Did you know…
…that the California Supreme Court ruled in 1854 that an Asian person couldn’t testify against a white person in a criminal proceeding. Unfortunately, anti-Asian violence began almost as soon as single young men were recruited in great numbers in the 1850s to work in the California gold fields and, soon after, to build railroads. The ruling, People vs Hall, essentially removed legal repercussions from anti-Asian violence . I the decades that followed, there were lynchings, killings, and over three hundred Chinese settlements were were displaced or destroyed.
By 1870, Asian immigrants, primarily Chinese in the early days, represented 20% of the California Workforce. An economic downturn in the late 1870s fueled resentment that “they are taking our jobs.” Rumors also circulated blaming Asian immigrants for bringing diseases like smallpox and malaria. (Sound familiar?) Anti-Chinese riots and violence continued.
Attitudes spread across the country, and relations with that first waive set the pattern for treatment of all Asian immigrants. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which almost eliminated Chinese immigration. In the 1880s larger numbers of Japanese, Korean, and Indian workers flooded in to face the same pattern.
Anti-Asian attitudes sully our history. May is Asian-American Heritage Month, a good time to face where we’ve been and how much violence and discrimination lingers.