Monday, February 3, 2014

Becoming American -The Chinese Experience -Bill Moyer's Documentary

Bill Moyer's did a great documentary on PBS in 2003 "Becoming American-The Chinese Experience "
The video interweaves the  personal stories of  a number of Chinese Americans to tell the story of Chinese experience in America .   It is especially good at  documenting the successive waves of immigration after the Second World War  and  delving into the fact that  the Chinese experience in America is not one experience but many . The full video is now available on the internet .

Monday, December 3, 2012

Amy Chua: "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

I recently got around to reading Amy Chua's  "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother".   I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I think it has in many ways been misunderstood. I thought from reading previous reviews that the book was a manifesto of a "Tiger Mother" about how strict Chinese type parenting will create high achieving straight A students  who at the same time are violin or piano virtuosos!  Yes , it is some of that but also it is an intentional self parody and  ultimately a story of how a  "Tiger Mother" needs to give her rebellious teen age daughter rein to find her own way in life.

Amy Chua's family is not the traditional first generation immigrant family . Amy , born of Chinese immigrant parents , is a Yale law professor and married to Jed a Jewish American  fellow Law professor. They have two daughters Sophia and LuLu and two dogs.

Amy's description of her strict parenting style of enforcing constant study , straight A achievement , and 6 hour marathon piano and violin lessons while forbidding sleep overs with friends for her daughters has gotten a lot of press.  What has not necessarily got as much press is the story of how this parenting style collides with her teen age daughter's desire to be themselves and how one parent's desire for the success of their children and  her belief in how to achieve it brings heartache and pain both personally and interpersonally as it collides  full force with her children's own individuality.  It is a story and a memoir that is much more complex then has often been made out in the media. In the most recent version of her book , Amy , adds a post script talking about the reception the book got in different countries.  The response and questions she got in Western media as opposed to when she went to China with her daughters is fascinating!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Estelle T. Lau " Paper Families"

Recently, I completed a series of posts on my family history blog about the immigration interrogations of the Jue family on Angel Island in 1918. An excellent book that details the manner in which immigration policies and procedures developed during the Chinese Exclusion era as well as the Chinese response to those policies is Estelle Lau's book, "Paper Families- Identity, Immigration Administration, and Chinese Exclusion". Over time,  Exclusion era procedures which initially were relatively simple and cursory became increasing complex and more difficult as Chinese immigrants attempted to circumvent the racist immigration laws of the time and the immigration service attempted to prevent them from doing so. Because of the difficulty immigration officials had in verifying the testimony of applicants and witnesses about events occurring in China, increasing reliance was placed on the consistency of testimony amongst the witnesses. This led to increasingly detailed questions about family relationships and events and the physical layout of homes and villages in an attempt to show inconsistencies between testimony that would reveal fraud. These interviews became so diffcult that even real family members were in danger of giving the wrong answers.
Family members attempting to immigrate to America during the Exclusion era could do so only as a member of the exempt merchant class or as family of native born American citizens. This loophole in the Exclusion laws lead to extensive fraudulant claims of  family relations amongst Chinese immigrants. Fictious families , and paper identities, and extensive coaching notes were needed in order to effect immigration. Over 80% of families that immigrated during the Exclusion era had at least one family member who immigrated under a paper identity.
The fictious identies had major implications on  the structure of Chinese communities. Chinese imigrants needed to be closed mouthed and insular during the Exclusion era in their dealings with the greater white communities for fear of discovery of  their illegal status and deportation.
Ms. Lau did extensve research of Exclusion era transcripts housed at the National Archives in San Bruno and presents a detailed and fascinating portrait of the interaction of the Immigration service in San Francisco  and the Chinese immigrant community throughout the Exclusion era.  The book has numerous case studies of  individual immigration files that illustrate the way the  immigration service itself was changed over the years as a result of the interaction with Chinese immigrants who became increasingly sophisticated in trying to circumvent it's procedures.
Finally, Ms. Lau discusses the legacies of how the Exclusion era policies continue to shape the nature of United States immigration procedures and policies in the 21st century.

