himself.
For her to make it in the film industry, she had to embrace being a foreigner. Anna May Wong at some point realized she needed to play along with the game.
She knew her industry, knew what it would take. She went for Shanghai Express as a step up, even if once again she'd play the fallen woman. Then in 1932 came Pearl Buck's runaway best seller, the novel TheGoodEarth.
Here she was, the preeminent Chinese-American actress of her generation, in the most important movie Hollywood had ever made about China.
But once they announced that Paul Muni, a white man, would play the lead, Wong knew that she, a Chinese, would be barred from playing his wife. She packed her bags.
"I'm going to a strange country, and yet in a way, I'm going home.
Chinese in the United States suffer from a lifelong homesickness. I have never seen China, but somehow I have always known it.
But her tour of China was not as pretty as it seemed. The Chinese were divided about Anna May Wong. They were troubled by the roles that she had taken. The anger that was under the surface came boiling right through to the top, and the welcomes turned to chants of "down with Wong Lu Shong, the stooge of America."
Those roles that she didn't want to play, that she felt imprisoned by and trapped by, followed her to China.
"The officials made speeches that lasted for hours. They all took turns berating me for the roles I had played."
She had talked of spending years in China. But after nine months, she sailed home.
She was back in Los Angeles in time for the enormous success of TheGoodEarth.
"When I go back in that house--"
Louise Rainer, the white actress who landed the lead role, now picked up an Academy Award.
"And thank you very much."
She had the enthusiasm, the talent, the beauty, the entire package to be someone of enormous fame. I think that if she had been in TheGoodEarth, we wouldn't have had the type of conversation we had, which we're trying to remember what Anna May Wong was like.
But I think it's a mistake to see Anna May Wong's career as a tragedy, or her life as a tragedy. She was probably the most visible Chinese-American worldwide.
The laundryman's daughter made a total of 54 films and became an advocate for Chinese causes as her career drew to a close.
She spoke up at a time when women didn't do that so much, and Chinese-Americans couldn't. She, in many ways, is an unsung hero for what she accomplished.
(SINGING) Mr. Chinaman, Mr. Chinaman, he walks around all day.
For Chinatown, the Great Depression was another indignity in a life already filled with them.
(SINGING) He smokes his pipe of clay.
Every family knew the stories. The Lee's son down the block-- he graduated from law school, and then nobody would hire him. And what about Pardee Lowe, that Stanford boy? A job interviewer told him right out, "Me no likey. Me no wanty, Chiney boy." Parents urged their young to look to China.
It was always emphasized that there was no future for us here. Why is education important, I mean, even for women? It's so we could serve China someday. I was born here, but the expression was to go back because my parents had come from there.
To make lives for themselves in America, the young would have to push on two fronts against the codes of white society, and those of their parents as well. The assault on Chinatown's ways had started with its women. It would be carried forward by their young.
In the classical Chinese family, the father is the patriarch. He was all powerful. There's never to be any backtalk by any member of the family.
I'm now 79. My mother is 101. She's never said thank you to me yet. Any service one does for one's parents is expected. The more you do, the better.
Jade Snow Wong as a daughter was only a [CHINESE] a small happiness for her parents. She was expected to clean up after her brothers and yield them the better food at the table. She began working at age six.
As soon as we could handle scissors, we were helping mom. And as soon as we could do more, we were sewing. Child labor was just accepted to make ends meet.
Somebody's got to chop wood, clean the bean sprouts, and peel the eggs.
And in the morning, swab the restaurant.
It was what we call a mom and pop restaurant, except there was no mom. [LAUGHS]
Mark Chin's father came from the old school. He left his wife behind in China and ruled over his chop suey restaurant and his son with a strict hand.
Some of the demands that my father lay on me didn't make any sense. But in spite of it, I never dare talk back. In my schooling and my reading, I could see an escape from the restaurant. And so that constantly propelled me forward.
Park lived behind the restaurant with his father and grandfather who'd worked here all his life as a laundryman.
When I was in the last year of high school, I was washing dishes. And my grandfather said, what are you going to do after high school? I said, grandfather, I'm going to go to college and do civil engineering. He said, you know, going into engineering is a dead end. He said, I've known people who have studied engineering. They never got a job as an engineer.
He was a very affable old man. But there was irony in his voice when he talked to me. He understood that I'm a bright person, and that my future was hemmed in. And the sadness is that he feel powerless to do anything. And that was kind of pervasive mental attitude amongst that generation.
I really was excited with learning new ideas outside of my cultural background. But when I approached my parents for any help, they refused. My father declared that his obligation was first to his sons. He said, if you have the talent, you can provide for your own education. So I took up the challenge, worked my way through college.
I took this course in sociology. And I could just see John Ross now. He's standing there looking at us, and we're all looking at him. And he says very quietly, well, you know, there was a time in America when parents had children to make them work. And I thought, well, that sounds right.
But he says, now we think differently. Children have rights. Well, that was different. And they should have their individual wishes regarded, as well as being part of the household. And that was revolutionary to me.
Right around that time, I was 16. I was so excited to be going on my first date. And, of course, my father noticed it-- asked me with whom are you going out? And when I said, a boy. He said, well, I forbid you to go.
And so then I gathered up my courage and tried to sound like my sociology professor and said, in America children have rights here. They don't just exist to work for their parents. And my father said, where did you learn this philosophy? And I said, well, from my teacher, and you always taught me my teacher is supreme after you. And he said, how can you let a foreigner's teaching refute our Chinese culture?
He was really very angry, because it was the first time I had talked back to him-- didn't expect it. But nevertheless, I went out. And it was my sort of declaration of independence.
December the 7th--
I remember that day. The night after December the 7th, the federal agents came in. They wanted the Japanese people. They just question everybody. What are you-- Chinese or Jap? Chinese or Jap? So I told them I'm Chinese. Let me see an ID. I gave them the ID. Wong, OK.
The two Japanese fellows that I was rooming with, they took them away.
They were rounding up the Japanese for the internment camps. And we were told not to leave Chinatown. And that if we did leave it, that we wore our buttons that proclaimed American Chinese.
December 7, 1941 was a calamity for the American Navy in Honolulu and for Japanese-Americans. Perversely, it would be Chinese America's deliverance.
For four years, China had been at war with Japan. Suddenly, China was our ally. The goodwill spilled over to the Chinese here. Now they were the good Asians.
Registration day lineup-- throughout the nation, rich and poor, citizen and alien, enact a drama of democracy. East Side, West Side, even in Chinatown, New York's melting pot responds with the same--
Being in the United States Navy was one of the proudest days of my life. I wasn't a Chinese. I wasn't a white man. I was a US Navy military naval man. People would ask me, sailor, do you need a ride? They would go out of their way to take me where I wanted to go. Putting on a uniform-- I was like a show-off with it. I was happy, because I had that respect that I never had before.
