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They have not come for political or religious reasons but purely as
seekers for wages, driven from the peasant villages by overpopulation
and the hazards of a precarious agriculture.

They have come in two distinct streams: one from northern Italy,
embracing about one-fifth of the whole; the other from southern Italy.
The two streams are quite distinct in quality. Northern Italy is the
home of the old masters in art and literature and of a new
industrialism that is bringing renewed prosperity to Milan and Turin.
Here the virile native stock has been strengthened with the blood of
its northern neighbors. They are a capable, creative, conservative,
reliable race. On the other hand, the hot temper of the South has been
fed by an infusion of Greek and Saracen blood. In Sicily this strain
shows at its worst. There the vendetta flourishes; and the Camorra and
its sinister analogue, the Black Hand, but too realistically remind us
that thousands of these swarthy criminals have found refuge in the
dark alleys of our cities. Even in America the Sicilian carries a
dirk, and the "death sign" in a court room has silenced many a
witness. The north Italians readily identify themselves with American
life. Among them are found bakers, barbers, and marble cutters, as
well as wholesale fruit and olive oil merchants, artists, and
musicians. But the south Italian is a restless, roving creature, who
dislikes the confinement and restraint of the mill and factory. He is
found out of doors, making roads and excavations, railways,
skyscrapers, and houses. If he has a liking for trade he trundles a
pushcart filled with fruit or chocolates; or he may turn a jolly
hurdy-gurdy or grind scissors. In spite of his native sociability,
the south Italian is very slow to take to American ways. As a rule, he
comes here intending to go back when he has made enough money. He has
the air of a sojourner. He is picturesque, volatile, and incapable of
effective team work.

About 300,000 Greeks have come to America between 1908 and 1917,
nearly all of them young men, escaping from a country where they had
meat three times a year to a land where they may have it three times a
day. "The whole Greek world," says Henry P. Fairchild, writing in
1911, "may be said to be in a fever of emigration.... The strong young
men with one accord are severing home ties, leaving behind wives and
sweethearts, and thronging to the shores of America in search of
opportunity and fortune." Every year they send back handsome sums to
the expectant family. Business is an instinct with the Greek, and he
has almost monopolized the ice cream, confectionery, and retail fruit
business, the small florist shops and bootblack stands in scores of
towns, and in every large city he is running successful restaurants.
As a factory operative he is found in the cotton mills of New England,
but he prefers merchandizing to any other calling.

Years ago when New Bedford was still a whaling port a group of
Portuguese sailors from the Azores settled there. This formed the
nucleus of the Portuguese immigration which, in the last decade,
included over 80,000 persons. Two-thirds of these live in New England
factory towns, the remaining third, strange to say, have found their
way to the other side of the continent, where they work in the gardens
and fruit orchards of California. New Bedford is still the center of
their activity. They are a hard-working people whose standard of
living, according to official investigations "is much lower than that
of any other race," of whom scarcely one in twenty become citizens,
and who evince no interest in learning or in manual skill.

Finally, American cities are extending the radius of their magnetism
and are drawing ambitious tradesmen and workers from the Levant. Over
100,000 have come from Arabia, Syria, Armenia, and Turkey. The
Armenians and Syrians, forming the bulk of this influx, came as
refugees from the brutalities of the Mohammedan régime. The Levantine
is first and always a bargainer. His little bazaars and oriental rug
shops are bits of Cairo and Constantinople, where you are privileged
to haggle over every purchase in true oriental style. Even the
peddlers of lace and drawn-work find it hard to accustom themselves to
the occidental idea of a market price. With all their cunning as
traders, they respect learning, prize manual skill, possess a fine
artistic sense, and are law-abiding. The Armenians especially are
eager to become American citizens. Since the settlement of the
Northwestern lands, many thousands of Scandinavians and Finns have
flocked to the cities, where they are usually employed as skilled

Thus the United States, in a quarter of a century, has assumed a
cosmopolitanism in which the early German and Irish immigrants appear
as veteran Americans. This is not a stationary cosmopolitanism, like
that of Constantinople, the only great city in Europe that compares
with New York, Chicago, or Boston in ethnic complexity. It is a
shifting mass. No two generations occupy the same quarters. Even the
old rich move "up town" leaving their fine houses, derelicts of a
former splendor, to be divided into tenements where six or eight
Italian or Polish families find ample room for themselves and a crowd
of boarders.

