The Chinese Experience in 19th Century America

19th Century American Ideas About Other Peoples

Chinese Exclusion: The Process

Exclusion: Chinese Perspectives



Voices of the Chinese

The Exclusion Act and subsequent exclusionary legislation caused great suffering for Chinese families split between two continents with little or no hope of ever being reunited. Men who had been able to travel back and forth between China and the United States were now afraid to leave the U.S. to visit their wives, children, and parents in China for fear of not being allowed back into the United States.

The poetry and songs express the anxiety and unhappiness of immigrants as they waited for the immigration authorities to decide their fate.

Angel Island:Immigrant Journeys of Chinese Americans has several short oral histories of immigrants who were detained on Angel Island.

An additional resource that could be used is the story “In the Land of the Free” by Sui Sin Far. The story tells of Chinese parents whose infant son is taken by immigration officials, when the mother and child return from China where the child was born, in the belief he is a "paper son". The story can be found in Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings by Sui Sin Far, edited by Amy Ling and Annette White-Parks.

The story can be assigned as homework or in class reading. The following issues can be discussed with students.

  • What does the future hold for the characters in this story? Was the harrowing experience of coming to the United States worth the initial heartache?

    As a follow-up, students could write a paragraph about the life of the characters ten years later.

  • Under what conditions would the students be willing to endure the humiliating conditions and family separations experienced by 19th century Chinese immigrants in order to move to a new country? Why were so many people, throughout history, willing to migrate?

  • How has United States immigration policy changed since the 1960s to help families stay together, rather than tear them apart?

    A timeline of immigration policy (Milestones) is included in Lesson 2.

  • Discuss other instances in U.S. history when families have been split up or kept apart as a matter of policy.

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