Chink Smuggling From Cuba

       Some early Chinese immigrants who did not hold papers that would enable them to enter the United States turned to smugglers who, for a price, would attempt to sneak them across either the Canadian or Mexican borders.
      In the late 19th century, both borders were somewhat porous and with some luck, smuggling "Chinks" as Chinese were often derisively called was a thriving enterprise.  Those who failed to evade border agents would be jailed and then deported.
     A less obvious source of smuggled Chinese was Cuba, where since the mid 19th century over 100,000 Chinese worked as coolie or indentured laborers under very adverse conditions.  The testimonies of almost 3,000 coolies in 1876 at the Cuba Commission hearings exposed the slave like status and gross mistreatment of Chinese sugar plantation laborers. (See The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves of Cuba. By Lisa Yun. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008) 
      Contract laborers could not easily escape their situation, but those few who succeeded often turned to smugglers who could bring them from Cuba to the U. S.  An Alabama newspaper article published in The Anniston Star on January 31, 1925, reported that when smugglers realized how lucrative "rum-running" from Cuba to the United States was, they soon added the smuggling of "Chinks" into Florida and other Southern border towns. (The resolution of the entire article is poor, but below is a paragraph that highlights the origins of this practice).


Are You Looking in the Right Place for Your Chinese Immigrant Ancestors?

         As people get older, their drive to find out more about their origins in China increases. But finding records and information about earlier Chinese immigrants to the United States can be daunting and unsuccessful for many reasons, not the least of which is looking in the wrong place.

       While it seems natural to search for immigrants who entered on the west coast, especially San Francisco or even Seattle, there were a fair number of Chinese who crossed either the northern border from Canada or the southern border from Mexico in the days when these borders were more porous.

      Using familysearch.org, a search was made for three fairly common Chinese surnames, Wong, Chin, and Yee, to see how many of them entered the U. S. from Canada between 1895 and 1956 and from Mexico between 1903 and 1957.

        The figures below are inexact as a few Wongs, Chins, and Yees might not be Chinese, but probably most were.  In contrast, many of the Lee immigrants crossing both borders were not Chinese as Lee is a name for some nonChinese so it isn't possible to give a count without examining each case individually.

                       from Canada         from Mexico
Wong                 3,610                       1,794

Chin                   2,903                          968

Yee                    1,017                           542

Two sample displays for CHINs from Canada and from Mexico below illustrate some of the information available on an immigrant in the database.

In conclusion, the point is not to compare how many Chinese with these surnames came from Canada and Mexico, but to suggest that if you can not find an ancestor on U.S. databases, try looking both north and south of the border because a good number of Chinese came across these borders, especially if they were illegal immigrants.


Chinese in Virginia City, Nevada During Comstock Silver Lode Mining 1870s-1880s

The Comstock silver lode discovered in 1859 created an overnight  booming mining town, Virginia City, Nevada with a jump from 4,000 to 25,000 residents within a few years.  

Chinese, who came to represent ten percent of Virginia City residents, referred to Nevada as Yin Shan, or "Silver Mountain," in contrast to Gum San, or "Gold Mountain," their term for California where gold was discovered in 1849 at Sutter's Mill.

Whereas Chinese immigrants in many small towns across the country during the 1880s worked almost entirely as laundrymen, and then cooks,  Chinese in Virginia City were involved in numerous occupations as early as 1870.  Two sample pages from the 1870 Census shows Chinese were merchants, miners, laborers, laundrymen, cooks, gamblers, and harlots.

A decade later Virginia City was still thriving and there was a large increase in the Virginia City population, including Chinese, and other immigrants. A sample page from the 1880 Census lists Chinese doctors, restaurant owners, along with gamblers and prostitutes who, it might be noted  had been labelled "harlots" in the 1870 census.

Eventually the silver mines closed, and during the 1880s Virginia City became a virtual ghost town as it suffered a rapid decline in its population and prosperity as the miners left.  The Chinese population also underwent a big drop.


Mother sponsors brother and his family from China

         Family unification is one of the main goals of U. S. immigration policy.  Accordingly after my father died in 1973, my mother soon decided that she would apply to sponsor her brother to come over from China.  She had never met him as she immigrated to the U. S. from China in 1928 but he was not born until around 1937.  I am sure she would not have been able to make this major decision when my father was still alive because in Chinese families, men traditionally have control over these types of matters.