Thousands of these migratory beings throng the steerage of
transatlantic ships every winter to return to their European homes.
The steamship companies, whose enterprise is largely responsible for
this flow of populations, reap their harvest; and many a decaying
village buried in the southern hills of Europe, or swept by the winds
of the great Slav plains, owes its regeneration ultimately to American

They pay the price of their success, these flitting beings, links
between distant lands and our own. The great maw of mine and factory
devours thousands. Their lyric tribal songs are soon drowned by the
raucous voices of the city; their ancient folk-dances, meant for a
village green, not for a reeking dance-hall, lose here their native
grace; and the quaint and picturesque costumes of the European
peasant give place to American store clothes, the ugly badge of

The outward bound throng holds its head high, talks back at the
steward, and swaggers. It has become "American." The restless fever of
the great democracy is in its veins. Most of those who return home
will find their way back with others of their kind to the teeming
hives and the coveted fleshpots they are leaving. And again they will
tax the ingenuity of labor unions, political and social organizations,
schools, libraries, and churches, in the endeavor to transform
medieval peasants into democratic peers.


[Footnote 34: This lament of Henry James's is cited by E.A. Ross in
_The Old World in the New_, p. 101.]

[Footnote 35: Emily Greene Balch, _Our Slavic Fellow Citizens_, p.

[Footnote 36: Edward A. Steiner, _On the Trail of the Immigrant_, p.

[Footnote 37: This is an estimate made by the Reverend W.X. Kruszka of
Ripon, Wisconsin, as reported by E.G. Balch in _Our Slavic Fellow
Citizens_, p. 262. Of this large number, Chicago claims 350,000; New
York City, 250,000; Buffalo, 80,000; Milwaukee, 75,000; Detroit,
75,000; while at least a dozen other cities have substantial Polish
settlements. These numbers include the suburbs of each city.]

[Footnote 38: This is accounted for by the fact that the Hungarian
Government rigorously censored Slovak publications.]

[Footnote 39: Since the Russo-Japanese War, Siberia has absorbed great
numbers of Russian immigrants. This accounts for the small number that
have come to America.]

[Footnote 40: _Our Slavic Fellow Citizens_, p. 280.]

[Footnote 41: _On the Trail of the Immigrant_, p. 27.]

[Footnote 42: The census figures show that approximately half the
Italian immigrants return to their native land. American officers in
the Great War were surprised to find so many Italian soldiers who
spoke English. In 1910 there remained in the United States only
1,343,000 Italians who were born in Italy, and the total number of
persons of Italian stock in the United States was 2,098,000.]

[Footnote 43: According to the Census of 1910 there were 544,000
Italians in New York City]

[Footnote 44: The Census of 1910 gives the following distribution of
the American white population by percentages:

- - - - - - - - - - - - + - - - - + - - - - - - - - -+ - - - - -
| | Native born |
| Native | of Foreign or | Foreign
Location | stock | mixed parentage | born
- - - - - - - - - - - - + - - - - + - - - - - - - - -+ - - - - -
Rural districts | 64.1 | 13.3 | 7.5
| | |
Cities 2,500- 10,000 | 57.5 | 20.6 | 13.9
" 10,000- 25,000 | 50.4 | 24.6 | 17.4
" 25,000-100,000 | 45.9 | 26.5 | 20.2
" 100,000-500,000 | 38.9 | 31.3 | 22.1
" 200,000 and over | 25.6 | 37.2 | 33.6
- - - - - - - - - - - - + - - - - + - - - - - - - - -+ - - - - -

The native white element predominates in the country but is only a
fraction of the population in the larger cities.]