I may could be better life in the service, because a civilian at that time-- either laundry or restaurant business. So by going to the service, I could be somebody else.
There was tremendous shortage of labor because most of male went to war.
Here is where the victory is born, in the factories of American industry going full blast--
And so a Chinese, for the first time, able to in large number work alongside American workers.
[INAUDIBLE] of the air almost overnight.
And the whites have the opportunity to see the Chinese as real individuals, rather than these horrible image of them as aliens. It is a very sad twist of fate that Japanese-Americans now are the bad guys-- the place that the Chinese used to have.
From San Francisco's huge Chinatown comes a steady flow of patriotic Americans of Chinese descent, eager to register for work in vital wartime industry.
There were seven shipyards in the Bay Area, and they needed workers to help build ships. So Chinese women ended up for the first time taking on jobs like welders and riveters and burners and flangers.
One of my aunts was one of the riveters. And I remember she just gloried in the fact that she was working for good money now.
Patriotic fervor swept through Chinatown, but there were still 15 anti-Chinese laws on the books. What to make of them? They were now an embarrassment among allies. And in 1943, with FDR's support, a bill repealing exclusion sailed through Congress. This historic event barely earned a headline. Even Chinese-Americans had other things on their minds.
We were getting ready to be shipped overseas. And I think all of a sudden, people were becoming colorblind. Because suddenly, they realize that we're going to really have to hang together or die.
Ark Chin was one of thousands of young replacements thrown into the European front in the winter of '44.
Fear never leaves you. One time we went into a hollow. The guys were tired. They wanted a rest. I said, now, guys, let's get the hell out of here. Sure enough, as soon as we got out of there, the mail came in.
So after that, I didn't have any problem with my squad. They followed me. So that was a sense of realization that I had become somebody more than I had started with.
Coming back, first of all, I survived. Later, back in the restaurant, we went through another one of those incidents where the rednecks said, we fought the goddamn war for you chinks. I said, what? I was out there. I fought that war.
Veterans came home with new rights. It wasn't just the GI Bill. Now laws were written to allow them and all Chinese with citizenship to bring in wives.
Ark's family dispatched him to China in hopes he'd found a bride in the old village. He would have none of it. But on the way home, he stopped at an uncle's in Hong Kong.
He says, I know a girl that is absolutely perfect. She's a university student, and she is absolutely beautiful. I said, no. Forget it. But went over there, and I saw her standing there with parasol in the cheongsam. I was totally stunned. [LAUGHS] Literally, it was love at first sight.
Some 65 years after the Exclusion Act, the Chinese here could lead lives that others took for granted. They could become naturalized like other immigrants, could live together like other families. Bachelor society was dying at last.
Chinese mothers present their youngsters in this Chinatown baby parade at San Francisco--
Our children, we sense them born into a new era. I did not kid myself that still there would be roadblocks. Yeah, it was going to be a struggle. But what the hell? That's life.
Funding for this series was provided by Walter and Shirley Wang, and by the Henry Luce Foundation, the family of Hsien Hsien and Bae Pao Lu Chow, the family of Kenneth and Mary Wang, the Herb Alpert Foundation, Sit investment associates and Sit investment Foundation, the John D, and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Star Foundation, the Kelvin Foundation, and Albert Yu and Mary Bechmann, the Tang Fund, Gina and David Chu, Nautica International, the Cheng-Kingdon Foundation, Intel Corporation, Sybase e-business software, because everything works better when everything works together, and by Mutual of America. For over half a people from all walks of life have turned to Mutual of America for retirement and pension products.
BecomingAmerican--TheChineseExperience, continues on PBS online at pbs.org.
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience Part Two - Between Two Worlds
In this second episode of the three part series Becoming American, the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act is explored. Abetted by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment swept across America. This program examines the exclusion years through the stories of Chinese Americans and their families who were kept apart by both ancient custom and U.S. law. These immigrants were trapped between countries, at home neither in the U.S. nor in China.
Films for the Humanities & Sciences / Films Media Group
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience Part Three - No Turning Back
Everywhere you look in recent years, you see the success-- IM Pei and his landmark buildings in America and worldwide; the breakthroughs in science, as with AIDS researcher, David Ho; and Steven Chu, one of six Chinese-American winners of the Nobel Prize; or Yo-Yo Ma-- everywhere, it seems, that music gets made.
One of my favorite success stories, because it's so unlikely, played out over this plot of land, now the all but sacred site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. When it came time to build it there was a contest. Everyone knew its importance, and top design firms across the country joined in. Who won?
My roommate came and got me and only said, don't get your hopes up, but you got a call from Washington.
A college student-- Chinese-American, just 21 years old.
And I didn't quite understand. So they told me again. And I'm still not quite understanding.
Her delight that they wasn't shared by all. No matter that she was US-born, the features of her face stirred up old ghosts. H. Ross Perot, self-appointed champion of the vets, called her a egg roll. Writer, Tom Wolfe, called her plan something, quote, "out of the Chinese Cultural Revolution." One Vietnam vet recommended adding an inscription to her monument-- designed by a gook.
So was this another dispiriting tale of racism or the opposite? After all, her design got built to much acclaim. It struck me. Her story is like the story of Chinese America as a whole. It shows how powerful race can be in this country, and how powerless when matched against human will. To get at that story, I had to reach back more than 50 years.
Chinatown was small in those days. But I always noticed that when I walked down the street with my father-- I must have been under the age of 10-- other men would come across the street to say hello to my father-- total strangers-- shake his hand, and then look at me and tousle my head or offer me candy or a cake or something. For many of them, of course, because they had children of their own in China, which they had not seen in years, and the sight of a child in Chinatown was remarkable at that time.
Charlie Chin grew up in Queens, New York, the son of a laundry man. When he was a boy, the old Chinese America was very much alive. And he'd see it firsthand when his dad brought him to Chinatown.
You still could find old [INAUDIBLE], the old Toisan uncles, who were still living in little apartments, some of them still six or seven in an apartment, where they had been for 20, 30, or 40 years, from the days when they first came over and trapped by time.
Charlie didn't know it then, but he was watching the legacy of the exclusion laws on the books until just before he was born. The law had barred Chinese from bringing in wives, and for these old laborers, its repeal had come too late.
Charlie lived a few miles East across the river, and there, too, exclusion had done its job. There were 4,000 kids in his high school-- just a handful looked like him.
That would be myself, one young woman named Miki Shimizu a Filipino woman whose name was [INAUDIBLE], and a young man named Jon Jang, a Korean-American.
You remember them all?
Well, because I dated both of the girls, number one.
