A Timeline of the early Chinese immigrants’ experience in America.
1865 – Despite the objection from white laborers, 50 Chinese workers were hired by the Central Pacific railway company to lay track Eastbound across the continent. Very quickly, numerous other Chinese workers were recruited to lay track through a 100 miles of mountains that rose 7000 square feet high. The Chinese worked long, brutal hours and even worked through the whole winter. They were often assigned to the most dangerous tasks such as lowering themselves over the mountains in baskets and then planting explosives to blast through the mountains. Many would be blown apart by the very explosives they set, fall over the cliff or buried alive by a mountain of snow that collapsed onto them. By 1868, almost 4000 Chinese were employed in working on the railroad, nearly two-thirds of the work force.
1869 – the first Transcontinental Railway was completed. It is commonly acknowledged that the transcontinental railway could not have been completed without the contribution of the Chinese laborers. Without this railroad, American progress would have been stalled for years. With the railroad completed and the Gold Rush over, the Chinese laborers spread out across America to look for work. Many of them began settling into major cities like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles and began forming Chinatowns.
1875 – The Page Act was established to ban the immigration of any individual from Asia to the United States for the purpose of “cheap Chinese labor” or prostitution. But such an act only had the sole effect of baring all Asian women from trying to immigrate, separating many families and fostering a gender imbalance that led to a bachelor’s society within the Chinese community. The female Chinese population dropped from 6.4% in 1870 to 4.6% by 1880.
1882 – the US Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning the immigration of Chinese laborers (whether skilled or unskilled) to America. Chinese immigrants living in America were still prevented from being naturalized into citizenship and would continue to become permanent aliens. The law was passed as a result of the Anti-Chinese sentiment growing amongst the Anglo-Saxon Americans who felt that the Chinese were taking jobs away from them during a recession era. Anti-Chinese propaganda would further fuel such racial tensions by depicting Chinese people as opium-smoking degenerates (the “Yellow Peril”). This law did not extend to Chinese merchants, diplomats, teachers and students and it also did not extend to American born Chinese. However, those immigrants who had already settled in the U.S had to attain reentry certificates if they were to leave the country, otherwise they would be barred from returning. But such documentation was hard to come by for the common laborer and as a result, many families were further separated without any hope of being reunited on America soil. Although this act was originally supposed to last only 10 years, it was renewed again and then made permanent until it was repealed more than 60 years later in 1943. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first and only time in history that the U.S would ban a group of immigrants based on their race and social class.
1906 – The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 registered a magnitude of 7.8 and was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S history, bringing about close to 3000 deaths and destroying more than 80% of San Francisco. Furthermore, fierce fires arising from the earthquake would burn through the city for days. A result of this fire was the destruction of immigration records held in City Hall, bringing about a blank slate that allowed many Chinese immigrants already living in San Francisco to claim that they were a “native born” American citizen. Being an American citizen, they could then travel freely between the U.S and China, thus exploiting a loophole in the Chinese Exclusion Act. Furthermore, they could claim that they had fathered “sons” in China and through another loophole in the act be allowed to bring their sons and daughters back into America. In actuality, a great number of these were “paper sons” with forged identity papers and who had paid their way into America by claiming to be sons of Chinese-American citizens.
1967 – Anti-miscegenation laws that prevented two people of different races to be married was officially repealed. Such laws that prevented interracial marriage and/or sexual relationships have been in effect within the United States since as early as the 17th century.
2012 – A resolution introduced by Congresswoman Judy Chu would pass unanimously through the House of Representatives. Through this resolution, the United States government formally expresses their regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act.