Monday, June 25, 2012

House of Representatives Expresses Regret for Chinese Exclusion Laws

Transcript of House floor remarks by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and resolution sponsor on H.R. 683 “Expressing the regret of the House of Representatives for the passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act” passed unanimously June 18, 2012

"Mr. Speaker, I rise and support House Resolution 683.
"First, I want to thank Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and subcommittee Chair Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) of the Judiciary Committee for all their work on this resolution. I appreciate it so much.
"We have come together across party lines to show that no matter what side of the aisle we sit on, Congress can make amends for the past, no matter how long ago those violations occurred.
"It is because we have worked together in a bipartisan way that we will make history today.
"Today, for the first time in 130 years, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that expresses regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, one of the most discriminatory acts in American history.
"Over a century ago, the Chinese came here in search of a better life. During the California Gold Rush, the Chinese came to the United States to make something of themselves. Their blood, sweat, and tears built the first transcontinental railroad connecting the people of our nation. They opened our mines, constructed the levees, and became the backbone of farm production. Their efforts helped build America.
"But as the economy soured in the 1870s, the Chinese became scapegoats. They were called racial slurs, were spat upon in the streets, and even brutally murdered. The harsh conditions they faced were evident in the halls of Congress.
"By the time 1882 came around, members of Congress were competing with each other to get the most discriminatory law passed and routinely made speeches on the House floor against the so-called ‘Mongolian horde.’
"Rep. Albert Shelby Willis from Kentucky fought particularly hard for the Chinese Exclusion Act. In his floor speech, he said, ‘The Chinese were an invading race.’ He called them ‘aliens with sordid and un-republican habits.’ He declared that the Pacific states have been ‘cursed with the evils of Chinese immigration’ and that they ‘disturbed the peace and order of society.’
"The official House committee report accompanying the bill claimed that the Chinese – and I quote – ‘retained their distinctive peculiarities and characteristics, refusing to assimilate themselves to our institutions, and remaining a separate and distinct class entrenched behind immovable prejudices. That their ignorance or disregard for sanitary laws as evidenced in their habits of life breeds disease, pestilence and death.’
"And so on April 17, 1882, under a simple suspension of the rules, the House passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. It prevented them from becoming naturalized citizens. It prevented them from ever having the right to vote. And it prevented the Chinese – and the Chinese alone – from immigrating.
"But this was only the beginning. As the years passed, the House built upon this act increasing the discriminatory restrictions on the Chinese.
"Two years later, the House made clear that any ethnically Chinese laborer – even if they weren’t from China but from somewhere like Hong Kong or the Philippines – were banned from U.S. shores.
"Four years later, the House passed the Scott Act. This bill prohibited all Chinese laborers from re-entering the United States if they ever left, even if they were legal residents in the U.S. and even if they had the certificates of return that should have guaranteed their right of return. This prevented approximately 20,000 legal U.S. residents who had gone abroad, including 600 on ships literally en route back to the United States, from returning to their families or their homes. With little floor debate, the Scott Act passed the House unanimously.
"In 1892 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was set to expire, the House extended it for another decade but it increased restrictions further.
"It made the Chinese the only residents who could not receive bail after applying for a writ of habeas corpus – that is, to protest an unjust imprisonment.
"It made them the only people in America who have to carry papers or ‘certificates of residence’ with them at all times. If they couldn’t produce the proper documents, authorities threw them into prison or out of the country regardless of whether they were U.S. citizens or not. Legally, the only means by which this could be stopped is if a white person testified on their behalf.
"In 1898, the U.S. annexed Hawaii and the Philippines, making them U.S. territories. And while other residents of the territories could come and go between their home and the U.S., who did the House make sure to exclude? Only the Chinese.
"Then in 1904, the House made the Chinese Exclusion Act permanent. This act lasted for 60 long years.
"It was not until 1943 that this law was repealed, but it was only because of World War II when the United States needed to maintain a critical military alliance with China. U.S. enemies were pointing to the Chinese Exclusion Act as proof that the U.S. was anti-Chinese and the U.S. had to erase that perception.
"However, Congress made no formal acknowledgement that these laws were wrong. The Chinese Exclusion Act as the first and only federal law in our history that excluded a single group of people from immigration on no basis other than their race.
"And the effects of this act produced deep scars on the Chinese-American community. Families were split apart permanently. Without the ability to naturalize as citizens and to vote, the community was disenfranchised.
"Because immigration had been so severely restricted, few women could come and the ratio of males to females was as high as 20 to 1. Many Chinese-American males could not have families and were forced to die completely alone. If they tried to get married, they were forced to go abroad and families were separated.
"The family of Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland, had been here legally since 1880. Her father went abroad to marry a woman in China in 1920 but had to leave her behind along with their children. When the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed over 25 years later, his wife was finally able to come and have Jean in the United States. But the siblings did not know each other for decades.
"The Chinese, like my grandfather, did not have the legal right to become naturalized citizens. He had been here legally since 1904 but unlike non-Chinese immigrants, he was forced to register and carry a certificate of residence at all times for almost 40 years or else be deported. He could only be saved if a white person vouched for him.
"These laws are why we ask for this expression of regret. Last October, the U.S. Senate did its part to right history by passing their own resolution of regret for these hateful laws. It did so unanimously with bipartisan support.
"And today, the House should also issue its expression of regret. It is for my grandfather and for all Chinese-Americans who were told for six decades by the U.S. government that the land of the free wasn’t open to them that we must pass this resolution. We must finally and formally acknowledge these ugly laws that were incompatible with America’s founding principles. We must express the sincere regret that Chinese-Americans deserve.
"By doing so, we will acknowledge that discrimination has no place in our society and we will reaffirm our strong commitment to preserving the civil rights and constitutional protections for all people of every color, every race, and from every background…
"Today is historic. This is a very significant day in the Chinese-American community. It is an expression that discrimination has no place in our society and that the promise of equality is available to all.
"This is only the fourth such apology in the last 25 years. In 1988, President [Ronald] Reagan signed the bill apologizing for the Japanese-American internment during World War II. In 1993, Congress apologized to Hawaiians for the U.S.-led overthrow of their monarchy. In 2008, the House issued an apology to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.
"This bill was a huge undertaking requiring the efforts of Chinese-Americans and their supporters all across the nation. Without the dedication of countless community organizations and grassroots advocates from across the country, none of this would have happened. I thank them, and I thank all the Congress members from both sides of the aisle, including the 50 co-sponsors of the bill, and especially Chairman Lamar Smith, for their support of the bill."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pew Research Center-"The Rise of Asian Americans"

