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Sunday, May 23, 2004

The Sun Herald | 05/23/2004 | Census breaks down Asian migrations

The Sun Herald | 05/23/2004 | Census breaks down Asian migrations

Census breaks down Asian migrations


The Chinese were among the earliest immigrants from Asia to seek their fortune in the United States. Today, Americans of Chinese descent make up about 23 percent of the nearly 12 million Americans who are classified as Asian.

This fact is timely, since May is celebrated as Asian-Pacific Month, a time to remember the contributions of Asians in this country. This month was chosen when the month was first proclaimed in May 1977 because the first Japanese immigrated here on May 7, 1843, and the transcontinental railroad, which employed up to 12,000 Chinese, was completed on May 10, 1869.

Chinese immigrants first came to the United States in about 1848 and most of them stayed on the West Coast, smoothing the dirt from gold mine digs. Later they were among the laborers who built the nation's railroad, often working for 2 cents a day.

This willingness to accept low pay for hard work led to objections by citizens who felt these immigrants were taking their jobs. These feelings led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of May 1882, which banned the immigration of Chinese labor for 10 years. The law also placed restrictions on Chinese who were already here and the courts were prohibited from granting them citizenship.

The act was renewed for another 10 years in 1892, then the Geary Act of 1902, which regulated the coming of Chinese into this country until the 1920s. In 1943, Congress repealed the exclusion acts and gave foreign-born Chinese the right to become citizens.

Some Chinese whose fathers were already citizens could not be kept from coming to this country during the years of restriction. Some Chinese, eager to settle in the United States, purchased papers from families with U.S. citizens. These papers included detailed family information, which these "paper sons and daughters" memorized to pass intensive interrogation when they arrived in the United States.

The last census showed that the next largest segment of Asian population were Filipinos, who make up 19 percent. Then Asian Indians, 16 percent; Vietnamese and Korean descent, both 10.3 percent; Japanese heritage, 9.7 percent. Other Asian groups - from Bangladeshis to Taiwanese - make up about 1 percent each of the Asian peoples in the United States.

While immigrants from Europe mostly came to this country through Ellis Island and the ports on the Eastern Seaboard, large numbers of Asians came in through Angel Island in California. The immigration station on the island was conceived in 1905 and was opened in 1910. Many immigrants were detained on the island - some a few weeks and others many months - until their identities were confirmed. In 1940 the government decided to abandon the immigration station, a move that was hastened by a fire that destroyed the administration building in August 1940.

Today a museum has been created in the old barracks building of the immigration station and a special foundation is raising money to restore and improve the site.

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