Systemic racism against Asians has been a prevailing problem ever since the 19th century in the United States, according to a Chinese American scholar and historian, who urged for more efforts to demolish the long-standing discrimination.
Dr. Gay Q. Yuen, who serves as Board Chair of the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, discussed the issue in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV) in recent days, in which she detailed the uncomfortable truth of the historic abuse suffered by generations of Chinese.
The plight of anti-Asian racism was recently brought back into focus, with Oct 24 marking the 150th commemoration of the shocking 1871 Los Angeles Chinese Massacre, when at least 19 innocent Chinese were killed at the hands of a large mob.
Dr. Yuen said the racism actually began as soon as tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived in the U.S. during the gold rush era of the 1850s, long before the L.A. slaughter took place.
“It didn’t just start in 1871. It started as soon as that first Chinese person set foot on American soil. By the time the Chinese came, much of the gold was already worked out by the white gold miners. But even then, the racism against them was that if they don’t find gold, that’s fine, right. If they find gold then the white miners would come and either kill them, steal their gold or chase them off the places that they are mining,” she said.
Similar acts of discrimination took place later around 1865 when the first batch of Chinese workers came to help build the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), linking the east to west coast. Up to 90 percent of railway workers participating in the construction of the transcontinental railway project were people of Chinese descent, who encountered not only inequality but also faced despicable treatment from local employers.
“These Chinese railroad builders laid the tracks from San Francisco to Utah. And the railroad bosses had promised them a way to go back to San Francisco so they can take their wages and either go back to China to their villages or they can send money home. They weren’t always paid. In the middle of Utah where the railroads met, they were abandoned and the railroad bosses didn’t keep their promise,” said Yuen.
When the project was completed seven years earlier than scheduled, no Chinese staff members or workers were invited to join with the group photo celebrating the event.
Anti-Chinese racism and violence continued to surge after the shocking 1871 massacre in L.A., with many hate crimes against Chinese people being witnessed across many parts of the country.
The federal government even passed a Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 which was designed to restrict immigration of Chinese people. The act, the first ever of its kind targeting one single race in the U.S., was not demolished until 1943.
In the 15-month period from March 2020 to June this year, there have been over 9,000 recorded incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes occurring across the U.S., according to data from the Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAASF) group.
Dr. Yuen lamented that such racist incidents have sadly continued and even spiked in recent times.
“It’s a continuous anti-Asian, anti-Chinese viewpoint and racism in the United States. We talk about what the Chinese had to go through in the 1800s, And then we look at recent acts against the Chinese, but some of those acts or by the government too. So, it’s not only social racism, but systemic racism,” she said.