“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. "
The Quote on the Statue of Liberty, engraved 1903
The United States of America was founded on the idea that anyone could leave their destitution and ‘make it’ in America. This idea came to be called the American Dream; a phrase that was written into being around 1850. Not thirty years later, however, an entire immigrant group would be barred from entering the country, and that bar would last for sixty-one years. The Chinese Exclusion Act was put into law by President Chester Arthur in 1882 and repealed in 1943. During that period, all Chinese laborers were barred from immigrating to the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act stagnated the growth of Chinese Culture in the United States and led to the racial stigma that fueled racism against Japan in the Second World War.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted to curb the influx of Chinese immigrants seeking work in the failing post-Civil War economies. The Chinese settlers created enclaves in many West-Coast cities; the most famous of these being the “China-Town” in San Francisco. Anti-Chinese sentiment grew from the Nativist policies of Denis Kearney, his Workingman’s Party, and California statesman John Bigler. White power organizations fought against Chinese immigrants as well, specifically the Supreme Order of Caucasians in April 1876 and the Asiatic Exclusion League in May 1905. They stated that Chinese laborers had driven wages down to an unacceptable level, Resultantly, they fought against the rights of Chinese Immigrants, many of whom had been naturalized citizens.
As a result of all the political attacks against the Chinese, the Exclusion Act became America’s first significant restriction on immigration. The provisions of the Act, including one that mandated certification for people to return to the country after leaving the borders, made life extremely difficult for the Chinese, both those already residing in the country and those who wished to immigrate. People were often severed from their families, with little hopes of ever reuniting. Reactions to the Chinese Exclusion Act were mixed. Anti-Chinese groups, such as the Supreme Order of Caucasians and John Bigler, were advocates of the Act, blaming the “coolies” for deflated wages. The Chinese people, on the other hand, strongly opposed the law, as it discriminated against them and tore families apart, destroying their lives. Due to mixed popular sentiment, the government of California refused to substantiate any legislature dealing with Chinese laborers as the Chinese citizens generated a substantial amount of tax revenue, “Chinese tax revenue composed twenty-six percent of the whole tax revenue in three counties.” As the economy improved, the California legislature became increasingly anti-Chinese....