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Alien Nation

Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era through World War II

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  • Book Info
    Alien Nation
    Book Description:

    In this sweeping work, Elliott Young traces the pivotal century of Chinese migration to the Americas, beginning with the 1840s at the start of the "coolie" trade and ending during World War II. The Chinese came as laborers, streaming across borders legally and illegally and working jobs few others wanted, from constructing railroads in California to harvesting sugar cane in Cuba. Though nations were built in part from their labor, Young argues that they were the first group of migrants to bear the stigma of being "alien." Being neither black nor white and existing outside of the nineteenth century Western norms of sexuality and gender, the Chinese were viewed as permanent outsiders, culturally and legally. It was their presence that hastened the creation of immigration bureaucracies charged with capture, imprisonment, and deportation.This book is the first transnational history of Chinese migration to the Americas. By focusing on the fluidity and complexity of border crossings throughout the Western Hemisphere, Young shows us how Chinese migrants constructed alternative communities and identities through these transnational pathways.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1297-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Note on Language and Terminology
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Aliens and the Nation
    (pp. 1-18)

    People moving across oceans and land borders are both visible and completely invisible to us. Governments have sought to track such movements since the nineteenth century, and yet millions managed to cross borders undetected by state authorities. These are the strangers, the aliens in our midst, who are excluded, and in their exclusion they give meaning to citizenship rights. The alien has been constructed as isolated, marginal, anxious, and deviant by sociologists, anthropologists, and historians, but this is the view of the alien as seen through the lens of the nation. From the vantage point of the migrants themselves, we...


    • CHAPTER 1 Contested Sovereignties: Coolies on the High Seas
      (pp. 21-58)

      The epigraphs above indicate a radical shift in how the coolie trade was viewed by theNew York Timesfrom 1856 to 1873. In 1856 the newspaper doubted that U.S. and British consuls would permit the trade if it came close to slavery, but by 1873 the same paper called the trade an “iniquity and a crime against civilization.” What accounts for such a radical shift in less than twenty years? Humanitarian impulses aside, continual rebellions of Chinese coolies both on ships and in barracoons, along with protests by Chinese townspeople and merchants in coastal cities, forced politicians and journalists...

    • CHAPTER 2 Contracting Freedom
      (pp. 59-94)

      In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, free wage labor distinguished modern capitalism from more primitive and backward economic systems that relied on slavery. Notwithstanding the fact that slave plantation economies in Brazil, Cuba, and the U.S. South were highly integrated in the world capitalist market, in the mind of nineteenth-century liberals, free wage labor was synonymous with capitalism. The Chinese laborers who began to be recruited in the middle of the nineteenth century were at the epicenter of the debate between free wage labor and slavery. British and U.S. pressure to end the slave trade pushed up the cost...


    • CHAPTER 3 The Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1882–1900
      (pp. 97-128)

      The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen during the French Revolution in 1789 held certain “natural” rights to be universal across time and place. The declaration, however, also recognized that national citizenship was the mechanism through which to guarantee such rights. The tension between the universal inalienable rights of man and the rights of citizens came to the forefront in the late nineteenth century as nation-states began to restrict the rights of aliens. The question of whether aliens enjoyed universal rights of mobility was debated in the Americas. The United States stood at one end of...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Immigration Bureaucracy and the Production of Illegal Aliens
      (pp. 129-152)

      Vigilantes regularly attacked Chinese along the Pacific coast of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Peru during the late nineteenth century. There were major massacres in the Cañete Valley, Peru (1881), in Rock Springs, Wyoming (1885), and Snake River, Oregon (1887). On many more occasions mobs burned down Chinese stores and homes and chased them from town, including a whole series of anti-Asian riots along the Pacific coast from Mazatlán, Mexico, to British Columbia between 1885 and 1907.¹ Although most extreme violence occurred during the exclusion period after 1882, by the time the immigration bureaucracy grew more robust and extended...

    • CHAPTER 5 Clandestine Crossings to the United States
      (pp. 153-194)

      The potential points of entry into the United States were almost limitless. Although immigration authorities and customs inspectors tried to channel entry through the front doors at seaports on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and back doors on the borders with Canada and Mexico, migrants could simply walk across land borders or take boats through the unguarded and unfenced boundaries that connected the United States to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. While immigration inspectors vigilantly poked, prodded, and fumigated immigrants coming through the front and back doors, the official ports of entry, the windows remained ajar. It is through these...


    • CHAPTER 6 Revolutionary Nationalism and Xenophobia
      (pp. 197-247)

      Nationalism and xenophobia swept the Americas in the first three decades of the twentieth century, leading to tighter immigration restrictions in general and discriminatory legislation against the Chinese in particular. Although the coolie period had officially ended by the twentieth century and all new Chinese arrivals came to the Americas as free migrants, they were seen as unwanted aliens. The 1910 Mexican Revolution overthrew a decrepit oligarchic regime and brought new urban working classes and peasants to the political stage. Although the Revolution called for land distribution, labor rights, and other populist measures, it also fostered xenophobic nationalism, leading to...

    • CHAPTER 7 Chinese Diasporic Networks
      (pp. 248-270)

      To the immigration bureaucrats, politicians, and anti-Chinese activists, Chinese migrants were illegal aliens. The alien label, however, does nothing to describe the communities and lived experience of Chinese who migrated through the Americas. They may have been strangers, sojourners, and aliens to outsiders, but they were enmeshed in transnational diasporic communities with deep bonds of solidarity. These networks remained largely invisible to state authorities because the networks’ survival depended on their invisibility. Smugglers did not produce and preserve large archives to document their activities. Their goal was to remain undetected. Nonetheless, traces of these networks can be found in the...

    (pp. 271-288)

    The idea of the alien or stranger has a very long and sordid history, but it was not until the late nineteenth century that the concept of alien became a formal bureaucratic status linked to increasingly complex immigration restrictions around the globe. African slaves and Indians were certainly seen as Others and excluded from political life in the Americas. As outsiders, they were necessary not only as laborers but as the excluded against whom to define the rights-bearing citizen. In the nineteenth century, as slavery was being abolished around the world and indigenous people were gaining citizenship, a new Other...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 289-326)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 327-340)
  12. Index
    (pp. 341-360)