Ronald Takaki, professor, UC-Berkeley

Professor Takaki, re: Doc Hay
Interview by Dmae Roberts
Date: 4/23/04
1 Disc – 27:19 – 5 Tracks

TRACK 1 – 0:01
TRACK 2 – 10:03

DMAE: Okay, I need to have you do that again. (a/c gets turned off. ) okay, we’re still rolling.

TAKAKI: Hello. My name is Ron Takaki. I’m a professor of Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

DMAE: What is the place of the Ing Hay story in the American West.

TAKAKI: Well, the context is the American West. But what was the American West for Chinese immigrants? It was the gold rush, California. It was also building the railroad. And it was working in the factories in San Francisco, about 25% of the factory workers in San Francisco in 1870 were Chinese. And it was also developing agriculture, especially in California but also here in Oregon. They came here, mainly because they thought that America represented economic opportunities for them. They also came here fleeing from political turmoil in China, especially the British opium wars. But they also wanted to settle here, and 50% or more of them who came here were already married and so they had left wives behind. But America did not want these Chinese workers to bring wives and children with them and settle in America. Essentially they saw the Chinese as temporary workers. Here in America for 3-5 years and then returning to China. In fact, the superintendent of the Central Pacific railroad, which had a workforce that was 90% Chinese, the superintendent Charles Crocker, in testimony before congress, said We want these men to come over here, work for the railroad temporarily and then return to China. He said we don’t want them bringing their wives over here, settling in America and becoming thick and he used that word ‘thick.’ Essentially there was this view, a powerful view, a pervasive view, that the United States should be a white man’s country. And so the Chinese were welcomed as workers but not welcomed as settlers.

DMAE: And in that what were some of the experiences that the first Chinese had in relation to what you just said about the community not wanting them except as workers?

TAKAKI: When the Chinese first arrived during the Gold Rush, many Americans welcomed them in San Francisco. But then as the Chinese entered the gold fields and began to compete with white gold miners, this ethnic competition led to a backlash against the Chinese gold miners. So economic competition between whites and Chinese fueled anti-Chinese resentment. And they experienced not only harassment but also racial violence in the gold fields of California. Working on the railroad, the Central Pacific railroad, they went out on strike, asking for an 8-hour day and asking for the wages that would be equal to the wages paid white workers. And the Central Pacific railroad management did was to isolate them and threaten to bring in black workers through California to replace them. And within a week denied food and water the Chinese strike was broken.

DMAE: Are you touching your pants or something? I’m hearing something, I don’t know what. I’m hearing fabric.

TAKAKI: Okay, I’ll be careful.

DMAE: This mic picks up everything…so in this context, how many people, re: Ing Hay how does his story fit in this context?

TAKAKI: We don’t know much about Ing Hay. We have these letters that have been translated. But I don’t know whether or not he came over here for the gold rush or to work on the railroad or to work in the agricultural fields. But Ing Hay somehow ended up in a small town in Oregon, John Day Oregon and had a store there. And he does reflect, however, the general Chinese experience in that he was married but he became a bachelor in America, cut off from his family. And it’s a sad story because he wanted to make enough money so that he could go back to China but I think he felt he never was able to earn, to get the kind of money he needed to return to China as a wealthy individual. So he stayed here – one year turned into a lifetime. And what I find interesting about Ing Hay is that he kept photographs of children, so he missed his children back in China, I think, but also he related to the children in the neighborhood, giving them candy and fruit and so forth. And his customers came to accept him as a member of the Oregon community.

DMAE: I’m curious about the experiences of the railroad workers as well as the gold rush. There are very few books about that experience. What would be the major contribution of the workers who came here?

TAKAKI: the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 and it represented one of the great triumphs of American industrialization. It connected the West coast with the East coast and this triumph was the creation of immigrant workers for the Central Pacific railroad the Chinese workers, for the Union Pacific railroad the Irish workers. And so here in this triumph of the transcontinental railroad we can see how immigrant workers contributed to America’s industrial success. We don’t know much about these Chinese railroad workers, however, most of them were illiterate or they did not leave behind an abundance of written documents and historians rely, have to rely on written documents, but there are for us to find out about them. There is a Chinese/English language book and where it would offer Chinese immigrants English phrases that they would find useful. And these English phrases tell us something about the Chinese experience. And you can read my book Strangers from a Different Shore and get some of those translations from Chinese to English and that gives you some idea. But the phrases show that they were anxious living in America. They were homesick. They were worried about crime against them – racially based crime.

