Portland Immigration Stories (Part I)

July 12, 2016 10:23 am
by David Jakeman

The Oregonian recently published a number of interesting stories of family stories from Chinese-American families who faced exclusion in the past. Some Portland immigration attorneys may not know it, but the Chinese Exclusion Acts that began in the 1880s continued at some level until the 1940s. This was important for Oregon, since more than 10,000 Oregon residents in 1900 were of Chinese background.

Exclusion Acts

The Exclusion Acts made life difficult for the Chinese looking to make new lives in the United States. They suspended Chinese immigration and required Chinese people to carry identification while traveling in and out of the country. Oregon was not necessarily a safe harbor. Many immigrants were banned from voting, holding public positions, going to public schools, and they faced large obstacles in becoming naturalized citizens.

Such difficulties have actually made it so some Chinese-American families don’t speak of how their ancestors entered the country, for fear of being deportation. This can be true even if their predecessors came several decades before. There are also still memories of how Chinese were prohibited from buying homes in different areas of Oregon. The stories of exclusion provide us with a glimpse of the past, and the difficulty of discrimination that can still exist today.

Immigration Stories

Most Portland immigration attorneys are too young to remember the discrimination of the past, but these stories help explain the challenges that Chinese immigrants faced in coming to the United States. One story tells of a Chinese family working creatively to circumvent immigration laws. Elaborate documents and stories had to be concocted in order to facilitate moving.

One of the biggest ironies of the Chinese Exclusion Acts is that they created a large amount of paperwork that preserved the history of Chinese immigrants. The Exclusion Act made a whole set of records for those of Chinese ancestry wanting to come to the United States. They were photographed, asked questions, and even detailed maps of home villages. So in a way, the Exclusion Acts ultimately helped to preserve Chinese heritage. 1

1 – http://www.oregonlive.com/history/2016/02/oregon_chinese_exclusion.html

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