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Gate Keeping Nation Essay

1097 words - 4 pages

A Gate-Keeping Nation

Beginning in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, the United States stopped being a nation of immigrants and instead became a new type of nation, a gate-keeping nation. For the first time in its history, the United States did not welcome immigrants with open arms. As a result, the United States began to exert federal control over immigrants, which would change the ways Americans viewed and thought about race, immigration, and the nations’ identity as a whole.
With the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first significant restrictive immigration law in United States history was instituted that would provided a framework to be used to racialize other threatening, excludable aliens. Furthermore, this marked the first time that groups of immigrants were excluded based on their race and nationality. At the time, America could be identified as being an Anglo-Saxon dominated nation where native-born citizens had the ultimate say in government and societal issues. The influx of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century posed a problem for many of these nativists. The Chinese immigrants were coming to America at an astounding rate and willing to work for less money, thereby, endangering American values and civilization. Additionally, they were deemed as a threat to the white supremacy in the West. In order to bring this racial threat to light, many Anti-Chinese activists’ compared the new immigrants to African Americans in that both were believed to be inherently inferior savages only suitable for degrading labor in which they were often employed (Lee 34). However, the strongest argument against the Chinese focused on them being unwilling and incapable of assimilating into society. In the 1876 California State Committee on Chinese Immigration, one witness described these new immigrants as an “unwelcome invasion of a new, different people” (Lee 29). For the first time in history, America excluded immigrants based on race. This socially constructed idea of “race” was created for the purpose of excluding Chinese from American society. Nativists emphasized how Chinese were “permanent aliens” unable to ever assimilate into American society. This was due to the reputation Chinese people had for living in close-knit communities and attempting to preserve their cultural identity. The Chinese were not alone however. Nativists also used the Chinese framework to characterize the Mexican immigrants on the basis of racial inferiority and racial unassimilability (Lee 33). They proclaimed that even if these races were to assimilate into American society, they would only further dilute the purity of an already fixed American identity (336). Even more prominent immigrant groups from Europe were compared to Chinese immigrants. For example, the Italians were called the “Chinese of Europe” because of their yellow skin color and willingness to work for low wages (Lee 35). Overall, the Chinese Exclusion Act did more...

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