DMAE: how it affected them when the railroad was built and did people go home? Did they stay?

TAKAKI: The plan of the Central Pacific management was to employ these Chinese

TRACK 3 – 10:03

until they had completed the railroad. And then when the railroad was completed, there was just a massive layoff. But most of those Chinese did not go back home. They stayed in the San Francisco Chinatown, they worked in the factories of Chinatown, they also worked in the fields of California. And they were hoping that they would be able to bring their wives to this country but US immigration laws made it almost impossible for them to bring their wives to this country and so here were married men who were forced to live lives in America as bachelors.

DMAE: Is the story of the frontier American west the story of Chinese-Americans, then?

TAKAKI: They should be part of the story of the American west. They were there in the gold rush and that’s an American West story. They were there in the building of the transcontinental railroad. They were there in the development of agriculture in California. And Washington and Oregon. So theirs is very much a part of the story of America itself in terms of the west.

DMAE: and at what point were the Chinatowns developed?

TAKAKI: From the very beginning. In the 1850s there was already a San Francisco Chinatown. So the Chinese saw America as a place of settlement, otherwise they would not have created these communities. And they were clustered to each other. And they had their own businesses, their own shops. So the frontier experience for the Chinese was an experience of settlement from the very beginning.

DMAE: were there other communities where Chinese-Americans were met in a positive view? There were so many stories of where there was racial tensions. How common was that verses the other, being accepted in the community?

TAKAKI: we don’t have too many stories where they were accepted in the community. Again, the acceptance of the Chinese came mainly upon the need for their labor in the fields and on the railroads but also as laundrymen. There are no Chinese laundrymen in China but there are in America, and one reason why they were forced to become laundrymen is that there were no other jobs. They were forced out of employment in the factories and so they had to turn to self-employment and one area of self-employment that was open to them was to clean clothes.

DMAE: That’s interesting that there were no Chinese laundries in China.

TAKAKI: That became an American phenomenon. A Chinese-American phenomenon. But you can imagine where in the west, but also in cities in the east there was a need for laundries and here the Chinese were permitted to enter the laundry trade.

DMAE: Chinese who moved east, did they emigrate from the west coast or would they come to New York from China.

TAKAKI: I don’t know.

DMAE: I always thought that was a long ways to go.

TAKAKI: I suspect that many of them were transported on the transcontinental railroad.

DMAE: Go ahead and take a break…I’m getting a little tickle. So in the context of the American west, what is the, how many women were able to come…one of the stories I remember the first time I heard you speak, was a tape about one of your lectures about Ming Q and that seemed like a perfect example of how few women there were and the search to find her. Can you talk about that?

TAKAKI: It was mainly a male migration. Again, the employers wanted men only and men who would not settle permanently in the United States. About 350,000 crossed the Pacific in the 19th century to the United States and only about 5% of them were women. Why were there so few women? Well, there are a number of reasons. One is that these Chinese men were mostly married and to keep their wives back in China would be a way for the parents of the men to make sure that the men would return. To make sure also that the men would send money home. So they would keep their wives in China as hostages. So that their sons would not become wayward sons. That would be then to focus on the Chinese reason why there were so few women, but more potent and more powerful than the Chinese reason was the American white reason that did not, where American whites did not want the Chinese to settle in America and become thick to use Crocker’s term. And so you had the Chinese exclusion act, which excluded women from China. The Chinese Exclusion Act specified that Chinese laborers not be allowed to enter the United States and the question was what about Chinese women. Could Chinese women enter the United States? Well, there was a case where a Chinese immigrant tried to bring his wife over and the immigration authorities determined that he could not bring his wife over. Why? Because his wife was an extension of himself and since he’s a laborer she could not enter the United States because that would classify her as a laborer. But what this did was to create a bachelor society and a society that had problems with prostitution. With Ming Q, these were telegrams that were sent in 1874 between Fook Sing and some of his friends about this Chinese immigrant woman named Ming Q. and they found each other and I think they were married in 1874 but the question is well who was Min Q. well, we don’t know who Min Q was but this is what we can expect. According to the 1870 census for California, 70% of Chinese women identified as their occupation “prostitution.” So these were women forced to come to America as indentured sexual servants and they had worked off their indenture, the cost of their transportation to the United States, and they stayed and became wives. But here you had a community that was dependent upon prostitution.

