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Asian-Americans in the Old West (Cornerstones of Freedom)

What I Learned Section 1 -- Answer the Following Questions:
1. What year was gold discovered in California?

1848. On January 24, 1848, James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill near present-day Sacramento, California. Did you know Sacramento is the capital of California?

This was the start of the California Gold Rush. Thousands of men rushed to California, and hundreds of mining camps were formed in the Sierra Nevada foothills. People were coming to California from all parts of the United States, Europe, Australia, and China. They came with the notion of striking it rich, and then returning to their families as wealthy people.

Did you know the Chinese nicknamed California Gum Sann? It means Golden Mountains.

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2. How many Chinese immigrated to California between 1848 and 1852?
Approximately twenty-five thousand.
In 1848, when gold was first discovered in California, there were only seven Chinese living in California. By 1852, there were approximately twenty-five thousand Chinese living in California.

A passage from China to California cost $40. This may not seem like a lot of money today; however, most Chinese farmers only earned $20 to $30 a year!

How did they afford the journey? A few men received loans or gifts from family and friends. Most men borrowed from moneylenders which meant they paid back the money at a high rate. Other men contracted with United States employers; in exchange for the employer paying the worker's passage, the worker would work for a specific number of years for little or no pay.

The ocean voyage from China to California was long and difficult. Passengers lived in small, crowded compartments below deck. After crossing the Pacific Ocean for weeks, the ship arrived in San Francisco.

Most of the Chinese were unfamiliar with the Americans, and the Americans were unfamiliar with the Chinese. The Chinese did not speak English, and the Americans did not speak Chinese. Many of the Chinese wore their long black hair in a single braid down the middle of their backs. They dressed in loose coats and blue cotton pants. They used a long bamboo pole resting across their shoulders to carry their belongings.

Many of the Chinese coming to California did not consider themselves as immigrants (people who move to a new country to live permanently). They thought of themselves as sojourners (temporary residents who intend to return to their own country). Therefore, they did not learn American ways, and they formed their own Chinese communities. These areas were known as "Chinatown."

Almost half of the Chinese who came to the United States returned to China. The other Chinese immigrants stayed in the United States because they did not have enough money to pay for their passage back to China. They also did not have enough money to have their families come to the United States.

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3. Name and describe ONE of the jobs the Chinese performed in the Old West.
Gold miner, factory worker, servant, business owner, farmer, or railroad worker.

Gold Miner: Between 1848 and 1852, approximately twenty-five thousand Chinese immigrated to California to work in the gold mines. After the California gold mines dried, the Chinese found other jobs, opened their own businesses, or became farmers.

Factory Worker: Some Chinese got a job with a factory.

Servant: Some Chinese were servants in wealthy homes.

Business Owner: Some Chinese opened their own businesses. The laundry business was popular. First, it did not require much money or equipment to start. Second, there was a great demand for laundry services in the American West.

Farmer: Many Chinese were farmers back home so they became farmers in the American West. They were able to turn swamps and marshes into rich farmland which grew fruits and vegetables. Did you know Ah Bing developed the Bing cherry in Oregon in 1875? At this time, the Chinese were not able to own land. They had to enter into tenant farmer agreements with American landowners if they wanted to farm on their own plots of land. These agreements allowed them to receive use of the land and farming equipment in exchange for a share of the profits.

Railroad Worker: In the 1860's, the United States government contracted with the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad to connect the train tracks in the east with the train tracks in the west. The Union Pacific started in Omaha, Nebraska, and laid tracks west. The Central Pacific started in Sacramento, California, and laid tracks east. This was called the Transcontinental Railroad. The Chinese railroad workers were hard working. They laid tracks, cleared trees, blasted rock, shoveled dirt, drove supply wagons, tunneled through mountains, and built bridges across canyons. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869. Did you know more than ten thousand Chinese migrants worked on the Central Pacific Railroad between 1864 and 1869?

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4. True or False: Most of the Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States at Ellis Island in New York Harbor.
Chinese immigrants came by ship across the Pacific Ocean from China to the west coast. Many of them arrived in San Francisco. By 1870, there were 63,000 Chinese living in the United States, and most of them lived in California or other western states.

Other immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and other European countries arrived in the east coast at Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

During the 1870's, the United States entered an economic depression, businesses failed, and people lost their jobs. Some people blamed the immigrants (from Europe and China) for taking jobs. While the European immigrants blended into the American society once they learned English and American customs, Asian immigrants were discriminated against.