Today the Pew Research Center released a new study of Asian immigration.
"Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a comprehensive new nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center.
A century ago, most Asian Americans were low-skilled, low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official discrimination. Today they are the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group in America to live in mixed neighborhoods and to marry across racial lines. "
Here is a link to the full study.

In my family history blog, I have detailed the story of  our clan in America which began with the immigration of my great grandfather, Jue Joe in 1874. Members of our family are descendants of this first wave of Asian immigration in the late 19th century.  This immigration wave was severely curtailed by racist immigration policies instigated in the late 19th and early 20th century.
"Asian immigrants first came to the U.S. in significant numbers more than a century and a half ago—mainly as low-skilled male laborers who mined, farmed and built the railroads. They endured generations of officially sanctioned racial prejudice—including regulations that prohibited the immigration of Asian women; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred all new immigration from China; the Immigration Act of 1917 and the National Origins Act of 1924, which extended the immigration ban to include virtually all of Asia; and the forced relocation and internment of about 120,000 Japanese Americans after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941"

Descendants like myself of this first wave of immigrants from China are now outnumbered by Chinese who have immigrated after 1965. 
"Asian Americans either are immigrants from Asia (59%) or are descendants of immigrants (41%)."

The new first generation immigrants are very different from the first generation immigrants in the late 19th century.
"Large-scale immigration from Asia did not take off until the passage of the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Over the decades, this modern wave of immigrants from Asia has increasingly become more skilled and educated. Today, recent arrivals from Asia are nearly twice as likely as those who came three decades ago to have a college degree, and many go into high-paying fields such as science, engineering, medicine and finance. This evolution has been spurred by changes in U.S. immigration policies and labor markets; by political liberalization and economic growth in the sending countries; and by the forces of globalization in an ever-more digitally interconnected world."

