One of the first rules of blogging is to provide useful information, not just historical perspective. Another important rule is: Don’t bury the lede. In this post, I violate both.
But it’s a familiar scenario. There’s an economic downturn and unemployment rises. As unemployment rises, people complain to their politicians that immigrants are taking their jobs. In response, the politicians push through legislation intended to address the issue.
While this could describe the current situation in Alabama or Arizona or any of a number of states, it applies equally well to the situation in California 150 years ago. Next month is the 150th anniversary of California’s passage of “An Act to Protect Free White Labor Against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, And to Discourage the Immigration of the Chinese into the State of California.” It’s shorter title was the Anti-Coolie Act.
Among other things, the Act imposed a $2.50 tax per month on anyone “of the Mongolian race” who applied to work in a mine or to pursue any kind of business (other than certain agricultural jobs). $2.50 may not be much by today’s standards. But at the time, it was more than half what most Chinese workers earned in a month. This was just one of many legislative enactments that targeted Chinese immigrants during this time.
So forgive my historical digression and blatant violation of the rules of blogging. But I think this period of institutionalized discrimination often gets overlooked and that the comparison to the current debate regarding immigrant rights is striking.