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What Jobs Did Asians Have in the 1800's?

    The Railroad

    • Driven by the idea of "Manifest Destiny" and the gold rush in California, Americans began clamoring for a transcontinental railroad that would connect the East to the West. In 1862, the Central Pacific Railroad Corporation began laying tracks east from Sacramento while Union Pacific began laying tracks west from Omaha, Neb. Both companies used Chinese immigrants to build the tracks as white American laborers proved too unreliable and unwilling to partake in the back-breaking labor the job required, according to author Iris Chang in her book "The Chinese in America." Chinese males, who could earn nearly 10 times more a month working for the railroads than in China, eagerly accepted the jobs.


    • Asian immigrants turned to farming in many parts of America, but many found themselves drawn to Hawaii. By 1850, commercial sugar plantations on the island nation began production, but soon found that the local labor force could not meet the high demand for farm labor. In 1876, the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society began importing Chinese laborers, and by 1886, more than 5,000 Chinese lived in Hawaii. After the Chinese began leaving the plantations after their work contracts had expired they began settling on the nation's smaller islands. Fearful of how the Chinese may corrupt their way of life, a law was passed outlawing Chinese immigration. Still in need of labor, plantations began immigrating Japanese workers to the islands by 1885.


    • Backlash against Asian immigrants was fierce during the 19th century, and many Asians were forced to accept menial jobs regardless of their education or professional qualifications. They were forced to work as houseboys, cooks, laundry men, coalminers, fishermen, peddlers and storekeepers. Legislation in California prohibited Chinese immigrants from working the gold fields, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited immigration of Chinese contract laborers for 10 years. Despite the limitations they faced, Asian workers were still viewed as a cheap labor threat by unemployed white workers, and faced vehement racism and violence.


    • Historians believe that at least 50 Chinese soldiers, and many more as sailors, fought for both the North and South armies during the Civil War, according to an article from the American Forces Press Service. Many of the soldiers who fought in the war came to America as children who were either stolen, sold or adopted by sailors traveling throughout the Pacific. Historians believe that many more Asian immigrants may have fought in the war, but since many would often take American names, records are inconclusive.

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