And I was friendly with Jon. We had no other choice, really. We're very, very few of us here. If you were going down the street-- if you were-- if the family was in a car going down the street, and it saw another Asian, people would stop and look at each other, and sometimes tentatively would kind of come up and ask, are you Chinese? Because it was so rare to see other people outside of the confines of Chinatown itself.
In the first blush of the '50s, Chinese-Americans began to slip the restricted world of Chinatown, or bypass it entirely, to venture into the white world.
When my family would walk into a store or a public place, it would be like everybody in the store would just stop dead in their tracks, and stop and kind of turn, just to look and see, who are these people who walked in? So I knew very, very early on that I was different.
Helen Zia and her family were among the first to move into Levittown, New Jersey-- pioneers in more ways than one.
At that time, there were fewer than 150,000 Chinese-Americans in this whole country. And in New Jersey, in the little suburban town that I knew as home, we were one of maybe a couple of families. And the people around us-- I mean, I was mostly treated as this exotic little creature who could have come from Mars, who was a foreign visitor, even though baseball and hot dogs and apple pie were the only thing I really knew. And then at the same time within our family, my mother and father-- China was their home. That was their touchstone.
Helen's father had come here with a degree from St. John's University in Shanghai. Before the communists shut it down, this was a training ground for China's elite, expected to help lead their country back to a place of pride in the world. Her father was schooled in the classics, knew by heart the great poets of China and the West, then trained as a diplomat. But in New Jersey, none of that meant much. So he took our jobs-- whatever paid-- and clung to memories of his old life.
My father was part of, I think, a lost generation of China, in China, but also in America, a generation who was educated, who had imbued in their very spirit the idea that they could do something for China, his homeland. But because of circumstances, there really wasn't an opportunity for him to do that.
He was such a proud, proud man, and very proud of his heritage. And he felt that Chinese culture was the superior culture of the world. He felt that Chinese, as people, as human beings, were superior to whites. And really, just superior. He definitely felt that way.
He would read encyclopedia passages about China, and he would underline them and cross them out. And he would have all of us read them and say, this is wrong. He was so irate with the EncyclopediaBritannica, that he actually-- he not only complained, he sued them. They sued him back. It was--
Your father sued EncyclopediaBritannica?
Yeah. Yeah, he did.
For being wrong about China?
Right. Sometimes we would have to sit through lectures that would go for hours about these things that my father was so upset about. And we would just be rolling our eyes.
This China land, a place she'd never seen, was alive in Helen's imagination. But even more so was the land of her birth, the America she was now learning about in school and summer camp.
And the recreation leader said, let's play charades, and we're going to do Washington Crossing the Delaware. She said, OK, Helen, you play George Washington. So I knew that meant I would have to stand at the head of the little boat with my trusty team of oarsmen behind me. And there I was, pointing the way in my gym shorts.
While Helen was growing up, her dad ran what he called a baby novelty business. He'd assemble pink and blue vases and trinkets on his kitchen table. Then he'd drive up and down the East Coast selling them out of his car.
And believe it or not, he was able to raise a family of six kids doing this. To this day, I don't know how he really did it. But we were the labor-- the kids, he and my mom. And while he would sit there and paint pink or blue pieces of wood, he would recite the poems that he knew. He would think about what was happening in China.
There was the world inside our family's home. My father was God. Whatever he said was the law. But in the outside world, when he would have to go do his business, and he would have to go sell these little pieces of wood and plastic toys, that he would then have to go and almost-- I felt, he would-- his voice would change. He would be almost obsequious and fawning, and his voice would take a more of a high-pitched tone. And I would just see that and just feel that just what a difference there was, and what a shame there was.
In the 1950s, China was the enemy. Mao's troops were fighting in North Korea, killing American GIs.
The heavy fighting takes a heavy toll--
And Chinese-Americans felt the chill.
--with men who have tasted the full fury of the communists' withering fire.
Their image was still tied to China's, like it or not. They had breathed a lot easier around World War II, when the US and China had been on the same side. But now the pendulum was swinging back, and with it, an old American attitude returned. The Chinese were foreigners and always would be.
The '50s were very rough time for the Chinese-American community in general. And I can't think of anybody I know from those days who wasn't affected on one level or another. In my own family's case, starting in '50, '51, we got visits from the FBI. Apparently, my father's name and my mother's name was exactly the same as somebody they were looking for.
And so in the middle of the night when they were sure that everybody was home, there would be loud banging on the doors. And I remember peering behind my mother's house dress because we all were woken up, of course, at these strange big men in long overcoats with fedoras, kind of like Ward Bond, with a fedora on, and wondering who they were, and noticing that my parents were really scared, which-- well, you don't forget. They were using a normal procedure at that time to root out what they thought might be communist sympathizers.
So one of the things my father wrote was a pamphlet that was called "The US Got Red China All Wrong." He actually sent copies of it to many leading politicians at that time. There would be these weird clicks and noises and strange static on the phone line. Our mail would come to us delivered all sort of damaged and bashed up.
And I had the impression that everybody's-- every kid's families, their phone and their mail came damaged, or that they had weird static on their phone like we did. Until one day some of the neighbor kids-- the kids we played with-- came over and said, hey, what does your dad really do? Because the FBI was over at our house asking about your father. And it was at that point I knew that, oh, our dad's being watched by the FBI.
Here's the strange thing about the McCarthy years. With a cloud of suspicion hanging over them, Chinese-Americans were making a move to the mainstream, getting a taste of the good life. You see it all in Shawn Wong and his family.
His dad was an engineer. Yes, a Chinese engineer in America at a time when few could imagine such a thing. They lived in Berkeley.
My mother used to tell me, we're Chinese, and you're Chinese-American. I had no idea what that was. I didn't know what the difference was.
My mother would wear Chinese dresses, cheongsams. My mother and father would speak Chinese to each other at home. And here I am, this little boy. I wanted to be Willie Mays. I wanted to be Roy Rogers.
When I was young, I went to a lot of different schools. My family moved around a lot. So I was always the new person at the school. When I was in the second grade, my father took a job in Taiwan working as an engineer for the US Navy. And I'm enrolled in the American School there in Taiwan, along with a lot of other military kids.
And I remember on the first day of school, we're waiting by the street, and I'm with my mother. And the school bus comes by, and we get on the bus. And all the kids in the bus who are all white start chanting "no Chinese allowed on this bus." And the first thought that popped in my mind is that, oh, no. It's OK. She's my mom.
You know, I didn't think of myself as Chinese. I thought of myself as being just like them. I think I just had to figure it out on my own. Your parents always are telling you, be proud you're Chinese. And, of course, yeah, yeah. Right, mom. That doesn't help me out in the schoolyard.