Nonetheless she felt that she should help her brother and his family consisting of his wife, two sons and one daughter come to the United States. Her brother, and his wife, in their 60s, understandably, were reluctant to come to the U. S. at their age especially since they did not speak and understand English but realized that it would be an opportunity for their three adult children.  

The process was arduous.  She had to go through a lot of red tape in making the application which was delayed for many years before it finally was approved.  The petition she filed for one of her nephews, Kwan Wai Ping, illustrates just part of the required documentation.

Despite all her efforts and success in helping her brother and his family immigrate to the U. S., eventually her brother and his wife decided to return to China, as did their daughter.

Below is a picture my mother and her brother after he arrived. mom brings brother kwan over.jpg


A visit to North Adams, MA., site of the Sampson shoe factory that hired young Chinese as strikebreakers in 1870

            During my visit in 2016 to Williamstown, MA. in conjunction with a Williams College performance of South of Gold Mountain by the H.T. Chen Dance Center of New York, H. T. Chen took me to nearby North Adams, where in 1870 Calvin Sampson recruited 75 Chinese boys and men to work in his shoe factory rather than meet the demands of Crispin Irish workers who were on strike.

 H. T. Chen viewing the historical display in North Adams.
The original factory  building no longer exists and a new building is on the site.  Fortunately, a local historical museum had an informative display about the lives and experiences of these Chinese who travelled across the continent to a place where it is unlikely that any previous Chinese had ever been.

The young Chinese were quick to adapt to many American ways such as how to dress American style as illustrated in the photo below of three very dapper looking young Chinese.


           Lue Gim Gong, an Unusual 12 year old Chinese boy  

       When he was 12 years old, Lue Gim Gong sailed from China to San Francisco with his uncle and some other boys where they lived briefly before moving to North Adams, Massachusetts to work in the Sampson Shoe Factory with other young Chinese boys and men as strikebreakers.  
         Lue Gim Gong was frail and became ill. The daughter of a local farmer, Fanny Burlingame, took him in and nursed him back to health. Lue became a Christian and a US citizen while under her care. In1886, he and Miss Fanny moved to DeLand, FL because Massachusetts winters were too harsh for him. He and Miss Fanny's brother-in-law Mr. William Dumville planted oranges and other fruit trees. Lue was a promising horticulturist and in1888, he produced a new orange which ripened in the early fall and which was bright and sweet called the Lue Gim Gong orange, which helped develop Florida's citrus economy.  There is a monument in DeLand, FL., in tribute to his genius.


Chinese Transcontinental Railroad Workers: Faceless but not Nameless

This photograph made on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah that memorialized the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad with the driving of the "Golden Spike" failed to include even a handful of the thousands of Chinese laborers without whose incredible work the line would taken longer to be completed.

Although historical documents rendered them "faceless" and left out of the commemorative celebration, at least their names are a part of the permanent record of the 1870 U. S. Census.  Below are a sample of these Chinese who were residing in Box Elder County, Utah where the Central Pacific Railroad from the west joined the Union Pacific Railroad coming from the midwest.

Note that most of their names were of the "Ah Wong" variety.  Even though none of them were actually named "Ah," early Census takers mistakenly heard Chinese say, Ah, before they gave their names.

It is valuable to examine the Chinese presence in the region a decade later with the 1880 Census.  It might tell us if many Chinese were in Box Elder County after the railroad was completed.  There were some Chinese there in 1880 working for the railroad. Whether they were from the original workers or represent new laborers is not clear.  However,  other Chinese came to the region who did not work on the railroad as the sample page from the 1880 Census shows. By 1880, Box Elder County had Chinese in many other lines of work: laundry, restaurant, grocer, tailor, prostitute, doctor, engineer.  
And, none of these Chinese are named "Ah."


Chinese Immigrants Supported Family Back in Their Home Villages

Even as a young child, I knew that my father sent periodic remittances to help his family back in Hoiping back in the 1940s.  I later learned that this was a common practice for Chinese immigrants in North America to help family members back in the villages financially.

I didn't know how often or how much father sent, or how much he could afford to provide. After all, growing up I always had the feeling that we were fairly poor ourselves.  But I definitely knew my mother often complained bitterly that my father did not permit her to send money back to her family. This situation reflected the dominant role of the husband in the traditional Chinese family, and was a source of periodic marital conflict for my parents.

Not too long ago, I discovered a heart-wrenching letter that my mother's younger sister back in the home village sent her in 1951. A friend translated it into English.  She was desperately begging my father and mother to send money to help her and her children get shelter and food as they were literally living on the street.

