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UFPPC (www.ufppc.

org) Digging Deeper XXXIV @ Mandolin Café (Tacoma, WA)


August 20, 2007, 7:00 p.m.

Erika Lee, At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era,
1882-1943 (Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press,
2003).

Introduction. Author’s ancestors’ became the U.S. Customs Service’s job (49).
experiences (1-5). Her early fascination with Interaction with politicians and public
the subject (5-6). Book organized around pressure, including the threat of mob
“America’s gates,” esp. San Francisco (7-8). violence, led to “the strictest interpretation
Other scholarly studies (8-9). Summary of possible” of the laws to be enforced (49-51).
book (9-13). Author the first to make John H. Wise, zealous anti-Chinese collector
extensive use of immigration archives at of customs at S.F. (52-54). James R. Dunn,
branch of National Archives in San Bruno, CA chief inspector (55-57). Biases were
(13-18). systematically built into procedures (57-58).
Racist prohibitions interfered with hiring
PART I: CLOSING THE GATES. The issue competent interpreters (58-63). S.F. was
arose in California in the 1870s (19-20). regarded as the model for the nation (63-64).
Race was the principal factor, which Terence V. Powderly, U.S. commissioner-
challenges the naïve paradigm of America as general of immigration, 1898-1902 (64-66).
“a nation of immigrants” (20-22). Frank P. Sargent, 1902-08 (67). Victor H.
Metcalf, U.S. secretary of commerce and
Ch. 1: The Chinese Are Coming. How labor (67-68). In 1905, in the Ju Toy ruling,
Can We Stop Them? Chinese Exclusion the Supreme Court “barred all Chinese,
and the Origins of American including those claiming U.S. citizenship,
Gatekeeping. H.N. Clement of San from appealing the bureau’s decisions in the
Francisco told a California Senate committee courts (68). In 1900 the Bureau of
in 1876: “How can we get rid of them? . . . Immigration took official control of
How can we stop them?” (23). Page Act of immigration, and by 1910 a “centralized
1875 aimed at Asian contract labor and agency of career civil servants” had
women entering for “lewd or immoral developed (68). In part, this was a response
purposes” (24). Citing Lucy Salyer: it and to Chinese complaints and pressure (69).
the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 “provided Angel Island, which opened on Jan. 21, 1910,
the legal architecture for twentieth-century was administered with less overt prejudice,
American immigration policy” (24). Anti- but the attitudes were built into the
Chinese racism (25). Economic fears (26). enforcement system (70-73). Nativism was
Sexual and gender fears (26-27). Fear of strong at national HQ; cf. Anthony Caminetti,
miscegenation (27-29). Regional factors commissioner-general of immigration from
(American West) (29-30). Chinese exclusion 1913 to 1920 (73-74).
generated “concepts of race” that provided a
framework used to excluded subsequent PART II: AT AMERICA’S GATES. Angel
groups (30-39). It shaped subsequent Island became essentially a detention center,
immigration regulation (40-43). Subsequent “a physical manifestation of the Chinese
legislation (43-45). The historical experience exclusion laws,” very different from Ellis
established both future “rhetoric and tools” Island, a processing center (75-76).
(46).
Ch. 3: Exclusion Acts: Race, Class,
Ch. 2: The Keepers of the Gate: U.S. Gender, and Citizenship in the
Immigration Officials and Chinese Enforcement of the Exclusion Laws. The
Exclusion. Low-level administrative officials exclusion laws and their enforcement forged
became de facto makers of policy that “concepts of race, class, gender, sexuality,
responded to “the anti-Chinese politics and citizenship for Americans in general”
permeating San Francisco at the end of the (77-78). Cases of mixed descent (78-81).
19th century” (47-48). Immigration control Race-based immigration procedures (81-84).
Humiliating Bertillon system of measuring Mexico border (157-61). Chinese often
features, including genitalia, introduced in passed as members of other groups, e.g.
1903, led to boycott of U.S. goods in China, Mexican (161-65). Cultural construction of
and was dropped (84-85). Fifty to sixty times the Chinese illegal immigrant (165-69). The
as much was spent per immigrant on borders came to be regarded as a second
Chinese in the effort to exclude (85-87). chance at admission, and the response was
Class mitigated some of the effects of racialized (169-73). The response also has
exclusion, but race “took precedence,” as an imperial character: “At its very
tightening of the definition of “merchant” foundation, Chinese exclusion had always
and the assumption that all Chinese lie been articulated and justified through the
reveals (87-92). Because of a fear of language of American national sovereignty
Chinese prostitutes, women faced especially and self-preservation, American nation-
close attention (92-100). In the struggle building and empire building” (173). This
over citizenship rights, the Chinese were link appears explicitly in two Supreme Court
often said to be unfit for citizenship because cases, Chae Chan-ping v. United States
of stupidity, servility, or inability to (1889) and Fong Yue Ting v. United States
assimilate; U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) (1893) (173-74). Chinese exclusion led to