DMAE: I’m wondering the lasting legacy of the bachelor society to the Chinese-American institution. Because it still seems that Chinese refer to the uncle-bachelor and I don’t know if that’s a lasting legacy from the days when there were no women.

TAKAKI: Well, what are the lasting legacies of a bachelor society?

DMAE: Is there?

TAKAKI: I think that this was a Chinese-American community that was destined to disappear. Had it not been for that earthquake in San Francisco in 1906 because with that earthquake came the destruction of the municipal records, and it became possible for Chinese to claim that they were born in the United States and as citizens of the United States they could bring their wives to this country. And wives now came from China

TRACK 4 – 1:59

through Angel Island. But had it not been for that earthquake, probably the Chinese-American community would have disappeared by the 1920s, 1930s. but it wasn’t just that because not that many women came through Angel Island, but it was the Immigration Act of 1965 that opened the gate again to immigrants from Asia. That revitalized the Chinese-American community.

DMAE: That’s amazing it took that long too. 1965. So, I love what you said about Chinese society was destined to disappear. That’s almost like planning by excluding the women, you’re planning for this to be a temp. society. There were intermarriage, wasn’t there? There were some cases of Chinese men marrying white women. I don’t know if it was legal or not, but there are some cases.

TAKAKI: It was not legal, but I’m not sure that the laws against misogynation were enforced rigorously and we do have some evidence that Chinese men were marrying Irish women, for example. In New York Chinatown. But I can’t say how extensive this was, I’m not sure the evidence is there.

DMAE: I think it’s very minimal. Go ahead, let’s take a break.

TRACK 5 – 5:12

So what are the experiences or the differences between the Chinese that arrived and the Irish and I guess the blacks, is this the American west too that we’re talking about.

TAKAKI: With the Chinese, they were not allowed to bring women with them. With the Irish migration, 52% of the migrants were women, so it was okay for women from Ireland to enter the United States but not okay for Chinese women to enter the United States. Also, the Chinese were not allowed to become citizens, naturalized citizens because of the Naturalization Act of 1790, which specified that in order to be eligible for naturalization you would first have to be white. The Irish on the other hand were eligible for citizenship and became citizens and voted their members to city councils and to mayorships. They guaranteed jobs in fire departments and police departments to Irish immigrants. And so the Irish had access to the mainstream of America in the society as well as the economy as the Chinese had been limited and even excluded. But how is the Chinese experience related to African Americans. Well, they would not have been a migration of Chinese to America had not there been the expansion of cotton cultivation in the early 19th century. That advanced into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and also Texas. And Texas at that time was also part of Mexico. And the expansion of cotton into Texas led to the rebellion and the cessation of Texas from Mexico and the annexation of Texas. The annexation of Texas led to the war between the United States and Mexico, which ended in 1848. And in that treaty the United States annexed half of Mexico including all of California including, especially the bay of San Francisco. So you can see how the Chinese experience was also connected to the black experience. But it was also connected to the experiences of Native Americans because in order to expand cotton cultivation, Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws were removed from their homelands and forced to migrate to Oklahoma. And so when you look at the big picture, you can see that the Chinese experience was part of a larger American experience in the 19th century and it was a multi-cultural experience.

DMAE: That was a great comparison there. Are you talking about the differences that happened after the work?

TAKAKI: Not tonight. Tonight is how the groups crisscrossed each other and how they settled America. But for what happened afterwards you’ll have to read my books.

DMAE: Of course. And there will be copies there, right? Of your new book?

TAKAKI: No, it’s not a new book. It’s titled ‘A Different Mirror.’

DMAE: I have that book.

TAKAKI: My latest book is on World War II. It’s called ‘Double Victory.”

DMAE: Right. In all your years have you, do you find that the topic of multiculturalism is waning for people?

TAKAKI: No, it’s inclining. And the reason it’s inclining is the demography. The 2000 census showed that whites have become a minority in the state of California and what has happened in California will happen across the continent by 2026. Every American will belong to a minority group in 2026. In other words, we will all be minorities. Think about Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest where she exclaims ‘Oh brave new world that has such people in it.’ Well, such people will be a diverse people and so the demography is challenging what I call the master narrative of American history, this is the familiar, powerful, but mistaken story that America was settled by European immigrants and that Americans are white or European in ancestry, but the demography is forcing us to rethink the way we think about our history and rethink the way we think about who is an American.

DMAE: That’s so interesting to me…