A Chinese Worker of 1880

Immigration is as difficult an issue today as it has been since the Native Americans looked out across the ocean and noticed strange ships sailing toward their shore. So today, we’ll conjure the account of a man who also crossed an ocean to gain from and contribute to this experience known as America.

From Denver CO in 1882

My name is not important. Let me just say that I have been in America for over 30 years. I came here from China when the empire began to collapse. Back home, I was so poor and times were very desperate. So, the great Gold Rush and working on the railroads pulled me to California.

Back then, the men who owned the companies welcomed my labor with open arms. Even though I was paid much less than the white men, it was still better than the poverty and hunger of China. As it turns out, I was forced to work in a laundry because of my ill health. But there was much of a need for laundries and workers were sought. So, I was left alone for some time … left alone to work and live in peace among my fellow immigrants.

It did not take too long, however, for the white men to resent my people for doing labor so cheaply. Mines. Railroads. It did not matter. The owners wanted our cheap labor. The white workers hated us. To add to our troubles, many recent immigrants from Europe were also hated as they settled on the East Coast of America. When these immigrants came from the East to benefit from the gold rush, they saw an opportunity to step up in class by joining the others who hated the Chinese. In spite of such resentment, our communities flourished as long as we remained close to each other and did not mingle with others. Of course, this didn’t help our situation. We looked different, acted different from other men of America. They did not understand our food, the queues in our hair and our desire to work for such cheap pay.

By the 1870’s, marchers with large signs came to our community and shouted that they wanted us to go away. So, I took their advice and went away. I moved to a mining community in Denver, Colorado to work in a laundry and live among my people in a place called Hop Alley.

In October of 1880, there was a horrible incident against us. About 3,000 white people gathered into an angry mob. There were only eight policemen present who could not stop the rage of these people. The firemen hosed the crowd, but this made them angrier. Then, they set upon us. The mob destroyed our businesses, looted our homes, attacked and injured our people and set fire to our community. All was in ruins. The worst horror, however, was the fate of my friend. Look Young worked with me at the Sing Lee Laundry. He was grabbed by the mob and lynched. He was only 28 years old.

Finally, in 1882, the Congress of America passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which forbade any more Chinese people from immigrating to America. This seemed to quiet things down a bit. At times, I’m certain that Look Young’s mother and family wished that he had never come here. To work so hard and be so hated and die so young was a terrible thing. Will we ever become a true part of America?

And so, we all know the answer to his questions. Don’t we? And immigration is an issue that is still voted on, talked about, defined and redefined. But this is just one instant in history. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed it and will visit here for future postings. In the meantine, for more historical fact and fiction, please visit http://www.yoreamerica.com/.  See you there.  Kathy Lonetto

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