I don't know how my mother responded, but surely she must have agonized over it, and my guess is that my father was not supportive. This situation was certainly not unique for my parents but probably faced by many other Chinese immigrants in North America.


"Chinese" Restaurants in the Mississippi Delta in 1880?

In 1880, there were few Chinese in the American South.  The Mississippi Delta had the largest number of Chinese east of the Mississippi and below the Mason-Dixon line in 1880.  Most of them were small grocer store owners or laborers.

The 1880 federal census did identify, however, three restaurants operated by Chinese. But should they be considered "Chinese restaurants" since it is highly unlikely that they would have served or their customers would have wanted Chinese food.  Remember, even chop suey, the dish that became the most popular or at least well known offering for non-Chinese was totally unknown anywhere in the U. S. until around 1900.

In the clippings below, we see that Nee Gaw was a restaurant keeper (the census taker's term) in Yazoo City, and he had 2 cooks born in China to Chinese parents.  In Leflore, 2 brothers ran a restaurant (their names got mangled by the census taker and don't look Chinese, but the record indicates they were born in China to Chinese parents) And, in Silver City, 20 year old Henry Hong was a restaurant keeper.

So, in one sense these are "Chinese" restaurants, but in another sense, they are not.  They are just restaurants operated by Chinese that served American food and probably nothing resembling Chinese food.  But since we have no access to their menus, who knows for sure?


19th Century Political Cartoons And Chinese Immigrants

Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was an illustrator and cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly from 1857 to 1887. He might be considered the pioneer political cartoonist and his work was highly influential on public opinion. In his 30-year career with the magazine, Nast drew approximately 2,250 cartoons, including 46 related to "the Chinese Question." Nast’s Chinese drawings align with Harper’s Weekly editorial position of inclusion and tolerance for all immigrants. They depicted the plight faced by the Chinese created by anti-Chinese feelings and generally contributed a rare, positive voice for Chinese American immigrants – setting him apart from the work of his peers.

In contrast, George F. Keller, cartoonist for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp, an illustrated weekly magazine of “commentary and satire” often took cruel aim at the Chinese by exaggerating physical and cultural differences with his drawings to create fear and animosity toward Chinese in the American public. 
Keller’s images were some of the most vile distortions against the Chinese in California. In the four images below, Keller attacked two clergymen, Gibson and Loomis, who in defense of Chinese immigrants in 1877 testified to a Senate Committee of California that they were of "good character." Keller's cartoons, however, questioned whether they were peaceable, clean, honest, and suggested they were likely to have children with white women.

More details about the work of Thomas Nast and other political cartoons about topics other than Chinese immigrants can be found on the excellent website created by Michele Walfred.



Interracial Marriages of Chinese Men to White Women: II

 The majority of Chinese laborers who came to the U. S. in the late 19th and early 20th century were bachelors, or if married, left the wives in China.  There were very few Chinese women in the U. S. especially after the Page Act of 1875 restricting entry of Chinese women other than those smuggled in by Chinatown tongs and forced into being sex slaves.  Under these circumstances, only a small number of Chinese men married, and among the few who did, most married white women.  A previous post described several instances of marriages between Chinese men and white women in the late 19th and early 20th century and the reactions, often negative, of the mothers of the white women and of the American public. These reactions varied in different regions of the country. While such marriages in the West or South met strong disapproval, in New York City and parts of New England, they faced less criticism.  A look at two mixed race marriages below illustrates how different the reactions could be.

Example of Wong Suey and Sarah Burke (1883)

In 1883 Wong Suey, a Chinese laundryman in Santa Cruz, California and an adolescent white girl, Sarah Burke, who worked as a domestic in a hotel. They wanted to marry but local opposition was so strong, they decided to seek a marriage license in San Francisco. Arriving in San Francisco Chinatown they rented a room in a brothel for the night intending to get married the next day.  Police, however,  discovered Sarah and Wong there and arrested them. Wong was charged with a felony in having lodged a girl under age in a house of ill-fame, while Sarah was booked for residing in a house of prostitution. San Francisco newspapers covered the case extensively for several days.  

The San Francisco newspaper reporter wrote: 
"Sarah is an orphan without any competent advisers or guardians, .... there was opposition of the people of Santa Cruz to the union of a Chinese with a Caucasian. ...The girl claims to be 20 years of age, though the police discredit the statement. In appearance she is rather pretty, her large black eyes strangely illuminating her somewhat expressionless face. Her figure shows more plainly than her words why she is unable to take care of herself, being with child some five months....Wong Suey has strong Caucasian features, and is by no means a poor specimen of his race. 