I definitely grew up hearing every kind of taunt, and it would make me angry. Most of the time it wasn't like that. I had wonderful friends and neighbors and people I grew up with. But you never knew when something like that would happen. You never knew when somebody would yell at you, "Go back where you came from."
They were doing what most kids do-- fishing around for a model, trying to fit in.
I remember in 1958, noticing that Cal had a Japanese-American football player. I'd never even heard of such a thing. And his name was Pete Domoto. His number was number 60. And he played left guard for the Rose Bowl-bound California Bears.
I used to run down onto the field with the other little kids at the end of the game. Other kids were trying to get quarterback Joe Kapp's autograph, and I was there trying to find Pete Domoto. I wanted his autograph. I wanted to see if he looked Asian, you know, if he looked like me. Because here was some guy who was a football player, and that was something spectacular.
My name is Benjamin Pan. But people like call me Benny. Last name is P-A-N, just like Peter Pan. But I'm not Peter, see?
Most Chinese in America today never had an American childhood. If they've learned stories like Peter Pan or Little Red Riding Hood, it's as adults, since they were born overseas and grew up speaking Chinese. I want to tell you the story of one such man and his journey to Queens, New York, a journey that would take him half a lifetime.
Like most immigrants in American history, his dream grew out of the sheer misery of life in his homeland. And like others before him, he was after more than just US comforts. He wanted a life that was his own. Jiangsu province, 1957.
You have to work from morning to nigh and under the sun, and all kind of farmer works. Growing rice is a very difficult work-- very difficult work.
Benny Pan was not someone you'd expect to find in these rice paddies. Like Helen's father, he'd studied at that training ground for the elite, St. John's University. In fact, was president of his class.
I was a member of the track and field team as a 100- and a 200-meter stature. I run very fast at that time. I was strong at that time. Now, it's getting old. [LAUGHS]
His graduation, just weeks before Mao took over, was one of the last great ceremonies of the old China.
I was graduated in 1949. We have a gathering together under the camphor tree, have a tea party. But when communists come, means all the dreams spoil, or the life spoiled, and you can never think of coming out.
Communist rule would trap most Chinese. From a nation of hundreds of millions, immigration to the US would drop to near zero. Benny, as the oldest son, felt he shouldn't leave. But he got his sister, Deanna, onto a train to Hong Kong as the borders were shutting down.
[TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWING]
At that time, I was 19, and my mother didn't want me to leave. I was so scared, and the train station is a mess that time-- people's leaving, people's crying. And then communist guard, they searched me. And they took my luggage and took my pocketbook, everything. And the train's going to move, and Ben just pushed me to the train. And my mother came and said, no, no, no. You're not going to leave. But Ben said, no. She must go. Let her go. Let her have her life.
I look back and he's waving, and then my mother's crying. That's all I can remember.
He's my lifesaver. If not because of him, I'm never going to get a chance to leave.
He was a Christian, a college graduate, the child of wealthy parents. All that made him now a marked man. Benny kept his head down and his voice low, became a librarian and language instructor. When he wed Chin Ling in 1957, he slipped off his Mao jacket and borrowed a tux at the photo studio. But then came his year in the rice fields, and that was prelude.
[CHINESE ARMY SINGING]
In 1967, as Mao's Cultural Revolution reached fever pitch, anyone with ties to the West could be denounced, held, interrogated. Benny's diaries and family pictures were burned.
They tried to squeeze out what you did wrong to the communists. If you don't confess, if you don't admit what they say, they beat you. But I was not afraid of anything, because nothing wrong in my heart. So I face that, and I stand up for that. But some of my colleagues, they died. They commit suicide. That was terrible. That was really terrible.
He was separated from his wife and daughters and sent to menial labor for six years. Deanna waited anxiously for news. She was building a life, first in Hong Kong, later in New York and Connecticut. That she was now prosperous and safe only added to the anguish.
The letters just stopped. That really scares me.
Deanna's experience was like that of most Chinese-Americans-- nearly a decade of silence.
Well, he's a very strong person, and a strong-willed person. Hopefully, I can hear from him. So I didn't give up my hope. I didn't.
Even as Chinese saw their few freedoms fall away, Chinese-Americans were reaching for theirs.
January, 1961-- "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans."
When JFK was elected, this was a great wind of hope that spread through the country for people of color at that time. The day after he was inaugurated, I was at a house party with predominantly African-American friends. And the highlight of the party, if you can imagine, was we turned off the record player, and turned up the lights. And Stanley, who was one of the guys that I hung out with, had memorized the speech, the inauguration speech, overnight, and stood up and recited it. And then we all applauded.
Charlie Chin was 17 when JFK went to the White House. And he knew he wasn't going to follow his father into laundry work to earn $0.03 per shirt. Like his friends, Black and white, he expected more.
On the weekends, we would go down to Greenwich Village where all kinds of interesting things happen.
Go to listen to jazz, and then pretend to be old enough to drink and go into bars. And like everybody else, I got myself a black turtleneck sweater and a beret. And I learned to smoke gauloises, cheap French cigarettes, and intersperse foreign words in my conversation, just so I would sound more worldly.
A friend of mine said to me, if I wanted, I could go down to the corner. There was a coffee house. And if I played and passed the hat, I could make some money. Well, I was pretty desperate. So I went down and I played some Appalachian tunes, and a couple of Pete Seeger kind of tunes. And then I passed the hat, and I made like $5 and change. And I thought, wow, this is the life for me.
People would be looking at me very intently. And I thought it was because I was such a good player. Now I realize, of course, that they were thinking, why is this Chinese guy playing the banjo?
It was a great place to be when you're young. And young people were tasting for the first time intellectual freedoms, philosophical freedoms, political freedoms, yes, even sexual freedoms. Well, all of a sudden, being exotic now because I'm Chinese was a definite advantage. Well, it wasn't that much of an advantage, but it was a small advantage.
It was almost on a lark that Charlie decided to go to Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.
(SINGING) Ain't gonna let nobody, lordy, turn me 'round, turn me 'round, turn me 'round. Ain't gonna let nobody, lordy, turn me 'round. I'm gonna keep on walking, yeah, yeah, keep on--
Well, I myself, marched on Washington the first time.
(SINGING) [INAUDIBLE]. Ain't going to let segregation, lordy--
If you are going to identify with somebody, who are you going to identify with? The people who had instituted unfair laws and discriminatory practices, or the people who were fighting to get them changed? And it was pretty obvious if you had a brain in your head that you had no choice. You had to identify with the people who are fighting discriminatory laws, fighting injustice.
The laws and norms were all being revised. Helen was no more insulated than Charlie.
There was a moment when I was in the high school schoolyard with my friend Julie, who was white, and my friend Rose, who was Black. And the three of us-- white, Black, and yellow, were standing there talking about civil rights. And then one of my friends turned to me and said, you know, Helen, you've really got to decide whether you're Black or white. And I was dumbstruck. I was-- that just shut me up completely.
