Asian immigration to the United States has always been difficult to say the least. Even now in 2022, entering America and acquiring a citizenship status comes with many struggles and is not always achievable.
Historically, there was legislation that specifically blocked the immigration of Asians to the U.S., and for those that did make it here, they were limited in how much they could integrate into society. According to “Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans,“ author Ronald Takaki writes about the harsh immigration process Asian Americans have had to endure. He conveys that it was difficult for Asians to immigrate to the U.S., and once they did, life was challenging because of racial, social and economic reasons.
Asians that were able to make it to the U.S. were faced with economic discrimination as well. Takaki writes about the immigration process and the way Asian Americans were treated. Asians were specifically blocked from coming to the United States and even from becoming citizens.
This is particularly illustrated in the immigration and citizenship of Chinese Americans as one major group of Asian Americans in US society. It is important to note that the Chinese Exclusion Act was still occurring when a large group of Chinese people were immigrating to the U.S.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was an “absolute 10-year ban on Chinese laborers immigrating to the United States” but “lasted until Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965.” This group found it increasingly difficult to prove their status because the 1882 Act defined laborers as “skilled and unskilled.”
The Chinese population in America began significantly growing in the 1900s. This growth did not come with basic human respect, though. Upon arrival to the U.S., the Chinese were immediately excluded from the labor market.
According to Takaki, one white worker degraded the Chinese workers by saying, “The Ch***s are all right if they remain in their place…I don’t mind them working in the laundry business, but they should not go any higher than that.” This worker took a position that the Chinese were only capable of handling people’s laundry and nothing more. Whilst doing so, it is clear that the Chinese were not accepted by the white Americans.
This mistreatment of Chinese people by white Americans was carried down to their white children and future generations. As specified by Takaki, white children created a bigoted chant that insulted and stereotyped the Chinese laundry workers. The chant depicted the Chinese laundryman as someone who chased white children with a red-hot iron and did all kinds of “mysterious and sinister things” in the back room of the laundry. He was a kidnapper of bad little boys, carrying them away in bags to unknown places. These white families were teaching their children to stay away from the “spooky crook” and were establishing a clear segregation between themselves and their Asian “counterparts.”
Chinese people were simply looking for ways to survive in a new country. Their persecution and discrimination as a group was simply an example of how Asians in general were being prevented from being accepted by American society because of racist views.
Overall, in “Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans,” Takaki’s discussion of the lifelong struggles that Asian immigrants had to overcome to integrate into the U.S. illuminates a part of American history that has long been overlooked and unexamined. His book brings much-needed clarity and insight to this important part of American history.