America, midway between Europe and Asia, was destined to be the
meeting-ground of Occident and Orient. It was in the exciting days of
'49 that gold became the lodestone to draw to California men from the
oriental lands across the Pacific. The Chinese for the moment overcame
their religious aversion to leaving their native haunts and, lured by
the promise of fabulous wages, made their way to the "gold hills." Of
the three hundred thousand who came to America during the three
decades of free entry, the large majority were peasants from the rural
districts in the vicinity of Canton. They were thrifty, independent,
sturdy, honest young men who sought the great adventure unaccompanied
by wife or family. Chinese tradition forbade the respectable woman to
leave her home, even with her husband; and China was so isolated from
the world, so encrusted in her own traditions that out of her
uncounted millions even the paltry thousands of peasants and workmen
who filtered through the port of Canton into the great world were
bound by ancient precedent as firmly as if they had remained at home.
They invariably planned to return to the Celestial Empire and it was
their supreme wish that, if they died abroad, their bodies be buried
in the land of their ancestors.

The Chinaman thus came to America as a workman adventurer, not as a
prospective citizen. He preserved his queue, his pajamas, his
chopsticks, and his joss in the crude and often brutal surroundings of
the mining camp. He maintained that gentle, yielding, unassertive
character which succumbs quietly to pressure at one point, only to
reappear silently and unobtrusively in another place. In the wild
rough and tumble of the camp, where the outlaw and the bully found
congenial refuge, the celestial did not belie his name. He was indeed
of another world, and his capacity for patience, his native dignity
without suspicion of hauteur, baffled the loud self-assertion of the
Irish and the Anglo-Saxon.

During the first years of the gold rush, the Chinaman was welcome in
California because he was necessary. He could do so many things that
the miner disdained or found no time to do. He could cook and wash,
and he could serve. He was a rare gardener and a patient day laborer.
He could learn a new trade quickly. In the city he became a useful
domestic servant at a time when there were very few women. In all his
tasks he was neat and had a genius for noiselessly minding his own

As the number of miners increased, race prejudice asserted itself.
"California for Americans" came to be a slogan that reflected their
feelings against Mexicans, Spanish-Americans, and Chinese in the
mines. Race riots, often instigated by men who had themselves but
recently immigrated to America, were not infrequent. In these
disorders the Chinese were no match for the aggressors and in
consequence were forced out of many good mining claims.

The labor of the cheap and faithful Chinese appealed to the business
instincts of the railroad contractors who were constructing the
Pacific railways and they imported large numbers. In 1866 a line of
steamships was established to run regularly between Hong Kong and San
Francisco. In 1869 the first transcontinental railway was completed
and American laborers from the East began to flock to California,
where they immediately found themselves in competition with the
Mongolian standard of living. Race rivalry soon flared up and the
anti-Chinese sentiment increased as the railroads neared completion
and threw more and more of the oriental laborers into the general
labor market. Chinese were hustled out of towns. Here and there
violence was done. For example, in the Los Angeles riots of October
24, 1871, fifteen Chinamen were hanged and six were shot by the mob.

This prejudice, based primarily upon the Chinaman's willingness to
work long hours for little pay and to live in quarters and upon fare
which an Anglo-Saxon would find impossible, was greatly increased by
his strange garb, language, and customs. The Chinaman remained in
every essential a foreigner. In his various societies he maintained to
some degree the patriarchal government of his native village. He
shunned American courts, avoided the Christian religion, rarely
learned much of the English language, and displayed no desire to
become naturalized. Instead of sympathy in the country of his sojourn
he met discrimination, jealousy, and suspicion. For many years his
testimony was not permitted in the courts. His contact with only the
rough frontier life failed to reveal to him the gentle amenities of
the white man's faith, and everywhere the upper hand seemed turned
against him. So he kept to himself, and this isolation fed the rumors
that were constantly poisoning public opinion. Chinatown in the public
mind became a synonym for a nightmare of filth, gambling,
opium-smoking, and prostitution.