“affirmed that regardless of race, all persons the U.S.’s northern border being “racialized”
born in the United States were, in fact, native (174-76). 1894 “Canadian Agreement” led to
born citizens of the United States and inspectors on ships landing in Canada (176-
entitled to all of the rights that citizenship 77). 1903 agreement with the Canadian
offered” (his picture is on the cover), but Pacific Railway Company, which operated
racist obstacles to claiming that right were both trains and ships, effectively required
many (105; 100-09). CPR to enforce U.S. immigration law for
Chinese persons bound for the U.S. (177-78).
Ch. 4: One Hundred Kinds of Oppressive U.S. also pressured Canada to enact laws like
Laws: The Chinese Response to U.S. ones, which it finally did in 1923 (178-
American Exclusion. Chinese organized a 79). On the U.S.-Mexico border, with less
complex system of resistance to the laws cooperation from the Mexican government,
and their application (111-12). Origins (Pearl surveillance, policing, and deportation
R. delta region especially) and motives of succeeded in stemming illegal Chinese
Chinese immigrants (112-16). Sojourning, immigration (179-87). By the 1920s, both
intended to increase wealth or accumulate borders had been “effectively closed to
land (116-23). Chinese became skilled at Chinese immigration” (187).
opposing and protesting decisions of the
exclusionary system (123-31). “[A]stute Ch. 6: The Crooked Path: Chinese Illegal
adaptation” to regulations (131-38). A Immigration and Its Consequences.
network of immigration attorneys was “Chinese immigrants and immigration
organized (138-41). The Chinese never officials created and maintained a system of
accepted the exclusionary laws (141-45). illegal immigration during the exclusion era”
(190). Economic considerations were behind
PART III: CRACKS IN THE GATE. Chinese illegal immigration (190-92). Chinese
seeking to evade the exclusionary laws were believed laws were unjust and could be
the first “illegal immigrants,” a term Lee evaded or ignored (192-93). Sea routes
accepts with “misgivings” (147-50). (193-94). The system of “paper” relatives
(194-98). Extensive corruption in the U.S.
Ch. 5: Enforcing the Borders: Chinese immigration service (198-200). Loopholes
Exclusion along the U.S.-Canadian and like merchant status, citizenship and record
U.S.-Mexican Borders. Problem of using destruction, and family status were exploited
border control to stop Chinese seeking to (200-07). The inspection and interrogation
evade the exclusionary laws “laid the system developed out of an intensifying
foundations for racialized conceptions of the “cycle of exclusion,” in which each side
‘illegal immigrant problem’ and of American intensified its efforts (207-19). An
border enforcement and nation-building” expensive, unfair system whose ultimate
(151-52). Crossings on the U.S.-Canadian “folly and futility” is clear (190; 219-20).
border (152-57). Crossings on the U.S.-
PART IV: THE CONSEQUENCES AND legislation (245-46). But far from being an
LEGACIES OF EXCLUSION. The system aberration, “Chinese exclusion . . . became
extended itself inside Chinese communities instead a model for subsequent immigration
(221-22). regulation” (246). Many echoes (247-50).
“In fact, it is Angel Island—and not Ellis
Ch. 7: In the Shadow of Exclusion: The Island—that best personifies America’s true
Impact of Exclusion on the Chinese in relationship with immigration. We are indeed
America. System created a “shadow of a ‘nation of immigrants,’ but we are also a
exclusion” that affected all Chinese ‘gatekeeping’ nation,’ and it is the tension
Americans (223). 1882 act had deportation between these two identities that continues
provisions; 1892 Geary Act had registration to shape not only America’s ambivalent
provisions; in 1909 all Chinese persons were immigration policy but also America’s
required to have a certificate (224-28). ambivalence toward immigrants” (251).
Chinese lived a harassed, sometimes
terrorized or blackmailed existence (228-37). Afterword: Following September 11,
Sociologist Paul Siu spoke of their 2001. 9/11 activated “the core components
“psychology of fear” in the 1930s (237). of American gatekeeping that originated in
More Chinese left than entered the U.S. from Chinese exclusion—racialization,
1908 to 1923 (237-38). Many who stayed containment, and protection” (253; 253-55).
felt embittered and alienated (238-40). Even
after the exclusionary era ended, its effects Notes. 37 pp.
were long felt, e.g. in the traumatizing 1956
“Confession Program” encouraging Chinese Bibliography. Thirty-odd archival collections, six
to confess fraudulent entry in return for personal interviews or exchange of letters,
sixteen dissertations, theses, or papers, ninety-
normalization (240-41). “Long after the
four articles, and 183 books.
exclusion laws were enacted, Chinese lived
in a state of anxiety, suffering from a Acknowledgments. Academic advisers,
psychology of fear and becoming further archivists, colleagues, grantors, publishers,
segregated and marginalized from family, husband, son Benjamin born as the book
mainstream society” (243). was sent to the publisher.

Epilogue: Echoes of Exclusion in the Index. 17 pp.


Late Twentieth Century. FDR signed the
Magnuson Bill, repealing Chinese exclusion [On the Author. Associate professor of history
at the Univ. of Minnesota-Twin Cities.]
laws, on Dec. 17, 1943 (245). Subsequent