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Comparing Jewish Immigration with Chinese Immigration to the United States

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Brian Maislin

Mrs. Lauren Farmer

History of Race and Ethnicity in America


Comparing Jewish immigration with Chinese Immigration to the United States

The hope to better one's lot in life drives immigrants to new seek new horizons. For most immigrants in the 19th century, America was the beacon of light. Funneling their hopes and dreams, they boarded ships and made their way to the land of opportunity. Chinese immigrants felt the calling of Golden Mountain California. Jewish immigrants from the Pale of Settlement in Russia came in droves through Ellis Island to the destination of the lower east side of Manhattan. Religious persecution pushed Jews out of Eastern Europe and economic woes pulled the Chinese out of China. Once in America, Jews generally assimilated easier than the Chinese into the dominant group because of their white skin color. Jews and Chinese immigrants assimilated under different circumstances and so their process of assimilation differed.

White Anglo Saxon's and Irishman made up the dominant group in America by the middle of the 19th century when Chinese immigrants were coming to America. Imitation of the dominant group's culture including dress and entertainment are the ways to assimilate. Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe already dressed similarly to the dominant group, Chinese did not. Jewish immigrants are generally white and could blend in easier then Chinese immigrants who clearly look non-white. Jewish immigrants for the most part successfully attempted to integrate into American society, they adopted English, American clothes, and American pastimes. By the second generation Jewish Americans were entering American universities of higher education.

On the other end of the spectrum Chinese immigrants were forced into ghettos and formed enclaves. The Chinese maintained their unique cultures in the many Chinatown's that sprouted up in major American metropolises. Chinese immigrants also adopted American clothing, past times and the English language but because they were so forced into enclaves they assimilated to a lesser degree than other immigrant groups. Chinese immigrants were denied naturalization and franchise so they protected and governed themselves. Local governments did not see the need to involve themselves heavily in their communities. "In effect the Chinese community in America is more like a colonial dependency than an immigrant settlement in an open society."

The number of Chinese immigrants to the US was small compared to the total population which is not surprising given how large the Chinese population has always been. They came mostly from the "Kwangtung" and "Fukien" regions of China. Though "pull" factors contributed to Chinese immigration the most, immigrants also were facing push factors of famine, flood, and social unrest in the end of the 19th century in China, "Flood and famine in Kwangtung gave way to the catastrophic Tai Ping Revolution (1850-1864), devastating the land, uprooting the peasantry, and dislocating the economy and polity."

In the first thirty years of Chinese immigration to America, three hundred thousand Chinese came across the pacific. They were caught up in the gold rush and dreamed of traveling to "Gold Mountain", in California in search of wealth. The Chinese worked gold fields searching for gold and railheads laying down the transcontinental railway. About half of the Chinese who came to America eventually returned back to China so that by 1890 census reports indicated only 107,000 Chinese remained. The Chinese population decreased to 61,000 by 1920 because of the Chinese Exclusion act, lack of females and death of the elderly. After a relaxation of immigration restrictions in 1943 the Chinese population in the US was at 200,000. The Chinese faced the harshest immigration restrictions out of any group, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which provided that no skilled or unskilled Chinese laborer or miner could enter the United States for ten years, but it exempted certified merchants, students, and itinerants.

Jews did not face an exclusion act as explicit as the Chinese Exclusion Act; however, they did face discrimination along with other southern and Eastern European immigrants in the form of the "Immigration Act of 1924." Most American Jews hail from the Pale of settlement an area in modern day Poland and Russia. Jews were forced to live in this small region by the Russian Czar. Pogroms, indiscriminate religious violence was carried out on the Jewish population regularly as well. It was not uncommon for local politicians to put blame on Jews for economic woes or crop failures and incite mass violence as retribution. Because Jews were forced into the pale of settlement the region became inundated with professionals who could not find work but had valuable skills. The new promised-land quickly turned from the land of Israel to America, specifically the garment industry in New York City and other East Coast cities for the young daughters who were skilled seamstresses. Jewish immigrants tended to be women unlike the Chinese immigrants in the 19th century who were mostly male sent to work in goldmines on railways.

Stanford Lyman in "Chinese Americans" argues that Chinese-white relations in America were marked by five phases, "a period of racist thinking that condemned Chinese before they arrived in America (1785-1850), followed by a Sinophobic movement (1852-1910), followed by a period of institutional



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