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Living quarters for the Chinese are dank and cramped. The opportunities are bleak and we are treated worse than animals. Americans do not respect us. In China, society was orderly. We protected our own and others. We have respect for others, the old are cared for by the young and we stood by each other. In China, we have incredible unity, a unity that is not found in America.
This is a notion that I just cannot understand. Back home, we have an emphasis on social relations. In America, the white population looks out for themselves, and only themselves. They harass anyone that are not like them. The white population in America harasses those from other races, including Indians and blacks. This also includes the Chinese, my own people.
In America, I am not welcome. I am treated worse than a dog, and it is impossible for me to have a quiet and successful life. I worked on the railroads, I was a farmer in Santa Clara County in California; it was a fortunate event that I could continue farming. Now, I am self-employed, running a wash house. There are about 70,000 other Chinese in California, so I am not alone in my suffering.
The neighborhood I am forced to live in is cramped and depressing, but at least this is home, I can escape into my small hut and therefore can escape the harsh and violent treatment of the white man, if only momentarily. I live in a neighborhood with other Chinese men and women. The buildings are small, made of wood, and are set extremely close together. The roads are hardly wide enough to allow a wagon through. Because of this, we do not have wagons.
However, these neighborhoods are set apart from white society. These neighborhoods are our own. We even have our own grocery stores with all the foods that we could possibly need, our own restaurants, and our own specialty shops that sell items like pens, charms, and fans.
I have made my cramped house as comfortable as I possibly could. It is dingy and dark, but I have plenty of pictures of you and the rest of our family. I have tried to brighten up the wooden décor with lighter-colored fabrics, but it does not have the same feel as back home. I do not think that this will ever really be my home.
I do not go out at night for fear of violence. The Chinese are victims of racial violence. We run from white boys who throw rocks at us. The white man regularly throw rotten eggs and vegetables at us and some of us even get slapped by them. Worst of all, white children spit on us and call us horrible names, such as rats, as we pass by them. Some Chinamen have even been shot, thrown on trains, and shipped out of town.
When I first arrived in America, I worked on railroads. I was recruited with many other Chinese men by railroad owners. While I worked for the Central Pacific Railway Company, I learned many skills, including drilling, grading, demolition, and masonry. However, when the railroads were completed in the late 1870s, I had to find work elsewhere. I did not have enough money to return home to you, so I had to stay in America. As I looked for more work, America’s economy took a turn for the worse.
I then took a job in farming. I got meager pay, but I am familiar with it, and I am good at it. I was respected as a farmer back home, and I thought that this was going to be the same. However, in America I am not respected. However, some of us refused to let our bosses take advantage of us. For example, fruit pickers from my county went on strike a few years ago, wanting higher pay.
I came to America for economic opportunity. I was lured by the gold rush in America. I wanted a piece of wealth for you and myself. I suppose I was blinded by glitter and gold, but I only wanted to do what was best for you. The economy back home left much to be desired. I lost access to my land because of unequal foreign trade and cash crops. Also, because of war and natural disasters, I knew I had to do something to better my family. I did not have any other choice.
I did not know that after a few years in America, there would be no hope of getting back home to you. I did not know that America was going to experience economic troubles. If I would have known these things, I would have stayed in China. At least back home I would not have to deal with hostile groups.
The white population is upset with us because America is going through a rough economic downturn, and the Americans want the jobs that were given to us. It is beginning to get really bad. A neighbor of mine was beaten yesterday because he refused to give up his job to a white man who wanted it. I am afraid, afraid to show up for work, afraid to even walk outside of my house. I would never give up my job, but what if it means my life? I do not know what I would do in the same situation that my neighbor found himself in.
There are violent anti-Chinese riots almost everyday. Americans feel like they are entitled to take jobs away from the Chinese. We are not allowed to protect ourselves. Since we are not allowed to testify in court either for or against a white man, it is nearly impossible to protect ourselves from the violence of the white population.
After I had been in America for a few years, we became protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1870. However, now, what is known as the Chinese Exclusion Act has been passed. I am now not allowed to become an American citizen and Chinese laborers are no longer allowed to come to this country; it is a good thing I got here when I did.
Many, such as a senator from Alabama, believe that we are inferior and should be put on reservations like the Indians were. We have been grouped in with blacks and Indians. I am not saying that being grouped in with these races is bad, but we are all being treated unfairly. A few years ago, President Rutherford B. Hayes first warned the American public of the “Chinese Problem.” Can you believe it? He called us a “problem.” I have never been so insulted in my life.
Many of my fellow Chinamen were forced to give up, or voluntarily gave up, their jobs in agriculture and started their own businesses. These businesses are known as laundries, and they seem to be incredibly successful. Because of the hostile American attitude during the economic downturn, I was forced to open a wash house. American women taught me how to operate the laundry. There are no flat irons or washboards, so we have to wash the clothing in tubs. Back home, this is considered women’s work; I never thought that I would be reduced to this. However, many Chinese men in America decided to enter into this business because it is cheap to start and not much English needs to be known.
For some, going into the laundry business was a choice, but for others like me, they were pushed into it. Americans want our agricultural jobs, and many took them. So, for us, the only other thing we could do for a living was go into the laundry business.
I, like other Chinese in this country, am trying to assimilate into American society. I miss China, but with the help and support of other Chinese immigrants, I believe that I can make my life in America work. Eventually, Americans will accept us; if we fight hard enough, they will have to.
I tried to do right by you. I was so hopeful when I left China that in a couple of years after arriving in America I would send for you and we would live happily together. The hostility from Americans was somewhat to be expected, but I did not expect to be struggling in the land of opportunity. I should have stayed in China, stayed with you. Until I can be with you, I will keep trying to turn things around. My situation is bound to get better, and in time, we can be together, living happily in America.
All My Love,
– Carlson, Lorri. (2005). Asking A Bigger Question: Why Did the Chinese Leave There to Come Here? Retrieved June 13, 2008, from Sharlot Hall Museum. http://www.sharlot.org/archives/history/dayspast/text/2005_07_17.shtml
– Latourette, Kenneth Scott. (1962). The Chinese: Their History and Culture. 4th ed. New York: The Macmillan Company. 450-451, 485, 565-566.
– Takaki, Ronald. (2008). A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. Revised Edition. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 183-185, 188-191.
– Twain, Mark. (1871/2006). Chinese Immigrants Deserve Respect. ed. Laura K. Egendorf. Immigration. New York: Greenhaven Press. 35.
– Wong, Vivian Wu and Matsusaka, Yoshihisa Tak. (1999). Early Chinese Immigration and the Process of Exclusion: A Unit Study for Grades 8-12. Retrieved June 13, 2008, from http://www.oah.org/pubs/teachingunits/chinese/intro.pdf