Alarm was spreading among Americans concerning the organizations of
the Chinese in the United States. Of these, the Six Companies were the
most famous. Mary Roberts Coolidge, after long and careful research,
characterized these societies as "the substitute for village and
patriarchal association, and although purely voluntary and benevolent
in their purpose, they became, because of American ignorance and
prejudice, the supposed instruments of tyranny over their
countrymen."[45] They each had a club house, where members were
registered and where lodgings and other accommodations were provided.
The largest in 1877 had a membership of seventy-five thousand; the
smallest, forty-three thousand. The Chinese also maintained trade
guilds similar in purpose to the American trade union. Private or
secret societies also flourished among them, some for good purposes,
others for illicit purposes. Of the latter the Highbinders or Hatchet
Men became the most notorious, for they facilitated the importation of
Chinese prostitutes. Many of these secret societies thrived on
blackmail, and the popular antagonism to the Six Companies was due to
the outrages committed by these criminal associations.

When the American labor unions accumulated partisan power, the Chinese
became a political issue. This was the greatest evil that could befall
them, for now racial persecution received official sanction and passed
out of the hands of mere ruffians into the custody of powerful
political agitators. Under the lurid leadership of Dennis Kearney, the
Workingman's party was organized for the purpose of influencing
legislation and "ridding the country of Chinese cheap labor." Their
goal was "Four dollars a day and roast beef"; and their battle cry,
"The Chinese must go." Under the excitement of sand-lot meetings, the
Chinese were driven under cover. In the riots of July, 1877, in San
Francisco, twenty-five Chinese laundries were burned. "For months
afterward," says Mary Roberts Coolidge, "no Chinaman was safe from
personal outrage even on the main thoroughfares, and the perpetrators
of the abuses were almost never interfered with so long as they did
not molest white men's property."[46]

This anti-Chinese epidemic soon spread to other Western States.
Legislatures and city councils vied with each other in passing laws
and ordinances to satisfy the demands of the labor vote. All manner of
ingenious devices were incorporated into tax laws in an endeavor to
drive the Chinese out of certain occupations and to exclude them from
the State. License and occupation taxes multiplied. The Chinaman was
denied the privilege of citizenship, was excluded from the public
schools, and was not allowed to give testimony in proceedings relating
to white persons. Manifold ordinances were passed intended to harass
and humiliate him: for instance, a San Francisco ordinance required
the hair of all prisoners to be cut within three inches of the scalp.
Most extreme and unreasonable discriminations against hand laundries
were framed. The new California constitution of 1879 endowed the
legislature and the cities with large powers in regulating the
conditions under which Chinese would be tolerated. In 1880 a state law
declared that all corporations operating under a state charter should
be prohibited from employing Chinese under penalty of forfeiting
their charter. Chinese were also excluded from employment in all
public works. Nearly all these laws and ordinances, however, were
ultimately declared to be unconstitutional on account of their
discriminatory character or because they were illegal regulations of

The States having failed to exclude the Chinese, the only hope left
was in the action of the Federal Government. The earliest treaties and
trade conventions with China (1844 and 1858) had been silent upon the
rights and privileges of Chinese residing or trading in the United
States. In 1868, Anson Burlingame, who had served for six years as
American Minister to China, but who had now entered the employ of the
Chinese Imperial Government, arrived at the head of a Chinese mission
sent for the purpose of negotiating a new treaty which should insure
reciprocal rights to the Chinese. The journey from San Francisco to
Washington was a sort of triumphal progress and everywhere the Chinese
mission was received with acclaim. The treaty drawn by Secretary
Seward was ratified on July 28, 1868, and was hailed even on the
Pacific coast as the beginning of more fortunate relations between the
two countries. The treaty acknowledged the "inherent and inalienable
right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual
advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and
subjects respectively, from the one country to the other, for purposes
of curiosity, of trade or as permanent residents." It stated
positively that "citizens of the United States visiting or residing in
China shall enjoy the same privileges, immunities, and exemptions in
respect to travel and residence as may be enjoyed by the citizens of
the most favored nation. And, reciprocally, Chinese subjects visiting
or residing in the United States shall enjoy the same privileges,
immunities, and exemptions in respect to travel or residence." The
right to naturalization was by express statement not conferred by the
treaty upon the subjects of either nation dwelling in the territory of
the other. But it was not in any way prohibited.