I just thought, well, but I'm not Black, and I'm not white. I'm something else. But at that time when I was in high school, there wasn't a something else.
Where did she fit? Through high school, Helen was still assembling her parents' flower shop novelties. But when she applied to college, Princeton offered her admission-- all tuition paid.
My father was very proud that I had won this scholarship. But when it came time for me to actually get him to sign the registration papers that every parent has to sign that says it's OK for my kid to go to your college, I went into the kitchen, I brought him the papers and a pen. And he put the paper down, put the pen down, and said no. The proper place for an unmarried Chinese daughter is to stay at home with her parents.
And when he put that pen and paper down, I just-- I saw my future was slamming shut in front of me. And it was that point in time-- my father was-- you know, he was God in our family. I had never knowingly disobeyed my father once until that point. I was 18 years old.
And I said-- I somehow-- I slammed the table and I said, no, I'm going to college. And he took one look at me, didn't say a word, picked up the pen and signed the paper, and walked out of the room.
In college, I learned that I was an Asian-American. I learned that I didn't have to call myself oriental, like a rug. It was like a light bulb going off. It was exhilarating. It was-- I have to say, it was such a thrilling time.
(SINGING) Sing a song for ourselves.
I mean, the '60s for Asian-Americans was the first time you could speak out. You no longer wanted to be invisible.
Shawn Wong was in college in the Bay Area when students there invented the term Asian-American. That was 1968-- the year of bitter strikes to win courses in Black and Asian history.
The early teachers were often the students themselves. There were no books. If you wanted to learn about Chinese-American history, you got your tape recorder, and you went into Chinatown, and you found some old-timers to tell you about their lives.
One day a call came into the university from a park ranger who wanted help reading Chinese-- something about an old building they were going to burn down out in the Bay on Angel Island.
And the interesting thing was, we sort of young, radical, Asian-American studies teachers or students, we didn't know anything about Angel Island.
It was the old detention center of the exclusion era. Tens of thousands of Chinese had been held there when they tried to enter the country. Many had never made it in.
And so a bunch of us went over there.
And we walked into the building--
--and it was very dilapidated-- broken glass on the floor. And on the walls are hundreds and hundreds of poems engraved in Chinese. And the person we were with started reading the poems on the walls.
"Why do I have to languish in this jail? My parents wait in vain for news. My wife and child, wrapped in their quilt, sigh with loneliness."
And as we went through the building, and our translator was reading the poems verbatim off the walls, you could sort of relive the history.
We're in there discovering the history that gave us a sense of who we were, and gave us a sense of place in America.
A place in America-- more Chinese came each day to claim theirs. Their presence was a surprise-- an unintended result of the new, more liberal immigration law.
To be fair, most people in the community didn't recognize it at first either. By the time the law took effect in '68, overnight, in one year, suddenly the face of Chinatown was beginning to change. And this was very apparent if you knew old Chinatown.
Because it was quite common to walk down the streets of Old Chinatown pre-'68, pre-'65, and pretty much know all the people on the street, and say hello to various distant relatives. But by '68, '69, '70, you could walk down-- there would be whole groups of people. And you could realize they are recent arrivals, and they were families.
They weren't necessarily people who came from farms and small villages. They were coming from more urban areas. They were coming from Hong Kong. These people were more sophisticated, more knowledgeable certainly than the people of my father's generation, who were literally raised in feudal China, or just the post-period of feudal China. So it changed everything. And by the early '70s, it exploded in Chinatown.
Everything started to change. The cuisine changed. Chinese-Americans coming back into Chinatown to come for dinner, they didn't know how to order anymore.
People began to arrive who were skilled restaurateurs, who were professionals. They began to bring in food products and things we had never seen before.
The different regional cuisines from Hunan, from Sichuan, from Shanghai, whereas, growing up all there was was Chinese-American food-- chop suey.
The new immigrants came from Taiwan and Hong Kong-- almost none from the Chinese mainland. The People's Republic of China and its borders were still tightly policed, though there were stirrings of change with the visit from an old enemy.
[MUSIC - "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER"]
When Nixon came to China in 1972, that's still in the Cultural Revolution.
Like thousands of others, Benny Pan still lived under virtual house arrest.
I was specially advised not to leave the school, not to go back home, not to go any place. I didn't know why at the beginning. Later, some of the communists told me, because you can speak English, if you go out, if you met Nixon, maybe you would tell the truth to Nixon. [LAUGHS] Well, I don't think I can meet Nixon that time. [LAUGHS]
It was not until 1973, a year after Nixon's visit, that Benny Pan even dared send a letter out.
When I saw his writing I was really excited, that I'll call my friends, tell them the good news.
All across America, news was now trickling in of family members who had survived or not, of relatives broken by the Cultural Revolution, others born, their names and faces until now not even known. China's opening restored families, thawed a corner in the hearts of Chinese-Americans that had been frozen for years. And by the late '70s, some travel in and out became possible again.
It was 30 years since Benny put his sister on the train out. Now he wrangled a visa to get his oldest daughter free. But his own request to leave with his wife was turned down. Their dream would have to wait.
Helen Zia graduated in Princeton's first class of women, breaking a 200-year tradition. Her parents were elated when she was accepted to medical school; aghast when she dropped out.
My father would write me letters that were so angry. And I'd pick them up, I'd open them, and I'd like peek just to see the beginning of what he might have written. And some of them began with the salutation, "To my daughter, who is worse than my worst enemy," and then they would just go downhill from there.
She didn't help matters by moving to Detroit to stamp out car hoods and fenders on an assembly line. But what happened in Detroit would change Helen's life and touch the lives of Asian-Americans all across the country.
In 1982, Detroit was a grim place.
At the start of the new year, the US Labor Department said Michigan's jobless rate was 14.9%, nearly double the national average. Time passed--
Its cars couldn't compete with those coming from Japan, and the resentment of all things Japanese was palpable. On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin, a draftsman, was days away from his wedding, celebrating his bachelor party at a neighborhood lounge.
Unfortunately for him, sitting across from him at the bar were two auto workers who looked at him, saw his Asian face, his Chinese face, and saw red. They saw him as the enemy.
We'll never know for sure how it started. There was drinking, and angry words were exchanged. The white men mistook Chin for Japanese and taunted him. He was a nip, a Jap, then a chink. It's because of you, they said, that we're out of work. After a scuffle broke out, everyone was told to leave. Once outside, the whites stalked Chin, cornered him, then beat him with a baseball bat. Four days later, he was dead.
I remember that distinctly, because I was at a gallery showing in Chinatown. Somebody walked in and said, have you heard? Heard what? They killed a Chinese guy in Detroit because they thought he was Japanese. And everybody got quiet, because this was our worst fear.
