DISCRIMINATION
AND ACCOMMODATION
CHAPTER 23

Foreign immigrants were at the very heart of building the transcontinental railroad. Without Chinese and Irish laborers, its construction would not have been possible. California’s growth was also furthered by other immigrants: Japanese farmers in the Central Valley; Italian and French wine growers in the north, as well as Swiss and German dairymen along the Coast Ranges. This foreign influx, begun by the gold rush, quickly made California a cosmopolitan society.

The state’s history, however, includes a long record of discrimination and violence toward certain minority groups. During the nineteenth century, Asians faced tough battles for acceptance. Early on, their mistreatment was summed up in the popular phrase of the day: “He doesn’t have a Chinaman’s chance.” Paradoxically, the first Chinese immigrants to the state were treated with consideration, in part due to a dire need for dependable labor; also, Chinese workers seemed content with the meager wages they earned in California.

But in 1850, after some Chinese miners actually managed to accumulate more gold than did whites, jealous Californians enacted the Foreign Miners’ License Law, which imposed a monthly tax of $20 on immigrant miners. This legislation had the desired effect of driving a horde of penniless foreigners away from the mines. The state followed up that legislation in 1855 with a head tax of $50 levied on each foreigner upon entry into the state. Meanwhile aggressive whites simply barred the Chinese as well as other immigrant groups from the diggings. Chinese miners became the victims of groundless accusations and unprovoked violence.

Increasingly the cry “California for the Americans!” was heard throughout mining camps and cities alike. Influenced by rising public antipathy, Governor Bigler, who in 1852 succeeded John McDougal, stigmatized the Chi-

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