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Immigration shaped the United States in a sense that they were able to join American society in a productive way. America is an extremely diverse country that thrived due to immigrants wanting a better quality of life or a new career path. Immigrants faced a lot of backlash due to people who believe that migrants, such as the Chinese, are taking jobs that belong to a “true American”. In a claim made by Richard Rodriguez called “Blaxicans and Other Reinvented Americans”, immigrants assimilate naturally into the American culture and gradually lose aspects of their own cultural identity in the process.
This statement causes much controversy since many people feel that as immigrants assimilate, they embrace many aspects of the mainstream culture, while still retaining a unique cultural identity. Immigrants generally believe it is in their interests to “Americanize” and actively choose to integrate into the larger culture to avoid prejudice. The Chinese first immigrated to the United States during a period of failing diplomatic relations, trade disagreements and military clashes with the British Empire in what became known as the Opium Wars.
As Great Britain rose to power in China, over 20,000 Chinamen traveled to the United States in hopes of striking gold to bring back to their villages in China, but the Foreign Miners’ tax caused many to look for work instead of mining for gold, forcing them to try and merge with American culture. Fast forwarding a few years to the 1860s, the construction of the transcontinental railroad was finished mainly by immigrant labor, many of whom were Chinamen willing to work for a low wage (approximately per month).
Since they were willing to work for such a low wage, industries took them in over any other immigrant, angering people such as the Irish and the German. A political cartoon drawn by Thomas Nast shows Columbia, the feminine symbol of the United States, protecting a Chinese man against a gang of Irish and German thugs. At the bottom it says “Hands off-Gentlemen! America means fair play for all men” (Harper’s Weekly). The propaganda drawing suggests that the Congress should repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was the banning all immigration from China for 10 years. The Exclusion Act was passed due to many Americans and the greater number of immigrants feeling that the Chinese brought bad habits into the United States, such as opium addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution. This led to a political split, which filled newspapers, speeches, plays, and other forms of media with propaganda.
For instance, on August 16th, 1888 a speech was delivered called The Workingmen of San Francisco that were in favor of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act due to “...crowded Chinese slave labor [being] worse than it was eight years ago. The boot, shoe and cigar industries are almost entirely in their hands” (4). These workingmen that the speech was directed to needed a higher paying job to support their family since slavery was no longer allowed in the United States. Although slavery had been abolished in 1865, Americans and other emigrants viewed the Chinese as an equivalent to or lesser than slaves. The Autobiography of a Chinese Immigrant by Lee Chew argued that the Chinamen’s work was respectable, difficult, and fair and that the Chinese always directed one of the highest market prices. Chew exemplifies this claim by explaining “No one would hire an Irishman, German, Englishman, or Italian when he could get a Chinese, because…[we] are so much more honest, industrious, steady, sober and painstaking” (“The Biography of a Chinaman”, 417-423). His views in why his race is discriminated against so much is because other immigrants live in fear that the Chinese might take their jobs and ultimately their livelihood. This hatred towards the Chinese evidently led to the creation of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Racial prejudice arose in America and has been affecting the racial minorities to this day. From immigrants of Islamic traditions being threatened to the Asian-American stereotypes, bigotry affects people daily.
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