It wasn't in the Deep South. It wasn't in 19th-century California. It was in Detroit. If it could happen to Vincent Chin, it could happen to any Chinese-American.
Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz were charged with second-degree murder, but plea bargained down to lesser charges of manslaughter. Their sentence-- $3,000 fines plus court fees and probation. The judge was quoted as saying, these weren't the kind of people you send to jail. Helen had been laid off her job as an auto worker. She was writing for a couple of Detroit papers when she heard the news.
It was like wildfire. The first meeting had 100 people. The next meeting had 200 people.
The light sentences outraged much of Detroit and stunned the Asian community. But lawyers said there was little hope of changing them.
Vincent Chin's mother was crying, because it sounded like people were saying there's nothing we can do. And I sat there and I raised my hand. And I said, we have to let people know that we think this is wrong. We have to do something.
Speaking up about this had everything to do with my experiences and the cumulative insults-- all of the things that had built up, all of the things I had seen my parents subjected to, all of the bitterness that I could see my father carried with him because he was making baby novelties. All of those things came to me.
In these meetings, there would be people who would stand up and say, I've been working as a scientist or an engineer for the last 30 years in this company. I've taught every wet behind the ears college kid to be my boss. And I know I've known more than every one of them has ever known. And I've never been considered to be the supervisor. This time I have to speak up.
We want justice. We want justice. We want justice.
With Chinese leading the way, a coalition formed with Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, and South Asians. It was the first Asian-American advocacy group of its kind with a national scope, and it led to one of the first federal prosecutions of a civil rights case on behalf of an Asian-American.
We want justice. We want justice.
To have rallies and demonstrations, and to be marching and talking about civil rights and about racism was something very new to Chinese-Americans and to Asian-Americans. For community people, for restaurant workers to shut down their restaurants for a day, so that their waiters and their cooks and the family could go and participate in a march, that was unheard of. And that was how deeply people felt at that moment, how important it was 100 years after the Chinese Exclusion Act to say, 100 years have gone by. We don't have to accept this stuff anymore.
When the federal conviction was thrown out on appeal, Lily Chin filed a civil suit and won. The men were ordered to pay her compensation, but most of it she never saw. They never served time in jail.
Vincent Chin's death became a symbol shared by Chinese-Americans, an emblem of identity. But what was the identity, the history they shared? At the time of his death, the Chinese and American numbered almost a million. Nearly half were new immigrants. And for these newcomers, the scars of exclusion, even the battles over civil rights, were something remote, learned from newspapers and books.
Chinese-Americans were dividing as their numbers climbed. The poor and working class clustered in the old Chinatowns, making the streets more crowded and vital than ever. The more educated, meanwhile, made straight for the mainstream.
But for new arrivals of whatever class, America was not about what had been, but what could be. For the poor, looking back was a luxury they could ill afford. And the fortunate-- well, they were going to make history, not repeat it.
Jerry Yang is co-founder of Yahoo, one of the most recognized brands on the internet. He left Taiwan in 1978.
I do remember leaving Taiwan, and it feels a bit like a dream. I was just about to turn 10. I remember landing in LA. You have lines upon lines of people trying to get through immigration. Everybody had their belongings with them-- black people, white people, yellow people, all coming into the country.
Basically, we had everything we ever owned-- my mom and my brother and me and a few suitcases, and didn't really understand the language. And it was very much like a scene out of a movie. It's loud and it's noisy and it's big. Everything is huge, and there's land everywhere, and there's cars everywhere.
And so that was the imagery that I remember of my first day in the United States.
I never felt that I didn't belong. I felt like, this is where I'm going to be. I think for me, it was much more of a journey, you know? It's a journey of understanding how in this new world I could fit in.
Every generation of my family has immigrated. My parents immigrated from Taiwan, but my grandparents really immigrated from China. They fled during the war when the communists invaded.
And so I think my parents grew up in a family where at any moment we had to pick up our things and leave. And they didn't want that for me and my brother. They thought America is safe. America is a land of good fortunes and dreams. So they wanted to come to America.
Jean Tang's family arrived in America in 1978, the same year as Jerry Yang, completing a 7,000-mile journey from Taiwan to an aunt's house in Springfield, Illinois.
My dad was a construction worker, and my mom was a waitress. And she worked at two or three different restaurants. And my dad basically tried to find as many odd jobs as he could to fill up a day and make some money.
They were lost. They were 35 years old, and they didn't the language very well. And they tried their best to hide their insecurity and their fear from us. And so small things like going to the grocery store, not knowing where to buy things, or not knowing how to use a checkbook and write out instead of 150, you have to write out one hundred and fifty, and spell it out. And so my brother and I would always be at the grocery store helping out my parents doing these type of things. In certain situations outside the home, you were the parent and they were the child.
Like so many new immigrants, Jean's family turned to relatives for help. Her uncle owned a clothing store in a rundown section of LA, and after three tough years in Springfield, the Tangs moved west to run it. They kept its doors open every day of the year-- Thanksgiving and Christmas, too. After school, Jean would help customers, while her younger brother kept watch for shoplifting.
The message that me and my brother got growing up was, you guys need to study. You guys need to be professionals. You don't want to live like this, like me and your mom.
The most tense time was when we had to present our report cards. When we opened it and we got a B, there was a lot of guilt. There was a lot of mental anguish and mental beating yourself up. When your mom cries when you get a B, it's very serious.
Does this B mean that I'm not going to get a good job? My parents are going to still be poor, and my family is just going to have such a hard life because I failed as a fifth grader and got a B in English? So I think for so many Chinese kids, there's a lot of pressure, because so much is riding on your education and on that grade.
Were you ever tempted to slack off, to back away, to take it easy?
No. [LAUGHS] Somehow that just wasn't an option for me.
My mom used to tell us, you have to achieve. You have to. You have to be a doctor or a lawyer. You have to because you have to be the best.
By the time she was raising her children, Michelle Ling's mother was comfortably middle class. But still, her message to her children was urgent.
She used to tell us, if they can choose between a white person and you, they're going to choose a white person. But if they know that the only way they're going to either stay out of jail or live is to use your services, then no matter how short, funny-looking, slanty-eyed you are, they're going to hire you. And that, I think-- that, in its way, I think is an extremely American idea. My mom pretty much ran our house, and she ran our house like a Navy ship.
Michelle and her sisters were raised as model daughters-- well-mannered, respectful, devoted to school. For years, her parents' authority governed the home without challenge.
On a day-to-day basis, if you did something wrong, you had to answer to mom. The more large, overarching bad things you might do, like not become a doctor or a lawyer or whatever, then there was always the threat of your father.
