Monday, September 11, 2017

Angel Island (part two)

America's issues with immigration go way back before Joe Arpaio. In fact, they could be said to have started right here in California. And, really, for all of the same issues. In a nutshell, the Chinese and other Asians flooded into California during the gold rush, much like people from the rest of the world. And there was plenty of cheap labor for them, especially with the construction of the transcontinental railroad. However, when the gold rush died down and the railroad was complete, there was a glut of available bodies in the labor market, and white dudes got scared of losing their jobs, which was the same sort of fear as it is today, considering the Chinese generally did the kinds of low-paying jobs that whites wouldn't take.

But fear is fear.

Or something like that.
All of this lead to the Chinese Exclusion Act which lasted for six decades. Sixty years! During that time, because the Chinese Exclusion Act lead to discrimination against all Asian immigrants, Asians trying to come to America were detained at Angel Island. For weeks. At least. For comparison, European (white) immigrants coming into the United States through Ellis Island had a processing time of a few hours; Asians coming in through Angel Island had a processing time of almost a month. The men were detained in the building pictured above and WERE NOT ALLOWED TO GO OUTSIDE for the duration of their "detention." Now, while I said that the processing time was generally about a month, it was often quite a bit longer than that. Months. Sometimes more than a year.

It wasn't so bad for the women and children... unless you count the part where they were taken away from their husbands and fathers and kept somewhere else. But, hey, they were allowed some brief moments outside.

To deal with the loneliness and depression, the men carved poems into the walls of the detention center.
And here is a translation of one of the poems:
"It's useless to be friends with those of narrow mind."
And, you know, narrow-mindedness is a hallmark of conservatives. It's a fear thing, actually, because fear makes people narrow minded, unable to see possibilities, and conservatives tend to live on fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of others.
That's not an opinion, by the way; it's what research shows.

One of the things that's been said quite a bit by those on the Right who support all of Trump's #fakepresident racist immigration policies (not to mention the Nazis and white supremacists) is, "It's not like we haven't done this kind of thing before." As if a past misdeed makes a future misdeed okay. In fact, the acknowledgement of a past misdeed, like Angel Island or the Japanese internment centers during WWII, should be motivation to not repeat the same mistake.

It's to cut out all of this white supremacist and Nazi bullshit.


  1. Just after he was elected, one of Trump's lackeys cited the Japanese internment camps as precedent for the immigration ban.

    It's important to remember that Roosevelt -- lauded these days -- proposed the interment camps and 6 of his 8 appointees backed them in a 6-3 vote in Korematsu v. US. The decision was in part backed by false evidence submitted to the courts, and also by withholding other material evidence showing a lack of spying.

    Any time people are scared they will lash out. What's different about the Trump era is that there was in fact a real threat back then, in that we were at war with a known enemy. That didn't make it right, but it provided a real, as opposed to spurious, justification for the exclusions.

    Americans today have been trained to fear, despite the fact that Americans have never been safer. The security state is justified by the lack of justifications for it: there are not attacks, they say, because our security measures have prevented them. But like the man who keeps sharks away by putting a banana in his ear, we don't know if the sharks were ever near.

    1. Briane: Yeah, I heard that when it happened, which is part of what I was thinking about when I was writing this.
      However, the Chinese Exclusion Act was pretty much just as spurious as what is happening today, a bunch of white men worried that the Chinese were going to take jobs they didn't want anyway. There was a reason that it was largely the Chinese who built the western end of the transcontinental railroad; it was HARD work and white men didn't want to do it. They felt like it was beneath them. So they didn't mind the Chinese when it meant that they were accomplishing something that they wanted done without having to do it but, after, they were scared they's come for their own jobs even though that was never in the cards.

  2. There's this weird mentality with the right. A lot of big industries, like agriculture for example, rely on immigrant labor. But they also rely on them being "illegal" because it means that they don't have to be paid minimum wage and can basically be treated however the companies want because if they complain, they'll just be shipped out. I'm sure the same was true when the Chinese Exclusion act was passed. They didn't want to have to treat them like people because that would cost too much.

  3. But try to tell them that they don't have to live in fear, and they'll argue right back at you. Sad. You'd think we'd have learned these lessons by now, but apparently not.

  4. Wow. That poem is powerful, even through translation. And it makes me sad that it seems like there has been a new group of immigrants to hate going back almost to the establishment of our country, the Chinese, the Irish, the Italians, the Jewish... for the past couple of decades it's been Latinos. I'm sure I'm skipping others that that just didn't cross my mind.

    But there is always a boogyman out there to corrupt our children, or commit crimes against us. Even the most vague awareness of history has to make someone stop and think if maybe this time is nothing more than xenophobic rhetoric just like all the others.

    1. Rusty: It is a powerful poem.
      And it's so appropriate to a particular orange dumpster fire raging through the country.

      Unfortunately, people don't have even a vague awareness of history. At least, USAmericans don't.