by Yesenia Olmos
When speaking on immigration it is important to differentiate the experiences of all peoples. American Social Studies curriculum for example, only presents the topic of immigration as a ‘unified or monolithic experience.’ These different spectrums of experiences are not taught in schools and therefore some believe in the idea of, “Freedom For All”. Yes, this experience may have been the case for many European immigrants, however, Asian, Latino, African immigrants, and even Native Americans experience were anything but the “American Dream”. To some, the ‘Statue of Liberty’ represented entrance to “Mother Liberty” aka The United States, a place of refuge and freedom. However, the harsh reality is, “minority” groups would never see ‘The Statue of Liberty’. With to the point words such as ‘Indians’, ‘Orientals’, ‘Hispanics’, and ‘Other’, America tried to assimilate the groups into something otherwise known as the “Melting Pot”. This assimilation was more geared towards European immigrant groups traveling and arriving at Ellis Island (1892-1954) in New York, where Mother Liberty greeted them. Angel Island (1910-1940) however, would be made in accordance with the law that had been passed in The United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 would be in place, this would be the first immigration law to exclude people based on their race. The Act would be renewed in 1902 and repealed in 1945. Chinese immigrants would be held at Angel Island, in San Francisco as detainees for up to two years. Angel Island was built on the principle of exclusion rather than the entrance. Left behind on Angel Island are the vast amount of poems written by Chinese immigrants left behind describing their sorrow, despair, and hope. Chinese immigrants crossing through Angel Island, for example, would sometimes be sent back to their country without first being registered. Asians, Latinos, Blacks, and Natives would become the minority groups in the country, those who would be hard to blend in the melting pot.
There is a notion that immigration takes place on the basis of the push-pull theory. The push being war, for example, and the pull being jobs and an economic boom, but ultimately hope for a better life. Although this also may be the case for some, there does not always have to be a pull factor hovering over the push. Also, this is a very stagnant approach, one that does not analyze the problems of all immigrants, and rather criticizes the countries from which immigrants come from. Especially when discussing the history of immigration is it important to realize that in this area one must take a multiple perspective approach.
Despite the Chinese being very much racialized in this US during this time, they would be the first asian country to immigrate into the US. The Chinese would pave the way for many other Asian countries to do the same. This was not the easiest path to clear, but it would be made possible. The Chinese created a new American culture, one that did not assimilate but rather created radical communities, also known as Chinatowns. Many are unaware that at first Chinatowns were created to exclude the Chinese from the American culture, deeming them “a danger to the good order of American culture.” Just like the Jewish ghettos in Germany the US also created ghettos against the Chinese. The exclusion of these details in US history books is troubling. The amount of first generations students not being taught their history is not something new, but it is something that needs to change. The growth to rely less and less on immigrant problems is a continuing disregard for history.
Since 1965 there has been mass immigration from Asian countries into the US, totaling only from China at least nine million people. However, this was not always the case, and this is why immigration, as theory, should be taught contemporarily, historically, and methodologically. Chinese, like African Americans and Native Americans, were marked inferior by law in the US. Take for example Tape v Hurley (1885) which was a civil rights court decision that said: “Chinese children must receive public education.” The first school would open in San Francisco. Still, however, there would be slurs spit everywhere saying, “The Chinese must go”, and “no place for a chinaman.” America was built off the labor of the working class, the immigrant, the conquest of stolen land, racialized laws, masculinity, war, and so much more.
In America, the first asian immigrants would come from China. Many of the Chinese within their first years of living in the US would be lynched, expelled, segregated, and massacred, and yet Chinatowns are everywhere. Chinatowns first began as ghettos, they were places in which the US segregated the Chinese and later more Asians, and Asian-Americans. Chinatowns were looked down upon and they lived in constant fear of being removed or banished. Today, chinatowns have become touristic, and for this reason, many are aware of the history behind these establishments or the grueling facts.
Immigration is certainly more than a push pull theory. It requires one to first question ‘why does integrational migration take place?”. One must take into account the individual, the society, the country, and the migration history of their ancestors. Also, we must remember that we all come from Africa. There were a place and time in which our ancestors immigrated to an unknown territory. Immigration is a very broad topic, and it can be very Eurocentric. The topic of Pangea does not come up. All immigration stories are valuable because they are a part of everyone's history. Experiences differ, the vast difference between Angel Island and Ellis Island, for example, is proof. Two immigration stories with two very different sides.
Although immigration may seem like a problem to some, history shows us that America was built on the slave labor and production of immigrants. There are so many problems that need to be solved in order to help the race move forward. Earth itself is not stagnant so it is impossible to think humans would be. There is a duality in everything that we do, one thing needs the other. So when we fail to include other stories there is disruption. Let us change the way we see each other and register our surroundings. Our knowledge of everyone's culture is important because it all relates back to us somehow. Cultural tolerance is key.
Ciardiello A. Vincent. "Is Angel Island the Ellis Island of the West? Teaching Multiple
Perspective-Taking in American Immigration History." Social Studies 103, no. 4
Pfaelzer Jean. “ ‘Driven out’, The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans”, Random House,
New York, 2007.
Philip Q. Yang. "A Theory of Asian Immigration to the United States." Journal of Asian
American Studies, 2010, 1-34.
Walz Eric. “Nikkei in the Interior West: Japanese Immigration and Community Building,
1882-1945.” University of Arizona Press, 2012.