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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Driven Out" Chinese Purge

I wrote a blog some months back about a town near where I grew up, called Pekin. The high school's moniker was the Pekin Chinks and nobody seemed to recognize they were using a racial slur as they cheered their teams. One longtime Pekin resident wrote a bitter comment decrying my comments about institutionalized racism. It made me want to find out more about the roots of the term "chink."

I still haven't found any answers, but in a well written and researched book, called "Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans", by Jean Pfaelzer (2007), I found out about vicious cruelties to Chinese residents in Washington and California justified by some of our highest courts. There are dismaying parallels to events today.

In late 1885, the mayor of Tacoma, Washington, led a mob of 300 into Chinatown one night and forced everyone out of their homes and marched them out of town, forcing them to leave their businesses and belongings. The Chinese brought it to court, citing the U.S. government's Burlingame Treaty which made it illegal to deprive Chinese immigrants of the same privileges in respect to residence as others in our country. The mayor's lawyers cited the Dred Scot case of 1857 that allowed slave owners to fetch their slaves who escaped to free territories because slaves did not enjoy the same rights as citizens. The mayor's side won - just like Bush's side won against the prisoners of Guantanamo who thought they'd have the right of habeus corpus and a civil trial as prisoners of the United States. I guess the "supreme" in "Supreme Court" refers only to power and not wisdom or justice.

In San Jose, California, near where I live, the first statewide anti-Chinese convention was held in 1886, attended by anti Chinese clubs and the Anti-Coolie league. In 1880, the California legislature had made it illegal to hire a Chinese person. Ranchers, growers, and canneries were forced into mass firings. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Only the nationality has changed. But in San Jose, the Chinatown neighborhood was burned down six times and rebuilt seven. San Jose passed ordinances limiting Chinese laundries and fireworks. They posted police in doorways of Chinese owned businesses to discourage would-be customers. When two drunk men shot at and assaulted a Chinese man in 1879, they were each fined $10.

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