The applause which greeted this international agreement had hardly
subsided before the anti-Chinese agitators discovered that the treaty
was in their way and they thereupon demanded its modification or
abrogation. They now raised the cry that the Chinese were a threat to
the morals and health of the country, that the majority of Chinese
immigrants were either coolies under contract, criminals, diseased
persons, or prostitutes. As a result, in 1879 a representative from
Nevada, one of the States particularly interested, introduced in
Congress a bill limiting to fifteen the Chinese passengers that any
ship might bring to the United States on a single voyage, and
requiring the captains of such vessels to register at the port of
entry a list of their Chinese passengers. The Senate added an
amendment requesting the President to notify the Chinese Government
that the section of the Burlingame treaty insuring reciprocal
interchange of citizens was abrogated. After a very brief debate the
measure that so flagrantly defied an international treaty passed both
houses. It was promptly vetoed, however, by President Hayes on the
ground that it violated a treaty which a friendly nation had carefully
observed. If the Pacific cities had cause of complaint, the President
preferred to remedy the situation by the "proper course of diplomatic

The President accordingly appointed a commission, under the
chairmanship of James B. Angell, president of the University of
Michigan, to negotiate a new treaty. The commission proceeded to China
and completed its task in November, 1880. The new treaty provided
that, "whenever, in the opinion of the Government of the United
States, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States, or their
residence therein, affects or threatens to affect the interests of
that country, or to endanger the good order of the said country or of
any locality within the territory thereof, the Government of China
agrees that the Government of the United States may regulate, limit,
or suspend such coming or residence, but may not absolutely prohibit
it." Other Chinese subjects who had come to the United States, "as
travelers, merchants, or for curiosity," and laborers already in the
United States, were to "be allowed to go and come of their own free
will," with all of the "rights, privileges, immunities, and exemptions
which are accorded to the citizens of the most favored nation." The
United States furthermore undertook to protect the Chinese in the
United States against "ill treatment" and to "devise means for their

Two years after the ratification of this treaty, a bill was introduced
to prohibit the immigration of Chinese labor for twenty years. Both
the great political parties had included the subject in their
platforms in 1880. The Democrats had espoused exclusion and were
committed to "No more Chinese immigration"; the Republicans had
preferred restriction by "just, humane, and reasonable laws." The bill
passed, but President Arthur vetoed it on the ground that prohibiting
immigration for so long a period transcended the provisions of the
treaty. A bill which was then passed shortening the period of the
restriction to ten years received the President's signature, and on
August 5, 1882, America shut the door in the face of Chinese labor.

The law, however, was very loosely drawn and administrative confusion
arose at once. Chinese laborers leaving the United States were
required to obtain a certificate from the collector of customs at the
port of departure entitling them to reëntry. Other Chinese - merchants,
travelers, or visitors - who desired to come to the United States were
required to have a certificate from their Government declaring that
they were entitled to enter under the provisions of the treaty. As
time went on, identification became a joke, trading in certificates a
regular pursuit, and smuggling Chinese across the Canadian border a
profitable business. Moreover, in the light of the law, who was a
"merchant" and who a "visitor"? In 1884 Congress attempted to remedy
these defects of phraseology and administration by carefully framed
definitions and stringent measures.[48] The Supreme Court upheld the
constitutionality of exclusion as incident to American sovereignty.

Meanwhile in the West the popular feeling against the Chinese refused
to subside. At Rock Springs, Wyoming, twenty-eight Chinese were killed
and fifteen were injured by a mob which also destroyed Chinese
property amounting to $148,000. At Tacoma and Seattle, also, violence
descended upon the Mongolian. In San Francisco a special grand jury
which investigated the operation of the exclusion laws and a committee
of the Board of Supervisors which investigated the condition of
Chinatown both made reports that were violently anti-Chinese. A state
anti-Chinese convention soon thereafter declared that the situation
"had become well-nigh intolerable." So widespread and venomous was the

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Online LibrarySamuel P. OrthOur Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making → online text (page 10 of 14)