Lecture Series Begins with Chinese Immigration

Amy Hirsch

An enthusiastic audience followed intently as Eugene Moy led those attending on a well- illustrated journey describing the Chinese immigration to California in Krieder Hall on Oct. 1.

Moy was invited to GCC as the first speaker in the third annual One Book/One Glendale event held in conjunction with the Glendale Public Library.

The theme of the program this year focuses on the Chinese American immigrant. The featured book is “Shanghai Girls” by the well-known writer Lisa See, who describes the struggle of two young Chinese women who immigrate to California in 1937.

In his lecture, entitled “Bridging the Centuries: Chinese in Southern California,” Moy, former president of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, covered many highlights of the Chinese immigrant experience.

Although he entertained the audience with a lively description of Chinese immigration, Moy also emphasized the constant difficulties and opposition faced by early settlers.

Moy began by describing how Chinese entrepreneurs began sailing to distant lands in the 13th and 14th centuries. Chinese settled in Mexico, and according to Moy even as early as 1635, “The Spanish farmers in Mexico City filed a petition with the town council complaining of unfair competition from the Chinese farmers.”

He mentioned how around 1830 the British East India Company filled the Chinese ships returning from India with opium. “That’s how the Chinese became associated with opium. It didn’t originate from China,” according to Moy. “When Chinese officials objected, the British attacked the Chinese fleet in Canton harbor.”

Moy explained “it was really the California gold rush that brought many Chinese to the West Coast of the Americas.” After failing to find gold, the Chinese miners often turned to fishing, especially for shrimp. “The Monterey Bay aquarium is sitting right on the site of a former Chinese fishing village. There were about a dozen Chinese fishing villages on the Monterey Bay coast,” according to Moy.

“It was in the area of railroad construction beginning in the 1860s that Chinese in California achieved their greatest fame,” said Moy. They helped connect the East and West Coasts with the Transcontinental Railroad. The workers tediously climbed over the hillsides to clear the path and lay the rails. They were roped down the hillside to do some work and roped back up when they were done. Many Chinese workers were killed by avalanches in the freezing cold winter months.

Commercial farmers needed large pools of steady labor. “When they ran out of local workers they would sign a contract with Chinese labor bosses,” said Moy. Chinese workers became predominant in the wine industry of Orange County as well as various other agricultural activities.

“In Los Angeles, the beginnings of Chinatown emerged in the late 1850s.south of Olvera Street. The Chinese massacre of 1871 resulted in the murder of 19 innocent people by an angry mob.this was the first of many incidents of anti-Chinese violence throughout the West..there was a great deal of animosity toward Chinese workers,” said Moy.

Thriving Chinatowns developed in a number of towns throughout California. Soon, discriminatory laws attempting to unfairly restrict Chinese business were passed.
Moy noted that “the labor unions were gathering strength during the 1870 to 1880 period and began agitating for the relocation of Chinese labor from California.”

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed by the U.S. congress prohibiting Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. for a period of ten years. It was renewed for another ten years in 1892, then in 1902 was extended indefinitely and expanded to exclude all other Chinese. It was not repealed until 1943.

“It was the first and only law passed by the U.S. Congress to prohibit the entry of a specific ethnic group,” according to Moy.

“In 1886 the Los Angeles Trade and Labor Council encouraged businesses in town to fire their Chinese workers and not do business with anybody who did hire Chinese.but this failed because 90 percent of the produce in Los Angeles was handled by the Chinese who threatened to stop distribution,” said Moy.

Chinese settlements were important in many communities. “In Pasadena the original Chinatown was located in Mills Alley, directly behind the current Cheesecake Factory restaurant. When a fire started by local kids burned down the laundry, the Chinese were blamed and forced to relocate to a second Chinatown in the area south of California and east of Fair Oaks,” said Moy.

In the early 1900s, the U.S. government established Angel Island immigration station in San Francisco Bay, similar to Ellis Island in New York, in order to regulate immigration, especially of Chinese. Prospective immigrants lived in barracks for as long as months while being processed. If they failed examination and interrogation they were sent back to China. The station closed during the 1940s and is now preserved as a state park. Poetry written on the walls by immigrants can still be seen.

During 1920 to 1930, Chinatown grew in Los Angeles as Chinese moved together from outlying communities for protection and support, and activities and festivals became commonplace.

At the conclusion, Mary Mirch, Acting VP of Instruction, commented, ” I thought the presentation was wonderful. We live in such a diverse community.it’s wonderful to learn about different members of the community and how different groups have had struggles when they came to the U.S..we need to know about it.”

See is scheduled to conclude the series on Oct. 29 at noon in the GCC auditorium with a discussion of her acclaimed 1995 book “On Gold Mountain,” which relates the saga of her ancestors coming to this area from China.