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Chinese and Irish Immigration to the United States

The United States is referred as the land of opportunity because many people have immigrated there and become successful. America population is made of immigrants who came from other continents. The Native Americans were Red Indians who were absorbed by other communities who migrated and settled in America. America encouraged free and open immigration in the 19th and 18th centuries. The policy encouraged people to migrate and develop the nation. However, after the population of the immigrants rose in the late 1800 which resulted in worse economic condition, the Congress began to impose tough immigration legislation. The paper compares the phases of the migration process between the Irish in Boston and Chinese in CA. The paper will emphasize the origins, flows, economic incorporation, settlement, and social-political adaptation. In addition, the role of race and ethnicity in the two group economic incorporation, settlement adaptation will be also discussed in the paper.

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Origins of the Immigrants

A large number of Irish immigrants to America in the first half of the 19th century mainly comprised of middle-class protestant tradesmen seeking opportunities to trade in America. The Protestants originated mainly from the northern provinces of Ireland. There were also lower class catholic immigrants escaping the pervasive economic hardships in Ireland. The Irish potatoes famine which resulted in the deaths of over one million men and women due to starvation and disease exacerbated the immigration. Most of the lower class catholic immigrants originated from the Connaught and Munster counties in the southern provinces of Ireland. As the famine in Ireland continued, there was a huge influx of Irish immigrants to America totaling to almost 2 million to Irish immigrants. Unlike the Chinese where men were the one who immigrated to America, the Irish migrated with their whole families.

There were several reasons as to why the Irish were attracted to immigrate to America. Unlike the Chinese who immigrated to search for wealth most, Irish immigrants were drawn to the high Protestants majority in America. They felt that they would feel less out of place there because they could interact easily with the Protestants majority. However, for the Catholic immigrants the will and desire to survive motivated them to move to America in search of unskilled labor in the thriving American urban areas. They targeted the specifically the construction and textile industries because these were in great demand for unskilled laborers.


Most of the Irish immigrants settled primarily in the Northeast areas of America such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Over quarter a million immigrants who settled in Boston opted for Massachusetts. Immigrants who did not settle in New York, Boston or Philadelphia moved on to settle in places as far as Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans.

The Irish immigrants received a hostile reception like Chinese immigrants in CA, especially in Boston where majority of the population was made up of descendants of English puritans who were very aware of their history with some who could proudly recite their lineage a century before. They felt that the Irish immigrants were putting their city through a social revolution that was not necessary. The Irish were greatly despised because of their poor mastery of the English language, their lack of skills and their high levels of illiteracy. This kind of hostility made the Irish seek refuge among their kind like the Chinese.

Unlike the Chinese, who made their settlements, Irish were renting houses. They experienced poor living standards as they were forced to settle in crowded rooms with their families. The landlords took advantage by dividing a house meant to house only three families in numerous small rooms that provided shelter for almost a hundred Irish immigrants. Some areas along the Boston waterfront such as Battery march and Broad Streets became exclusively for the Irish immigrants. In order to survive and to afford the exorbitant rent fees that the landlords charged, the Irish had to seek any form of unskilled employment that they could find.

Economic Incorporation

Being illiterate, unskilled and facing language barriers, the Irish had no choice but to work in areas that the rest of the society considered too lowly by the American population. This enhanced the disregard for their rights and resentment from the Americans, and the Bostonians considered them a servant race. Most women work as house help who were called Irish maid. Irish men were employed in the industries and factories in odd jobs such as pushing carts and unloading ships and were referred to as paddy. Women were employed to work as domestic workers and were referred to as Bridgets or biddys. Their lack of skills saw them face a lot of discrimination in the work area. Notices such as No Irish Need apply (NINA) were common in workplaces

Socio-political Adaptation

Since the Irish did not have much to spend on recreational, social activities, most of them preferred to spend time together telling stories, reciting poems and gossiping. Their state of desperation and poverty united them. The Irish were also resented because they engage in heavy alcohol consumption. They were referred to bumbling, erratic and pugnacious drunks.

The late half of the 19th century was characterized by the Irish playing their hand and in politics. Some of the Irish men rose above the stereotypes to become ward bosses heading influential political parties in the cities. They would act mediators between the political parties that promised better-living standard opportunities to the Irish if they voted for them. The Irish men therefore realized that the only way to improve their status in Boston lay in the local ballot. Irish men allowed to vote in Boston ensured that they voted in a way that they could not be politically ignored. Slowly, the later Irish generations gained recognition in the political field by joining the Democratic Party, and they were soon running for political offices in the city councils and later in the mayors office

Chinese Immigration

In the mid-1800, Chinese workers migrated to the United States of America to work in the gold mines, factories and also in the agricultural sector. Those who were working in the factories specialized in the garment industry. They were also instrumental in the railway line building. As the Chinese population grew, some started to be entrepreneurs. The number of Chinese continued to increase that resulted in anti-Chinese sentiment. In 1855, Chang Yong case that they filed in order to acquire citizenship was ruled against them. The Chinese were not white, therefore under 1790 Naturalization Act they cannot acquire citizenship.

