Thursday, March 8, 2007

Park reviews Lee, At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era

Erika Lee, At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943 (University of North Carolina Press, 2003) is reviewed by John S. W. Park, University of California, Santa Barbara, in the Law and History Review. Park writes, in part:
"How did the Chinese exclusion laws affect the Chinese in America? And how did they transform the United States into a gatekeeping nation, in which immigration restriction—largely based on race and nationality—came to determine the very makeup of the nation and American national identity?" (6) To address these questions, Lee analyzed government records, Chinese-language newspapers, and the private records left by the Chinese themselves. She presents a compelling, readable narrative where she argues that the systems of control and exclusion developed during the Chinese Exclusion era have come to dominate immigration policy.
Efforts toward exclusion came from the West Coast, and many white leaders there were immigrants themselves from various parts of Europe. As "suspect whites," they found an expedient cause through which they could both protect the value of their labor and promote white supremacy. Soon after the Exclusion Act of 1882, these leaders controlled a new bureaucracy to stop Chinese immigration....
The second part of her book shows the impact of these laws and of their enforcement. Many who still attempted entry either avoided the authorities or lied to them. The Chinese smuggled themselves into the country, often across the Canadian and Mexican borders. Lee shows how the American government tried both diplomacy and policing, but ultimately, the complex, illegal methods of entry frequently relied on the cooperation of "corrupt immigration officials, and other government employees in China, the United States, and throughout the Americas" (193)....
[B]ecause so many relied on illegal methods of entry, the Chinese community in America was extremely fragile.

For the full review, click here.