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The History of Chinese Immigration to the U.S.

by Qin Wan

Like other immigrants, most Chinese came to the United States to find better lives and job opportunities. The Chinese brought their language, culture, and customs to the U.S. Over time they became native speakers of English and integrated into the mainstream of society and became a part of the population. This process of Chinese immigration can be divided into three periods: 1849-1882, 1882-1965, and 1965 to the present.

The first period began with the California Gold Rush and ended with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. During this period Chinese were lured to America by gold.  But  the Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Acts in 1882, which limited  Chinese the basic rights of citizenship. The Chinese worked extremely hard in unsafe conditions and suffered widespread discrimination.  At the end of the first period, the Chinese population in the United States was about 110,000.

During the second period (1882-1965), only diplomats, merchants, and students and their dependents were allowed to travel to the United States. Other Chinese immigrant activities were mainly limited to Chinatowns. During this time, the U.S. government continued to limit the Chinese immigrant’s rights. The Chinese Exclusion Acts were repealed during World War II, and thousands of young Chinese men were persuaded to join the military. 

In the third period, the Civil Rights movement in the1960s, the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 brought a new period of Chinese American immigration. Finally in 1965, Chinese immigration was changed to be on an equal basis with all other countries of the world. The American government established an annual quota, and 20,000 Chinese could receive U.S. citizenship. Under these new laws, two types of Chinese immigrants were allowed to enter the U.S. The first type consisted of highly select and well-educated Chinese. The second type were those who escaped political instability or repression, and poverty-stricken refugees. They were willing to work hard, so they could fulfill their dreams of a better life. They were allowed into the job market, schools, the arts and government. They have lived in the U.S. permanently. The U.S. is their home, and they feel themselves to be truly American. But still prejudice exists in some places. Now there are over 400,000 Chinese immigrants living in the U.S.

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