Michelle's father was born in China, met his bride here while a medical resident, then moved to LA to practice. That's where Michelle grew up, absorbing what was expected of her and what was not.
I've had this experience with many of my Chinese friends, where there's no discussion about shame or-- you never get a lecture about a family tradition and shame. You just already know that it's just there. There's like this undercurrent, this fog, that permeates the whole house that's just guilt-- family and guilt and disappointment, not just of yourself and your own potential, but just of this entire race.
You know, my dad never really said that much because he didn't have to. You'd just be like, OK, never mind. I'll just go to medical school. You know? Because that's-- it's fine. Whatever. Whatever I was thinking, I don't know what I was thinking. Never mind.
So we moved here in the '80s, and the changes that we see now are that there are a lot more Chinese folks living here. Just like my parents, they moved here so they can give their kids a better education because the school district in Arcadia is outstanding.
Arcadia, Southern California-- Jean Tang and her parents moved here when this was a modest suburb, mostly white. So was neighboring Monterey Park, now headquarters for the Chinese communities that began to thrive in the 1980s.
This is where you can eat a nice meal. You can do your grocery shopping, go to the bank, go to the post office, all speaking Chinese and not needing English at all.
If you go to Charles Schwab, even the tellers are Chinese. If you think about the medieval ages, and you think about the Lord's castle and the fiefdom that-- the central point of the entire structure would be Ranch 99 or the Chinese supermarket. These communities are so tight that my parents have been here for 18 years, and their English has not improved over time.
On weekends when all these families would get together, there would be the Yus, who owned the Chinese fast food restaurant. There would be other Tangs who owned different businesses. When we all get together for mahjong, the competition wasn't really about how well your store business did, and it wasn't about growth, and it wasn't about employees. It was all about how your children did.
Oh, so-and-so's got an award in school. They are most improved. Or so-and-so got to be on the evening news because of the spelling bee or something like that. And so in our living room, my mom and dad would always put out our awards and the medals we won in full display.
And it was very competitive within even our cousins. And so it was just a big part of my life. I remember we would go to my uncle's house, and go swimming or go play ping pong for a while. And then you would sit there and do algebra for two hours. And it sounds terrible, but you end up learning things that you would never-- but it was almost a game. It was fun, rather than it's a chore.
And then there's the typical thing that Chinese people do when they first get here, and you randomly flip to a page in the dictionary, and you got to remember five words from the dictionary, and you get tested the next day. It's not a change from Taiwan. I mean, Taiwan was even worse. So this is actually-- you get to play and study. In Taiwan, you just get to study.
Math clinic-- whoo-hoo. That's what I need. Nobel Education Institute, Harvard Education Institute.
I think I occupy a very special spot in my family and community because I've done well. That would precede me in every place. So if we went to the barber shop, or if we went to the supermarket, people knew about that, and thought my parents did something right.
And it wasn't until I think when I went to college when one of my interviewers for a scholarship asked me, am I happy? Is this what I want to be doing? And I thought to myself, what a strange question.
Strange in the sense that this was my job. These are the classes I needed to take. These were the grades I needed to get. But in terms of happiness, or is this really what you want, that was almost secondary.
My parents spent their entire lives working to fulfill that Model Minority vision. That's what they wanted. That's totally what they worked for their entire lives.
Model Minority-- the term came into vogue in the '70s and '80s, applied to Asian-Americans. It evokes strong families, self-reliance, and more than anything, being good at school. It was a stereotype, of course, which many Asians did not, do not, fit. Yet, it was rooted in something real.
My family was the kind of family where it was like, not are you going to college, but which college?
Michelle Ling got into UC Berkeley in 1988. And consider this. When she was in college, Asians were just 3% of all Americans, but they were 15% of students at Harvard, about 20% at Stanford and MIT, and fully a third of students at Berkeley.
But I do remember seeing a lot of Asians and thinking, God, there's not a lot of Asians here. We'd talk about it amongst ourselves all the time. And this is like-- white people don't know about this. But there's names. There's FOBs-- Fresh Off the Boat. There's ABCs-- people like me-- American-Born Chinese. Then there's gradations-- American-born Chinese. There's Twinkies.
Twinkies? What are Twinkies?
Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. And I guess that's the thing that I think a lot-- most white people don't know, is that when you walk around Berkeley, and you see that most of the people there, that the most prominent race on that campus is Chinese or Asian, that we don't all think of ourselves as being the same. And that when I walk across that campus, I feel the same discomfort that you do.
Even though you look alike.
Just because you look the same as George W. Bush, and you're both from Texas, do you-- you fit-- I mean, are you guys the same?
When Michelle was completing college in 1990, there were 1.6 million Chinese in America, and there was no Chinese-American world anymore. There were many.
There were illegal immigrants trying to slip in undetected in the holes of ships. There were Chinatown laborers trapped in sweatshops and restaurants, ruthlessly exploited by other Chinese. There were Chinese who'd come by way of Vietnam, Cambodia, even Cuba. There were political refugees after Tiananmen Square. And on January 20, 1990, there was one elderly man, visa in hand, his wait now over.
When I got on the plane into the United States, the first thing I thought of, why I was so old now. If I would be 40 years ago, that would be wonderful. But that's too late. But the second thought-- well, I'm still lucky. A dream comes true. I'd be in the United States. I stepped on the place I longed for a long, long time.
I haven't seen my sister for 40 years, and I haven't seen my daughter for 10 years.
He look around the airport and he's so happy, and his tears come off. He said, finally, I'm here.
And I say to myself, I'm free. I can speak freely. I can speak what I want to say.
So we try our best to find some job to do.
Benny and his wife got hired at Disney World in the China pavilion, both of them wearing traditional costumes for the entertainment of tourists coming through. But no matter. It was a job.
That's my first car. It's 1990 Dodge Shadow. We went to Daytona Beach. We went to Busch Gardens, all by my car. I liked driving, really. Driving is much fun than bicycle. [LAUGHS]
By the '90s, Chinese-American success stories were everywhere, none more prominent than Jerry Yang's.
It still amazes me every day of coming to Yahoo, where we started in an office of 1,700 square feet. Actually, we really started in a trailer at Stanford University of less than 100 square feet. And now we're in a complex of a few million square feet.
For all its booms and busts, the internet revolution changed America. And the Chinese proved as important to it as to the railroad a century before. A fifth of all the tech startups in Silicon Valley in the '90s were Chinese or Chinese-American owned. For every Jerry Yang who became famous, there were thousands of Chinese-American engineers who labored behind them anonymously. It was easy now to see the success, the upward mobility-- harder to see what it had cost.
Jean Tang graduated from Berkeley in 1995 in the top 1% of students in her field. She won a full scholarship to Stanford Medical School. She'd more than met her parents' expectations. From Taiwan to Arcadia to Berkeley to here, now she could look back at her steps, her family steps, along the way.
