The Children of Chinatown: Growing Up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920

The Children of Chinatown: Growing Up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920

The Children of Chinatown: Growing Up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920

The Children of Chinatown: Growing Up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920

Synopsis

Revealing the untold stories of a pioneer generation of young Chinese Americans, this book places the children and families of early Chinatown in the middle of efforts to combat American policies of exclusion and segregation.

Wendy Jorae challenges long-held notions of early Chinatown as a bachelor community by showing that families--and particularly children--played important roles in its daily life. She explores the wide-ranging images of Chinatown's youth created by competing interests with their own agendas--from anti-immigrant depictions of Chinese children as filthy and culturally inferior to exotic and Orientalized images that catered to the tourist's ideal of Chinatown. All of these representations, Jorae notes, tended to further isolate Chinatown at a time when American-born Chinese children were attempting to define themselves as Chinese American. Facing barriers of immigration exclusion, cultural dislocation, child labor, segregated schooling, crime, and violence, Chinese American children attempted to build a world for themselves on the margins of two cultures. Their story is part of the larger American story of the struggle to overcome racism and realize the ideal of equality.

Excerpt

When one imagines San Francisco’s nineteenth-century Chinatown, Chinese children do not usually figure prominently in the picture. Scholars of Chinese American history have focused primarily on the story of male Chinese immigrants; only within the last two decades have significant studies examining the stories of Chinese American females emerged. Chinese children appear only sporadically in the histories. Yet an examination of the historical record reveals important evidence of the existence of Chinese children in America and offers scattered glimpses into their daily lives. the narrow designation of San Francisco’s early Chinatown (1850–1920) as a “bachelor society,” or more recently as a “split-household” community, ignores the variety of family structures and the small but significant presence of Chinese children. It is important to recognize the presence of children in early Chinatown, not only because it changes the way we conceptualize Chinese American history, but also because the presence of these children and the formation of families impacted the larger controversy surrounding the Chinese in America. This book challenges prevailing scholarly notions of early Chinatown by positioning Chinese children and their families at the center of efforts to combat American anti-Chinese policies. My research reveals the heretofore untold story of child life in early Chinatown while also unraveling the various myths surrounding Chinese American childhood.

I have defined two major objectives for this work. First, I will examine how various groups constructed contrasting images of childhood and family life in Chinatown that significantly influenced the debate over Chinese immigration and the future of the Chinese American community. Second, and . . .

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