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Beth Lew-Williams & Lori Flores in Conversation, “The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America”
November 7, 2018 @ 6:00 pm
The American West erupted in anti-Chinese violence in 1885. Following the massacre of Chinese miners in Wyoming Territory, communities throughout California and the Pacific Northwest harassed, assaulted, and expelled thousands of Chinese immigrants. Beth Lew-Williams shows how American immigration policies incited this violence and how the violence, in turn, provoked new exclusionary policies. The present resurgence of xenophobia builds mightily upon past fears of the “heathen Chinaman.” Please join us for this timely discussion with the author and fellow historian of immigration, Lori Flores.
Ultimately, Lew-Williams argues, Chinese expulsion and exclusion produced the concept of the “alien” in modern America. The Chinese Must Go begins in the 1850s, before federal border control established strict divisions between citizens and aliens. Across decades of felling trees and laying tracks in the American West, Chinese workers faced escalating racial conflict and unrest. In response, Congress passed the Chinese Restriction Act of 1882 and made its first attempt to bar immigrants based on race and class. When this unprecedented experiment in federal border control failed to slow Chinese migration, vigilantes attempted to take the matter into their own hands. Fearing the spread of mob violence, U.S. policymakers redoubled their efforts to keep the Chinese out, overhauling U.S. immigration law and transforming diplomatic relations with China.
By locating the origins of the modern American alien in this violent era, Lew-Williams recasts the significance of Chinese exclusion in U.S. history. As The Chinese Must Go makes clear, anti-Chinese law and violence continues to have consequences for today’s immigrants.
Beth Lew-Williams is Assistant Professor of History at Princeton University and a contributor to the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University.
Lori A. Flores is Associate Professor of History at SUNY Stony Brook. She is the author of Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement, which was named Best History Book by the International Latino Book Awards and Best First Book by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society. She has written for publications such as ColorLines/RaceForward, PopMatters, Public Seminar, and The Detroit Free Press, and is a podcast host for the New Books Network.