Chinese in California (CA)

Chinese explorers were said that they sailed to California centuries BC. However, there are no relevant materials that can validate this information. The earliest documented that explained the arrival of the Chinese to California date from mid-19 century. There was gold that was discovered in the river in California in 1848 and the information about the gold discovery was spread by the sailors across Europe and Asia. Among the first people to learn about gold in California were from Kwangtung Province in China. At this time, the Ching Dynasty was facing many challenges such as flood and famine. The Dynasty was also facing rebellion from the Tai Ping. Therefore, their economy was unstable. The tradition and the law were for the locals to travel to CA, but the high rate of poverty and the desire to become rich faster made some people to travel. Those who traveled later inform those who were left behind on the huge deposit of gold in California. Hence, this information triggered the wave of Chinese to migrate to California. According to the first rough census that was conducted in the year 1852, there were about 30,000 Chinese in California at this time and majority of them were from Kwangtung.

Those who migrated to California were mostly teenagers or those in their early twenties. They were also mostly male, single and were not educated. Their purpose was to fetch enough wealth so that they can return to their motherland. Therefore, there were not assimilated into California community since they protected their traditional lifestyle. Their foods, language, and tradition set them aside from other miners. In addition, they were living in groups and quickly there was Chinese settlement in town, mines, and cities that emerged. The largest settlement was San Francisco Chinatown.

During the early days of the Gold Rush, Chinese miners were working hard in groups while the Anglo-Europeans were mostly working alone or with a few partners. As a result, they become more successful than other miners, and this resulted in violence by Anglo-European miners who targeted the Chinese. Popular opinion in California saw Chinese settlers as irrelevant, secretive, dangerous and mysterious. Many felt that Chinese should be denied the right to mine gold, and they should also not allowed to migrate to United States. The Chinese were forced by Anglo-European miners to leave their mines and take over mines that were worked and abandoned. However, their hard work made these mines profitable and as results, other miners were irritated. In the year 1850, a tax that targeted Chinese miners was introduced. The Chinese were also argued to undercut the wages of white workingmen. However, in the effort to cool down the heat, Chinese leaders supported the foreign miner tax and they even assisted the government in collecting the tax but this did not stop hostility toward Chinese.

Other Economic Incorporation of Chinese

After the gold mines had gone down, most Chinese workers found jobs in the railroad industry. They constructed First Transcontinental Railroad that linked California and Eastern United States. The railway construction work begins in the year 1863 and since there were no enough European workers, many Chinese who were working as miners were recruited to provide labor. They were exploited because they were given risky job and poor payments. Unlike their Europeans counterpart, Chinese laborers were not given accommodation money. Even though they were considered not strong enough to build the railway line, they constructed the entire Central Pacific track, and they finished the project earlier than the government deadline.


Another economic activity of the Chinese was farming. California had a favorable climate that was suitable for growing wheat, vegetables, and fruits. The demand for these agricultural products was high, but the transport system was not good to meet the demand that was outside California. However, after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, most Chinese were hired by white settlers to work in their large-scale farming and other agricultural sectors. Since, Chinese workers were experienced, they were able to reclaim many hectares of land for agriculture and also controlling flooding.

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Monterey Chinese fishing village was discovered in California. Therefore, these show that there were a number of Chinese who were good fishermen along Pearl River Delta. During the early 1850, Chinese founded a strong fishing economy along the Californian coast that grew up exponentially to other coastal regions. They used their small boats to trap different species of fishes such as sharks, cod, and sole just to mention a few. They also had advanced skills in catching large fishes that formed their staple food that is the Chinese cuisine. The market for their catch was available locally while some of the catches were preserved and shipped to another market in the East Asia and Hawaii.

The Chinese also worked as housekeepers, domestic servants, running restaurant just to mention a few. They worked in different fields where they were accepting low wages because most of them had families in their motherland where the cost of living was low.

Social Political Adaptation

Since there was racial discrimination in California, Chinese settlers tried their best not oppose or interfere with the European settlers. First, they were not interacting with other communities even in their place of working. They preferred working in their groups. They also develop their settlements that later emerged to be towns. Among the largest city, that was developed by the Chinese immigrant in California was San Franciscos Chinatown. One well organization that they hand was the Chinese Six Company, which was made of representative from small district association. The company could assist their members in securing jobs and solving internal dispute.