Chinese comprise the largest Asian American group at 23%. but Indian Americans comprising 18% of Asian Americans lead all other groups by a significant margin in their levels of income and education.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sucheng Chan-This Bittersweet Soil-The Chinese in California Agriculture 1860-1910

Out of print but essential reading to understand the history of the Chinese in California agriculture is Sucheng Chan's book published in 1989. Used copies are available through Amazon. My family history blog has chronicled the multigenerational story of  the Jue family and it's involvement in asparagus farming in the San Fernando Valley. In a 1934 article my great grandfather, Jue Joe was dubbed the "Asparagus King" by the Los Angeles Times. My grandfather San Tong and my father, Jack Sr, were also involved in asparagus farming. My father even created a video of the family farming operations in the 1950's.

Reading Professor Chan's book really has helped me place our family's story within the broader context of the Chinese involvement in agriculture from the mid to late 19th Century and on into the 20th Century. Her book is quite detailed and interesting. Her research was based on a thorough examination of census records, legal deeds and documents as well as  family histories of notable Chinese agriculturists. Her book, as does many books on Chinese American  history begins with the great diaspora of the Chinese in the late 19th century. Agriculture as an economic opportunity for Chinese immigrants really began with supplying of  vegetables for consumption  of the Chinese miners and then grew as the mining claims became exhausted. and the Chinese workforce entered agriculture as well as other as other work opportunities when they could no longer mine.  The presence of Chinese in California agriculture grew rapidly before the Exclusion era and then continued and matured throughout the Exclusion era but then declined with the ageing of the Chinese population and the lack of new Chinese immigrants caused by rigid enforcement of Exclusion era regulations.

A major contribution of Professor's Chan's book is to change the widespread monochromatic picture of the Chinese in California agriculture as a faceless horde of "cheap immigrant stoop laborers" to a rich tapestry of entrepenurial men who were tireless in improving their economic lot and that of their families back in China despite persecution and discrimination.
These men may have started as laborers working for Caucasian landowners clearing and planting and harvesting fields, and reclaiming swamp land but rapidly many became interested in striking out on their own as tenant truck farmers, leasing land and growing their own crops, and hiring their countrymen to work at their sides in these tenant farms. Many also became involved in marketing, selling and distributing their crops or partnered with Chinese merchants to do so. Some, before the enactment of the Alien Land Law, were even able to buy land of their own  to farm as landowners rather then only as tenant farmers. A few became rich and owned  hundreds of acres of land becoming "Potato Kings ", "Lettuce Kings ",  or " Asparagus Kings. Chinese tenant and landowning farmers farmed through out California  from Tehema County  in the North , to the foothills of the Sierra's, Santa Clara County , Sacramento-San Joaquin County , and down into Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. They grew a huge variety of crops including grains, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, sweet potatoes , potatoes, peaches, pears, chinese vegetables, and asparagus.

Gradually with the ageing of the population , the lack of a new influx of Chinese immigrants because of Exclusion era polices, the enactment and strict enforcement of Alien Land laws , and the lack of desire of subsequent generations to continue family farming businesses , the importance of Chinese in California agriculture greatly diminshed.

Interestingly, the Jue Joe Clan involvement in agriculture continued into the middle 1950's before we as a family ceased to be involved in farming . The story of our family is deeply rooted in the soil of Yuba and Sonoma county and in the soil of the San Fernando Valley and the Saugus hills.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Walter Ngon Fong- A Life Story

