On Gold Mountain

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On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family written by Lisa See is an inspirational narrative depicting her Chinese families experiences and struggles immigrating to the west coast of America during the 19th and 20th century. The author was effective in telling her families story. There were similarities and differences between the Fong family’s experiences and the Chinese community’s immigration experiences as a whole. Immigration to America was a phenomenon for Chinese people in the late 19th century in search of “Gold Mountain”. This was a term in Chinese culture to describe economic opportunity in the state of California after gold was found. The title of the book is a very appropriate metaphor for expressing Fong See’s determination and success in America in the sense of him conquering Gold Mountain. This paper will compare Fong See’s family’s immigrant experiences to that of the Chinese immigrant community collectively. Of focus will be the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the significance of Chinese ethnic enclaves, the treatment and role of Chinese women within American culture, the difficulties that the Chinese immigrants had with assimilating to American culture, and the negative attitudes towards the Chinese on all levels in America. Analyzing Chinese assimilation and the negative attitudes towards the group will be done in the same section because of the similarities between the two themes. All of these themes will be compared to the experience of Fong See and his family in America. The California gold rush of 1848 brought huge economic attention to the west coast of America and this attracted thousands of immigrants from all over the world. The state’s population increased from 15,000 to 250,000 in the four year period after gold was discovered. Chinese immigrants were seen as the most worthy of the newly adopted citizens by the Governor of California due to their strong work ethic and low compensation demands. Chinese workers were treated fairly and with respect however discrimination towards the group accelerated when the supply of the state’s golden resource began to deplete. Racial discrimination became so severe that the United States federal government intervened with their resolution. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 symbolized the first time that one group has been labelled undesirable by the United States government when they stopped nationalizing Chinese citizens and intended on banning Chinese immigration for a period of 10 years. The act did not apply to Chinese labourers already in America as of November 17, 1880. The act also set up an identification system where if one of these legitimate immigrants were to leave the United States, they needed to acquire a return certificate in order to re-enter the country. When they returned, their certificate would be compared with the government’s permanent identification records and if it matched then the certificate holder was allowed on the mainland. If the two did not match then they were not allowed in the country. The act did not limit the immigration rights of merchants, diplomats, and other non-labourers. These people were members of the exempt class. To ensure that immigrants who fell into this category were who they claimed to be, the Chinese government was forced to issue descriptive certificates in English saying the status of the immigrant. This was the most important piece of evidence for the individual to enter the country. The Exclusion Act was very effective as proved in On Gold Mountain. In the year 1882, nearly 40,000 Chinese came to California and this plummeted to a mere 26 six years later once immigration tightened. Throughout the story of Fong See and his family’s lives, they struggled with the issues of Chinese immigration and exclusion. On Gold Mountain provides evidence of how difficult it was for Chinese immigrants to travel and re-enter the country because of the...
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