A few days later, Sarah Burke had to appear before before the Commissioners of Insanity. She had been arraigned on the complaint of her father, Winifred Burke, who deemed the fact of her infatuation for a repulsive Chinese sufficient grounds for believing that she had lost her reason. The Commissioners weighed the evidence and concluded that while she was evidently suffering from a moral eclipse,  her mental trouble did not, in their opinion, come within the meaning of the law. A report to that effect was made to Judge Finn, who had been asked to conduct this examination, and thereupon she was discharged. 

The young couple still faced the problem that the law forbade marriages between Caucasians and Mongolians, and they were advised to execute a civil marriage contract in writing.

Example of Yung Wing and Mary Kellogg (1875)

Yung Wing was a highly educated man and was the first Chinese graduate of Yale University.  He later headed the Chinese Educational Mission, an experimental project to bring 30 young Chinese boys to study in New England in hopes that they could return to China and bring Western ideas to help China enter the modern world.
in the spring of 1875 Yung Wing married a white woman, Mary Kellogg, who came from a well-to-do family in Connecticut. Their marriage was well-accepted and even lauded by many. The account of the nuptials that appeared in newspapers across the country read much the same as it would have been for marriages involving white couples, complete with a description of the attire of the bride and groom, who attended, who officiated, and what foods were served, and honeymoon plans.

Although these two mixed race marriages took place within a few years of each other, they met with completely opposite reactions. Yung Wing was well respected and Mary Kellogg came from a prominent Connecticut family.  On the other hand, Wong Suey was only a laundryman and Sarah Burke was an adolescent girl of humble origin. During this era, the Yung Wing marriage to Mary Kellogg was the exception rather than the rule.


Chinese Exclusion Act Created A Market for Chinese Sex Slaves

           The Chinese Exclusion Act was proposed to prohibit the immigration of Chinese laborers to protect jobs of white workers. It was passed in 1882 for 10 years but extended for decades until 1943 before it was repealed. 
           This legislation also prevented many Chinese immigrants already in the United States from bringing wives and children from China.   
             As a consequence, it unintentionally created a lucrative opportunity for Chinese tongs to bring Chinese women to the United States, many only just past puberty, for sexual purposes.  They deceived many of these women and led them to believe they would be married off to wealthy Chinese bachelors or “Gold Mountain men.” Instead, they were held captive and forced to become “sex slaves.”  
        Unlike “prostitutes,” who could be said to have some degree of choice in deciding their sexual lives, the “sex slaves” had no control over any aspects of their lives.

           The front page of the San Francisco Call on May 3, 1900 described in detail the devious method that unscrupulous Chinese tongs devised to bring over young Chinese girls with false documents on ships of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.  They made huge profits by selling the girls into slavery to fulfill the sexual needs of the thousands of bachelor Chinese laborers, not to mention the sexual desires of American men.  

       Such profiteering from the exploitation of Chinese women was not limited to Chinese organizations. Some Chinese who had American born daughters would send them to China to live. They could then sell their documents to women in China who wanted to emigrate to the United States in hopes of a better life, only to be sold into slavery. 
            Three young Chinese girls who escaped their captors and received refuge at Chinatown Mission Houses in 1897 claimed that their own mothers had sold them into slavery. Their captors argued that the girls were stolen from them, and threatened one mother that if she could not bring her daughter back, she would receive "a touch of Chinese justice."

     The magnitude of the problem led to a petition to the President of the United States requesting that there be an end to the enslavement of Chinese women into forced prostitution.

        It is not known how many signatures were submitted on the petition and whether it had any impact on the problem.
             Concerned Protestant missionaries led by Donaldina Cameron who led police raids to rescue many sex slaves in San Francisco testified in 1901about the extent of the problem and urged city officials and police take action to terminate this deplorable exploitation of Chinese women as sex slaves.  
         A newspaper article in 1919 asserted that the Chinese sex slave problem was  being solved and that the work of missionaries such as Donaldina Cameron was instrumental in rescuing many girls and bringing the problem to the attention of the public.
        In addition, by the 1920s there were more American-born Chinese women who were prospective brides for Chinese immigrant men. By then, society became more tolerant toward marriages of Chinese immigrant laborers and non-Chinese women. These factors reduced the demand for Chinese sex slaves.

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