People talk about what is your gut reaction? What fills your heart with bliss? That feeling is harder for me to tap into, because kind of overshadowing that feeling is what is best for my family?
My parents have told me times are still tough for them, because the business didn't go well and the store closed. But in their hearts, they feel like they are successful in their colleagues' and peers' eyes because my brother and I are doing well.
I used to think comparing my life with friends whose parents are more standoffish and the unit structure is not the family, the unit structure is the individual. And I've always thought, like, wow. How refreshing that your parents don't care so much about what you do. There's not this neediness to succeed, that your success is not necessarily their success, and your failure doesn't necessarily reflect badly on them. How liberating is that, and how freeing and how light?
My parents will always live through my life and my brother's life. When I was an adolescent I was resentful for it. But over time, I've realized, why not? They've invested so much into us that they should reap the rewards.
Michelle Ling's family was taken aback when suddenly she announced she was stepping off the Model Minority track after being groomed for it all her life. She didn't want to be a doctor or lawyer. She wanted to write. She hated to disappoint her parents. She had a life to lead.
My family is the most important thing to me, absolutely. And my parents' approval has always been of tantamount importance. Whether I like it or not, it has always-- I mean, to this day when I think about it, trying to find out if I can make my dad proud of me before he's dead is important. It brings me to tears to think that I could be not as successful as he thinks I could be, or as perhaps I should be.
[INAUDIBLE] for flowers.
Well, I'm sure you could get them if you really wanted, but.
Chinese, Chinese-American, Model Minority, dutiful daughter-- all these identities. But when it came to stitching them together, Michelle was like any other American-- on her own.
I think that the Chineseiest thing about me is that I eat chicken feet. Their feet, make no mistake, they look exactly like a chicken foot. The fact of the matter is they taste good. They're kind of good. I wouldn't eat them every day. And I don't think I have to eat them every day.
So what does this have to do with the American dream?
That is the American dream-- that I get to eat Chinese chicken feet when I want, where I want. But I can choose not to eat them, and I can eat hamburgers if I want. I get to choose whether or not I want to be Chinesey or Americanized or black or white or whatever.
You don't get to choose--
OK. You don't get to choose your color.
I don't get to choose my color, but I get to choose everything else.
You get to choose your own identity.
Yes. I get to compose my life one piece at a time, however I feel like it. Not to say that it's not difficult, and not to say that people don't balk at whatever I choose, not to say that there isn't challenge all the time. But more than material wealth, you get to choose what you are, who you are.
(SINGING) I left my home and my parents at the age of 21, in a family of eight children, I was the youngest son. Little choice was left to me, but to go to a foreign land. Oh, who will mourn the passing of this wandering China man?
Well, I'm a byproduct of the old Chinatown. I'm a byproduct of a Chinese-American community that existed before the 1960s, that saw the last of the [INAUDIBLE], the old bachelor society. And the new image of Asians, in Americans' eyes in general, is startling to me.
Right now they're young. They are upscale. They're taking full advantage of the things that you could have in America if you have the money, if you have the education. So it's wonderful. But for old-timers like me, there's always this faint little voice in the back of my head saying, yes, but never forget to be careful. Never forget to be careful.
Shawn Wong was made head of the English Department at the University of Washington in Seattle, where Chinese-Americans in positions of influence became common. Hard to remember that he, growing up, had just one role model in the public eye-- a lone Japanese-American on the California Bears. One day Shawn received an unexpected phone call.
There's this voice that says, this is a voice from your past. And I go, who is this? And the voice says, this is Pete Domoto. And I said-- I'm sitting there-- I said, what? He says, this is Pete Domoto. I said, number 60? Left guard? And he goes, yep. And I said, wow. [LAUGHS] And I think the first thing I said was, can I get your autograph? I said, why are you calling me?
And it turns out-- which I didn't know. It turns out that he's the Chairman of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Washington. And when he told me that, I remember the first thought that went into my mind was, oh, that's too bad. He's a dentist. [LAUGHS]
Family drew Benny Pan and his wife to Queens, New York. He settled near one of the rapidly growing new Chinatowns.
If I want to be my life the rest in the United States, why should I not be a American citizen? Then I can be as just one of the whole family, right? And I became an American citizen. I got it in 1999 after I'd been here for 10 years.
I'm sorry that my wife got the same thing as me on the same day, but after only half year she passed away. She passed away on June 4, 2000 years. She couldn't have any chance to enjoy to be an American citizen. I'm sorry about that. But I'm still thinking of I'm so lucky. I got everything really.
Toward the end of my father's life, I actually had an occasion to ask him what he thought about his kids-- a dangerous thing for a grown child to ask a parent. And my father said-- without hesitation he said, oh, you're all too American. And that if I were to start all over again, I'd make you be more Chinese. [LAUGHS]
Being born as an American and being raised in the American culture, there was no turning back. But I felt that I really should go back to my father's hometown.
Being in Suzhou really gave me the sense that I was imagining walking where my father had walked-- the spirit of not only my father, but generations before my father, that this is where some of my history and imagined memory lies hundreds of years before my family became American.
The story is still being written. Every day there are new arrivals. There's the bunk bed, the job in the garment factory or restaurant, the debts still owed to family and others who financed the long journey here. Like every immigrant group, the Chinese in America are defined not so much by those who make it, but by those who keep coming. Because they believe they can make it. It's an old story, and always new. America itself is still becoming.
Funding for this series is provided by Walter and Shirley Wang, and by the Henry Luce Foundation, the family of Hsien Hsein and Bae Pao Lu Chow, the family of Kenneth and Mary Wang, the Herb Alpert Foundation, Sit Investment Associates and Sit Investment Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Starr Foundation, the Kelvin Foundation, and Albert Yu and Mary Bechmann, the Tang Fund, Gina and David Chu, Nautica International, the Cheng-Kingdon Foundation, Intel Corporation, Sybase e-business software, because everything works better when everything works together, and by Mutual of America. For over half a century people from all walks of life have turned to Mutual of America for retirement and pension products. BecomingAmerican,TheChineseExperience, continues on PBS online at pbs.org.
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience Part Three - No Turning Back
In this third episode of the three part series Becoming American, the immigration laws of 1965 were shown to be a turning point for the Chinese in America and overturned the last legal obstacle to the empowerment of Chinese Americans. This program presents intimate portraits of the new Chinese Americans and their struggle, common to so many immigrants, to reconcile the loss of some aspects of their old culture in order to embrace their adopted American one.
Films for the Humanities & Sciences / Films Media Group
Use this mini-lesson to introduce students to the experiences of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war, highlight inspiring ways people have stepped up to help, and raise ethical questions about the treatment of refugees from non-European countries.