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5. Name and describe ONE of the jobs the Japanese performed in the Old West.
Fisherman, lumberjack, factory worker, railroad worker, miner, business owner, or farmer.

In the late 1880's, the emperor of Japan lifted the travel ban and issued travel permits to thousands of Japanese workers wanting to move to the United States. The Japanese government only allowed educated, healthy, strong, and moral people to obtain a travel permit. Did you know a moral person is an honest and decent person who knows the difference between right and wrong?

Most Japanese settled on the west coast, including California, Oregon, and Washington. Many of the Japanese came to the United States with their families. The Japanese children born in the United States were automatically U.S. citizens, even though their parents could not gain U.S. citizenship.

By 1900, there were almost 72,000 Japanese living in the United States. Did you know the Japanese were the first to successfully grow rice in California?

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6. What year was the Gentlemen's Agreement signed between President Theodore Roosevelt and Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito?
As Japanese immigrants became more successful, some Americans began to resent them. Some western states passed laws which discriminated against Japanese immigrants, and the government of Japan registered an official complaint with the U.S. government.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt and Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito signed the Gentlemen's Agreement. It stated Japan would stop sending its citizens to the United States, and the United States would not pass laws discriminating against Japanese immigrants.

Under the Gentlemen's Agreement, Japanese living in the United States were allowed to bring their families to the U.S. This provision actually created an influx of Japanese immigrants because Japanese-Americans brought their families over in large numbers.

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7. Citizens from several Asian countries immigrated to the United States. Name ONE of the Asian countries.
China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and India.

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What I Learned Section 2 -- Define the following words:
Agriculture: The business of farming and growing crops

Immigrant: A person who moves to a new country to live permanently

Laborer: A person who does difficult, physically exhausting work

Merchant: A person who buys and sells goods, a shopkeeper or trader

Migrant: A person who moves temporarily from one place to another in search of work

Quota: Maximum number of people that may be admitted to a country

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Bonus Questions (Answer 1 of the Following Questions for Your FREE Bookmark):
a. What date did the railroad tracks of the Transcontinental Railroad meet at Promontory Point, Utah?
May 10, 1869. On this date, the tracks of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific met which connected the railroads from east to west for the first time. There were 1,500 people on hand to celebrate.

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b. What was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882?
A law passed by the United States Congress which prohibited all Chinese laborers from entering the United States. During the economic depression of the 1870's, some people of the United States began blaming the Chinese immigrants for failed businesses and lost jobs. As a result, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Chinese laborers could not enter the United States, and Chinese men living in the U.S. could not send for their families. Single Chinese men had to return to China in order to marry because there were few single Chinese women living in the U.S. This law had a dramatic effect on the immigration rate. In 1882, 39,500 people immigrated from China, and in 1887, only ten people immigrated from China.

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c. Describe ONE of the following laws:
U.S. Naturalization Law of 1790: A law restricting citizenship to white people.

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882: A law passed by the United States Congress which prohibited all Chinese laborers from entering the United States and did not allow Chinese men living in the U.S. to send for their families. This law had a dramatic effect on the immigration rate. In 1887, only ten people immigrated from China.

Gentlemen's Agreement (1908): Agreement signed by President Theodore Roosevelt and Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito in 1908. It stated Japan would stop sending its citizens to the United States, and the United States would not pass laws discriminating against Japanese immigrants. However, Japanese living in the United States were allowed to bring their families to the U.S.

Immigration Act of 1924: Law passed by the United States government prohibiting the entry of all Asians.

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952: Law passed by the United States government reopening Asian immigration in a limited way. It also gave Asians the right to become U.S. citizens.

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d. Use five of the words in Section 2 in a sentence.
Answers will vary. Here are sample sentences from our young readers:
Farmers are in the agriculture business.

My relatives were immigrants when they moved from England to the United States.

I would like to be a laborer when I grow up because I like lifting heavy objects with my hands.

A merchant runs the corner shop.

Migrant workers move from farm to farm looking for work.

People cannot immigrate into the country once the quota has been filled.

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e. Have a parent or friend give you a spelling test with EACH of the words in Section 2.

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More Valuable Information about Asian-Americans in the Old West:
History of Chinese Americans in California (NPS)
History of Japanese Americans in California (NPS)
Chronology of Asian American History (MIT)
Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month: May, 2002 (NPS)
Locke and Walnut Grove: Havens for Early Asian Immigrants in California (NPS)
Asian American Journalist Association
Asian Americans for Community Outreach (San Francisco, CA)

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