Jean Pfaelzer: Author says U.S. should learn immigration lessons of a century ago

Historians in the News

With the heated debate over undocumented workers poised to take center stage in the November election, a historian who researched the ethnic cleansing of Chinese Americans cautions against repeating the dark chapter of the American history.
"The idea of temporary workers has proven to be wrong by the history," said University of Delaware Professor Jean Pfaelzer, who will give several lectures in the Bay Area this week. "The Chinese were perceived as temporary people in this country ... and they became very vulnerable because they didn't have any rights."

In her book "Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans," Pfaelzer gives an in-depth account of the first "race war" that took place in California and the Pacific Northwest between the Gold Rush and the turn of the 20th century, when Chinese miners, merchants and field workers were driven out of more than 200 towns.

In some places, like Truckee, Pfaelzer writes, the mob threatened to boycott employers, forcing the Chinese to leave their homes. The Exclusion Act of 1882 barred the immigration of Chinese people for 60 years. And the Geary Act, known as Dog Tag Law, required Chinese Americans to carry an identity card, which prompted widespread opposition, with more than 100,000 immigrants refusing to comply.

"It's a subject matter that has been so hidden from our history books; Jean brings it to life and describes the process and the climate of the popular opinion at the time," said Connie Young Yu, a Los Altos Asian American historian. "It's hard for Americans to believe that, because it goes against the democratic beliefs in this country."...

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