Walter Ngon Fong
In researching the academic career of my great granduncle Jue Shee, I came across the life stories of two Chinese students at California universities in the late 19th and early 20th Century.  The life stories of  Fong Foo Sec and Walter Ngon Fong are fascinating and I wanted to present those stories here. In this post I will explore the story of Walter Ngon Fong . In the immediately preceding post  I explored the life of Fong Foo Sec.
  Walter Ngon Fong was born in 1866 in a small village in Guandong province and came to America in 1881 at the age of 15. He was educated in Methodist missionary schools in San Francisco and ultimately was ordained a minister in the Methodist church. After completing a course in Classics at the University of the Pacific, he applied and was admitted to Stanford University. He obtained his B.A. degree in 1896 in Economics and Sociology with a minor in Law. He was the only Chinese student at Stanford at the time and the first Chinese to graduate from Stanford. "For its first two decades, the Law Department at Stanford  was composed mostly of undergraduate law majors. As a result, the Department counted among its students women and some minorities-student populations that were not always welcome at other law schools. Walter Fong '96, the first Chinese-American graduate of Stanford, minored in law and became a member of a San Francisco law firm."
  During his freshman year at Stanford, Walter met Emma Howse , a Caucasian women originally from Canada who was also a freshman at Stanford. "Walter proposed to Emma and they were married shortly after their graduation from Stanford. Because of laws in place in California that prohibited interracial marriage , the couple had to travel to Denver, Colorado to marry. Marriage between a Chinese man and a white woman was sensational news in those days. The next day in the local newspaper,The Rocky Mountain News, an article was published with the headline "Eloped with a Chinaman." This news was wired around the nation and reprinted in newspapers across the United States with similar sensational headlines."
  The couple returned to San Francisco and  Walter went to work for a local law firm. Walter became active in local and international politics and eventually became the head of the Chinese Revolutionary Party in America. In 1898 , Walter left his law practice and enrolled at the University of California , Berkeley , as a graduate student in the mining  engineering program. He remained in that program for two years, before leaving the mining program to become a graduate assistant in Chinese in the Oriental Languages Department. Ultimately he completed his Master of Arts Degree in Oriental Languages in 1903.  His thesis was on "Some Phases of Village Life in South China".
   During his time at the University of California Walter met and became best friends with Yoshio Kuno.
("Yoshio Kuno was born in Nagoya, Japan, on January 2, 1865; his father had been a minor daimyo, a member of the Minomoto Clan. He graduated from a Japanese middle school, his study having been concentrated on Japanese classics and history. As he was a younger son, his desire to enter a university was opposed by his father, who decided that he should accept a minor official position which the family influence could obtain for him. His elder sister, however, was sympathetic with his ambition to go to America for advanced study, and induced her husband, a well-to-do brewer, to provide him with money for his passage to the United States, where he entered the University of California. Since he received no further assistance from home it was necessary for him to work his way through college, chiefly by performing odd jobs at a minimum wage, for he had not been trained for any skilled employment. As a result he pursued only short programs, which delayed his graduation well beyond the normal four years. After graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1897, he was appointed assistant in astronomy, serving from 1898 to 1900, and during this time he also pursued advanced studies in astronomy and mathematics, receiving a Master of Science degree in 1900. In the meanwhile Kuno had come to the attention of the Department of Oriental Languages, and at its request was transferred to an assistantship in Japanese, later becoming an instructor and then professor ") Walter Fong and Yoshio Kuno were both assistants in the Department of Oriental Languages between 1900 to 1903.
   In 1903 after his graduation from Berkeley , Walter Ngon Fong was offered  the position of President of the newly formed Li Shing College in  Hong Kong which he accepted. He and Emma left for Hong Kong. Unfortunately in 1906 Walter died of tuberculosis. "Heartbroken, Emma returned to the United States. After spending some time in a sanatorium later that year, she lived on her own supporting herself for a short time by contributing to magazines and newspapers. " In 1907 she married her late husband's close personal friend Yoshio Kuno. Like her marriage with Walter Fong , Emma was forced to travel with her new husband out of state because of the prohibition of interracial marriage in California and the couple was married at La Junta Colorado. In 1922 Emma wrote a series of articles entiled  " My Two Oriental Husbands"  that was published in the San Francisco Bulletin.  These articles caused a minor sensation because of the state of race relations at the time.  The article Emma wrote is still studied as source material for classes in ethnic studies and woman's studies related to interracial marriage and discrimination.