Chinese American: Exclusion / Inclusion

Duplicate Certificate of Identity -- Anna May Wong (54099) obverse_PR, National Archives Identifier: 5720287 Series: Duplicate Certificates of Identity, 1908 - 1943 Record Group 85: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 - 2004

January 28 – June 1, 2016

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Location:
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave
Portland, Oregon 97205
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On loan from the New York Historical Society

America's desire for trade with China is older than Independence, yet in 1882 the nation's borders shut for the first time to exclude Chinese workers. A long and bitter contest over immigration and citizenship ensued, influenced by tensions within the United States and the changing tenor of relations between the two countries.

This struggle over freedom and the right to belong shaped the Chinese American experience and the very formation of American society. It is a story of extraordinary individuals, fearful and courageous acts, and unexpected twists and turns that have surprising relevance to our world today.

Learn more at the exhibit website.

Empress of China Fan, Courtesy of the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection.

Empress of China Fan
1784  

Courtesy of the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection.

This fan depicts the Empress of China—the first American merchant vessel to trade with China. The ship departed from New York harbor in 1784 and returned the following year, laden with porcelains, silks, and teas.

Anna May Wong Certificate of Identity National Archives at San Francisco (54099)

Anna May Wong Certificate of Identity
August 28, 1924

National Archives at San Francisco (54099)

Starting in 1909, Chinese entering or residing in the U.S. were required to carry a government-issued Certificate of Identity at all times. Even movie stars like Anna May Wong were subject to the law.

China in New York 4th of July Parade, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-B2-2302-15].

China in New York 4th of July Parade
1911

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-B2-2302-15].

The large and prosperous community of Chinese residents in Marysville, California acquired this ceremonial dragon from China in the 1880s. The majestic "Moo Lung" appeared in parades and celebrations nationwide, including the July 4th, 1911 "Parade of Nations" in New York City.

The Ging Hawk Club, Thanksgiving, Hotel Sheraton, NYC, Courtesy of Alice Lee Chun, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.

The Ging Hawk Club, Thanksgiving, Hotel Sheraton, NYC
ca. 1933-1952  

Courtesy of Alice Lee Chun, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.

American-born Chinese youth gravitated to the Ging Hawk Club, which began in the 1930s as a YWCA-affiliated group. Drawing upon family life, home village traditions, and business interests, such clubs helped structure public life for Chinese in America.

Chinese American, New-York Historical Society

Chinese American
1883

New-York Historical Society

Activist Wong Chin Foo published this newspaper, entitled Chinese American, in New York in 1883—possibly the first public use of the term "Chinese American." In the wake of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Wong intended the title as an assertion of identity and a challenge to anti-Chinese sentiment.

Low Family Portrait, Courtesy of Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.

Low Family Portrait
1961  

Courtesy of Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.

Adapting to the immigration laws that kept them apart, a local photography studio helped the Low family of New York create an impossible family portrait by pasting in the faces of missing relatives.

Joyce Chen, Private Collection. Courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation.

Joyce Chen

Private Collection. Courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation.

Joyce Chen left Shanghai in 1949, settling in Cambridge, MA. Capitalizing on her culinary skills, she opened a Mandarin-style restaurant in 1958. Her growing reputation and subsequent cookbook landed her a nationally televised cooking show—the first TV series with an Asian host—and her own Chinese cookware line.

“Write Your Congressman,” in Chinese Press, Courtesy of Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA).

"Write Your Congressman," in Chinese Press
September 10, 1943  

Courtesy of Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA).

During WWII, Chinese Americans and their supporters petitioned Congress to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act. Their campaign was successful—the 60-year statute was overturned in 1943. However, Chinese immigration remained subject to severe quotas.

News Coverage

Chinese-American Exhibit Captures Generations of Family History

NBC News, October 9, 2014

Chinese-American history was rarely discussed in school when I grew up in New York City. I remember Chinese laborers were briefly mentioned during a lesson on the California Gold Rush and the transcontinental railroad. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act — America's first immigration restriction law — was just another historical event in a string of many I memorized for tests.

Telling the History of the First "Illegals" in the United States

Hyperallergic, November 3, 2014
You walk into the New-York Historical Society’s Chinese American: Inclusion/Exclusion and see the sort of exhibition you expect from a stately uptown museum: a gilded frame featuring an upright white man with mutton chops, a miniature ship, fine porcelains. But when you turn the corner, something different greets you: a chain-link cage, simulations of a eugenicist medical examination, harsh customs interrogations. The exhibition asks you to reconsider the grandiosity of those first sections, and how the revered objects of the past take on richer and darker meanings when measured by the lived experiences of the many.

Great Job on the Railroad. Now Go Back to China.

The New York Times, October 2, 2014

The tea dumped in Boston Harbor's party came from China. So did George Washington's china. The Erie Canal was inspired by China's Grand Canal. And the lure of Chinese trade spurred the building of the transcontinental railroad. (The labor force for its western segment was 80 percent Chinese.) Without Chinese exclusion laws, which by the late 19th century were severely restricting Chinese immigration, the regulations and bureaucracy that now shape immigration policy might never have arisen.

Complete list of press coverage