Portland’s Chinese Immigrant History

July 5, 2016 10:18 am
by David Jakeman

Portland immigration attorneys who like immigration and history are in for a real treat. A recent exhibit traces the history of Chinese immigrants in Portland from the 19th Century to the 20th Century. The exhibit features fascinating pictures that transport the visitor back to the Portland’s Old and New Chinatowns. The rich, and challenging, history of Chinese immigrants in the United States is a very important topic, especially with issues of immigration playing out as hot topics on the campaign trail.

Portland’s Rich Immigrant History

Those familiar with Portland know it has a rich history of immigration, especially of Chinese immigrants. In 1848, gold was discovered in the West, which sent a slew of individuals with Chinese backgrounds to the West, including the Pacific Northwest. And many Chinese miners, cooks, washers, traders, merchants, and medical service providers also came. By the late 1800s, Chinatown in Portland was a thriving and bustling community, with prominent political leaders and businessmen.

These circumstances would face some challenges with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which stopped most immigration from China to the United States, especially workers. That was the only challenge. A large number of Chinese immigrants were kicked out of Oregon. But even with these developments, Portland still had the country’s second-largest Chinatown.

For Chinese immigrants, the Exclusion Act sent a message to Chinese immigrants that they were not welcome in the country, even if they thought they had made it. The Chinatown that existed in the late 1800s became known as Old Chinatown, as a new Chinatown emerged in a different part of the city. Growth overtook much of the Old Chinatown. As Portland continues to grow, there still remains much to be seen as to how the legacy of Chinese immigrants will be preserved.

Portland’s Two Exhibits

Part of an effort to recognize and remember the importance of Chinatown in Portland is the exhibit that lasted until June of this year. The exhibit was put together by the Oregon Historical Society, and it is called “Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portland’s Historic Chinatowns.” It charts the first business that was formed, the Hop Wo Laundry, and traces it through different events, including the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The museum also features another exhibit that explores the historic New-York Chinatown that charts the overall history of Chinese immigrants in the United States. It explores the segregation of the Chinese population throughout history, and it is really a fascinating look at the rich Chinese immigrant experience.1 Both exhibits are well worth your time, whether you’re a Portland immigration attorney or a Portland hipster.

1 – http://portlandtribune.com/pt/11-features/298221-175018-being-a-citizen-being-chinese

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