They protected their traditional lifestyle. Hence, they were not assimilated into other communities. They dressed in their traditional clothes such as the Quipao and Magua. They also eat their traditional cuisine which is Chinese cuisine that is mainly made of sea foods. The Chinese immigrant also spoke their native language. They did not also intermarry with the local people since they knew that they were discriminated. Most of the young men who were working in California had their families back at home, and their objective was to create wealth for them. Therefore, they did not saw the need of intermarrying with the local communities. They practiced Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism as their main religion.

Politically, the Chinese settlers had their leaders who help them in solving different issues and making decisions among their members. For instance, when the California Governor imposed taxes on foreign miners, the leaders encourage their members to pay the taxes in order to avoid more conflicts with the whites. The leaders also help the members to solve their problems internally without resorting to courts. This is evidenced when they were accused by the white people of being secretive and having their laws that operate illegally.

The Role of Race and Ethnicity

Since, the Chinese immigrant who settled in California were considered as Asian they were racially discriminated. For example in their economic activities such as gold mining, they were required to pay taxes that were not imposed on the white settlers such as the Irish. Their mines were also taken away by the white, and they were only left with mines that were abandoned. They were also supposed to provide cheap labor for the railway line construction simply because they were not white. For example, a white a laborer was earning around 1-2 USD in a day while the Chinese laborers were earning less than a dollar in a day.

When it comes to agriculture, they were skilled laborers, however; they were not allowed to own lands. Instead, they were supposed to offer their services to white settlers who owned large-scale farms. Those who settle along the ocean shores became successful fishermen. However, due to their color, they were expelled from the coast due to high taxes and tough regulation. In addition, they were not allowed to fish using their traditional method such as Chinese nets.

The Chinese were discouraged to migrate to California. There were laws that were adopted targeting Chinese migrants that stated that even if they were living in the California, they could not re-enter US even after having left the country temporarily. All economic activities that the Chinese were doing were made difficult to prevent them from becoming successful simply because they were not whites.

They racism and ethnicity also contributed to the Chinese and Irish settlers to work in risky and difficult jobs. For example during the construction of the transcontinental railroad, they are the ones who did the most difficult parts such as building across the cliff and drilling hard rocks. They were no benefits that were given to the Chinese and Irish laborers. A good example is when they were constructing the railway line. White laborers were given accommodation that was not provided to the Chinese.

Due to racism and ethnicity, the Chinese developed their towns that were led by their leaders. They avoid interacting with the white settlers that are why they develop their towns. These towns were developed around their working places such as near the ocean, where they practiced fishing, near the mines where they were mining.

The Act of Resistance

In the early 1900, Chinese merchants boycotted to buy America products due to unfair treatment by the Americans. Chinese settlers in California and the United States responded by demanding the end of ethnicity and racism against them in order to end the exclusion laws. However, the whites opinion was not swayed. The Chinese settlers even participated in the First World War to prove that they were loyal to the state but the discrimination against them in finding jobs continued. In fact after the First World War, there was an Immigration act of 1924 that was passed in order to deny Asian from entering America. However, after the Second World War, the American created a condition that was necessary for the modification of laws that were favorable to all Chinese living in America.

The Situation of the American-Born Second Generation

Every child who is born in the United States land is considered as American citizen. Unlike their parent who migrated to the United States many decades ago, the American-born second generation enjoys all the benefits that the American citizen can enjoy. Both 2nd generation Irish and Chinese can occupy even the highest positions in the government that were in the past reserved for the whites. According to the research done, they are substantially better compared to immigrant on the key measures of the socioeconomic attainment. For examples they have more income, they are university graduates, they own homes and only a few only under poverty. Their characteristics resemble those of the average American adult population. The second generations are more likely to speak English like America native speakers. They also have friends outside their racial or ethnic group that is they can get along with any other. They think themselves as typical American. The second -generation Chinese and Irish focus on their career development. They consider themselves as high-income earners and, therefore, their living standards are higher than those of their parents. They are likely to marry people of any ethnic or racial background.


Both the Chinese and the Irish faced racial and ethnic discrimination when the immigrated to United States. They were only working as casual laborers. The government imposed taxes on Chinese in order to discourage them in their economic activities. Chinese developed their settlement that later emerged to become commercial towns and cities while the Irish were renting homes. The major economic activities of the Chinese was mining but they were later employed in agriculture sectors, transport and fishing. The Irish focused most in offering domestic chores they were mostly maids. Both the second-generation of the Irish and Chinese live in better standards than their first generation. They focused in building their careers and they speak fluent English. They are not racially discriminated and they have white collar jobs.

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